The return of the ’90s


The return of the ’90s

Doesn’t matter if you greet it with a cringe or chuckle, the decade’s fashion is back

By Kavita Mohandas Rao  April 26th, 2016

Somewhere between scrunchies and the Spice Girls, the ’90s had us fearing (hoping, even) that the world would end at the turn of the millennium. As luck would have it, just when we were congratulating ourselves on making it past the decade with our dignity and, more importantly, computer hard drives intact, history is repeating itself.

Full House has gotten fuller, Dilwale piggy-backed on DDLJ and Alok Nath is the mascot for Indian sanskaar, all over again. Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner are giving the rest of humanity a hard time, posing nonchalantly in those CK underwear campaigns, the same way Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss did more than two decades ago.

And it’s not just the nice bits that are returning; the worst offenders are getting another shot at redemption, too. Hillary Clinton, for example, delivered a stirring speech befitting a presidential candidate last year, and while everyone said it was wonderful and all, their botoxed foreheads almost wrinkled at her white scrunchie. Someone nasty (not Trump, for a change) went so far as to say that scrunchies ought to be banned. Carrie Bradshaw’s rant about how no woman “would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie” in Sex & The City came to mind.  But since when has fashion been a beacon of consistency? Let’s hope Clinton’s presidential bid has the same comeback power as her hair accessory.

You won’t hear the slightest complaint about it, either. Because the ’90s, despite the decade’s lasting passion for all things tacky, also embraced awkwardness. More to the point, it embraced our awkwardness. We could be as reckless as Kanye West on Twitter, fail miserably, and get a do-over sooner than you could say dang it. No questions asked.

It was the official decade of all things alternative, where Courtney Love was the ideal and culture meant MTV. Kate Moss’s imperfection and raw everydayness was more than welcome after a decade of Cindy Crawford’s impossibly perfect everything. TLC’s baggy, almost asexual outfits were a reflex to the slinky dresses that oozed glamour and hypersexualisation in the late ’80s. Just like today, where we’re happy to exhale ourselves out of that bodycon dress and ease into pyjama pants for work.  

So what are the ’90s doing in the 21st century? The past has re-emerged in response to the Noughties’ mass-manufactured perfection, where style is more about popularity than personality. And our generation is susceptible to its gauche charms because unlike the ’60s and ’70s, we actually lived through, or survived, the ’90s. For us, it is reminiscent of a time when a crisis meant a pimple, colas were wholesome, and making a choice meant either watching Doordarshan, or not.

Here’s another theory — the past is more comforting than the future. There is no need for Nostradamus’ doomsday prophecies anymore. We’ve got plenty of our own. Consider every futuristic movie that’s hitting the silver screen. They all project dystopian futures that have only one thing in common: we screw up, big time. So maybe this seasonal nostalgia, whether in our music, movies or fashion, is an effort to slow down this breathless hurtle into pessimism. Perhaps it is not us giving the ’90s a second chance, but the other way around.

Either way, we should have seen it coming and cranked up the time machine when, in 2014, Iggy Azalea resurrected cult classic Clueless in her breakout hit ‘Fancy’, dressed in the checked yellow skirt suit that that will forever earmark Alicia Silverstone’s career. And what was true for fashion influences 20 years ago is just as true now: we love us some rockstar threads. Kurt Cobain’s denim and flannel uniform’s always been soaked in teen spirit, but now it’s going mainstream. The plaid shirt features on the racks of every major high-street brand, thanks to its easy versatility and instant grunge appeal. Pair with ripped boyfriend jeans, a choker and a bad attitude.

Remember when Gwen Stefani first shimmied her way onto our TVs in her Dr Martens, track pants and crop tops? With her blue hair, bindis and braces, she owned her style like she’d copyrighted it. Alexander Wang’s white crop top and striped pants for S/S 2016 was vintage Stefani. The pink streaks that have become de rigueur this season? Flashback to Stefani’s acid bangs. Even the trending overalls, accent braids and dark lip colours owe a paean of thanks to her. The front woman of No Doubt has since polished up her wardrobe, becoming more couture than thrift shop, but it’s still got that edge and irreverence that made her the poster child of punk style. 

If smoky eyes and sardonic humour aren’t your thing, make like the Spice Girls and slip on a skater dress and some dizzyingly high flatforms. Louis Vuitton had its models all studded up in black and Issey Miyake took the athleisure route, while Delpozo’s versions were done up in pretty pastels, bows and sequins. Ashish and Ashish N Soni took the idea literally and had their models skate down the runway in sequinned dresses and stripes. It was a throwback to Chanel’s S/S 1994 runway, where Karl Lagerfeld sent models wheeling down the ramp, wearing the double-C logo.

The ’90s polarised fashion between pretty and punk. And if you sided with Marc Jacobs and Maison Margiela, you were on the right side of interesting. The journey of Jacobs’ decade-defining show for Perry Ellis is a metaphor for the revival of the ’90s. It first got rejected and got him sacked from the house, and in a historic volte-face, launched him into the fashion stratosphere. And remember the 1996 Margiela show where the models’ faces were covered to focus attention on the clothes? It was one of the Nineties’ most iconic shows, and cemented his reputation for sharp tailoring and an antithetic perspective. The elusive designer’s penchant for deconstructing everyday garments was carried forward into this season by Vetements, Hood by Air and Jacquemus.

Designers oscillated between OTT and minimal, showcasing how defiantly the decade refuses to be defined. Calvin Klein’s minimalistic slip dresses were resurrected by everyone including Céline’s Phoebe Philo and Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa. Burberry Prorsum, Givenchy, Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone…basically everyone in the fashion phone book sent out a version in silk or lace that made us want to wipe the
dust off our gym membership cards. Those who think the slip dress too risqué will find comfort in a handy ’90s trick that was universally adopted across runways — reverse layering. Wear the slip dress over a T-shirt (a la Rachel Green from the first few seasons of Friends), a cotton knit or even a turtleneck (think Phoebe Buffay), as seen on the runways of DKNY, Emilio Pucci and Max Mara. Dhruv Kapur of DRVV gave the slip dress some gravitas by pairing it with a black floor-sweeping jacket. But if Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler’s example in Aerosmith’s 'Crazy' is anything to go by, layering of any kind doesn’t necessarily make the slip dress any less sexy.

On a more modest note, Off-white’s Virgil Abloh owned all things denim. Overalls, deconstructed jeans, the essential denim jacket? Check! Ikai by Ragini Ahuja, Holly Fulton and Marc Jacobs also featured embroidered or deconstructed denim, in the tradition of embellishing denim to make it one’s own.
Meanwhile, the mom jean is having a rather underserved moment, and occasionally makes us snap out of our ’90s euphoria. Nobody makes weird look wonderful as adeptly as Gucci’s version of the Second Coming, Alessandro Michele (seriously, he even looks the part). Basing his collection on the cartoon Daria, the designer championed the oddball with vintage flair, beanies and spectacles that could make an Indian bureaucrat feel fashionable.

Choosing not to side with sobriety was Tim Coppens, whose S/S 2016 collection was festooned with graphics of mushrooms and splotches of colour. It felt very Nickelodeon meets psychedelic rock.Speaking of Nickelodeon, an eyeful of AM.IT’s kooky upcycled collection masterfully captured the depth and quirkiness of the Nineties colour palette.

Its music scene was on everybody’s mood board, too. Saint Laurent was channelling Glastonbury with rubber boots and leather jackets, while Tommy Hilfiger featured rave prints and rainbow dresses. Kaleidoscopic hues found their way to the runways of Anupamaa by Anupama Dayal and Chloé as well. At Chloé, in fact, the collection featured iconic women of the decade as muses. There was Kate Moss, of course, but also Milla Jovovich, Chloë Sevigny and Corinne Day.

Normcore buffs need not sit the trend out, because if there’s one rule that applies to the decade, it is that anything goes. Wear black everything and call it your grunge revival. Louis Vuitton paired black with patchworked jackets and leather to create looks that were, quite honestly, timeless.

If you’re looking for a common adjective that ties all these collections together, don’t bother. ’90s fashion offers something for every kind of someone, with diverse inspirations and muses that make everything else look clichéd. Only this time, it’s more trial and less error. This is what ’90s style was before it turned on itself, scoffing at the very things that made it so approachable in the first place. But then, that’s how nostalgia works. We only ever remember the good bits.

Somewhere between scrunchies and the Spice Girls, the ’90s had us fearing (hoping, even) that the world would end at the turn of the millennium. As luck would have it, just when we were congratulating ourselves on making it past the decade with our dignity and, more importantly, computer hard drives intact, history is repeating itself.

Full House has gotten fuller, Dilwale piggy-backed on DDLJ and Alok Nath is the mascot for Indian sanskaar, all over again. Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner are giving the rest of humanity a hard time, posing nonchalantly in those CK underwear campaigns, the same way Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss did more than two decades ago.

And it’s not just the nice bits that are returning; the worst offenders are getting another shot at redemption, too. Hillary Clinton, for example, delivered a stirring speech befitting a presidential candidate last year, and while everyone said it was wonderful and all, their botoxed foreheads almost wrinkled at her white scrunchie. Someone nasty (not Trump, for a change) went so far as to say that scrunchies ought to be banned. Carrie Bradshaw’s rant about how no woman “would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie” in Sex & The City came to mind.  But since when has fashion been a beacon of consistency? Let’s hope Clinton’s presidential bid has the same comeback power as her hair accessory.

You won’t hear the slightest complaint about it, either. Because the ’90s, despite the decade’s lasting passion for all things tacky, also embraced awkwardness. More to the point, it embraced our awkwardness. We could be as reckless as Kanye West on Twitter, fail miserably, and get a do-over sooner than you could say dang it. No questions asked.

It was the official decade of all things alternative, where Courtney Love was the ideal and culture meant MTV. Kate Moss’s imperfection and raw everydayness was more than welcome after a decade of Cindy Crawford’s impossibly perfect everything. TLC’s baggy, almost asexual outfits were a reflex to the slinky dresses that oozed glamour and hypersexualisation in the late ’80s. Just like today, where we’re happy to exhale ourselves out of that bodycon dress and ease into pyjama pants for work.  

So what are the ’90s doing in the 21st century? The past has re-emerged in response to the Noughties’ mass-manufactured perfection, where style is more about popularity than personality. And our generation is susceptible to its gauche charms because unlike the ’60s and ’70s, we actually lived through, or survived, the ’90s. For us, it is reminiscent of a time when a crisis meant a pimple, colas were wholesome, and making a choice meant either watching Doordarshan, or not.

Here’s another theory — the past is more comforting than the future. There is no need for Nostradamus’ doomsday prophecies anymore. We’ve got plenty of our own. Consider every futuristic movie that’s hitting the silver screen. They all project dystopian futures that have only one thing in common: we screw up, big time. So maybe this seasonal nostalgia, whether in our music, movies or fashion, is an effort to slow down this breathless hurtle into pessimism. Perhaps it is not us giving the ’90s a second chance, but the other way around.

Either way, we should have seen it coming and cranked up the time machine when, in 2014, Iggy Azalea resurrected cult classic Clueless in her breakout hit ‘Fancy’, dressed in the checked yellow skirt suit that that will forever earmark Alicia Silverstone’s career. And what was true for fashion influences 20 years ago is just as true now: we love us some rockstar threads. Kurt Cobain’s denim and flannel uniform’s always been soaked in teen spirit, but now it’s going mainstream. The plaid shirt features on the racks of every major high-street brand, thanks to its easy versatility and instant grunge appeal. Pair with ripped boyfriend jeans, a choker and a bad attitude.

Remember when Gwen Stefani first shimmied her way onto our TVs in her Dr Martens, track pants and crop tops? With her blue hair, bindis and braces, she owned her style like she’d copyrighted it. Alexander Wang’s white crop top and striped pants for S/S 2016 was vintage Stefani. The pink streaks that have become de rigueur this season? Flashback to Stefani’s acid bangs. Even the trending overalls, accent braids and dark lip colours owe a paean of thanks to her. The front woman of No Doubt has since polished up her wardrobe, becoming more couture than thrift shop, but it’s still got that edge and irreverence that made her the poster child of punk style. 

If smoky eyes and sardonic humour aren’t your thing, make like the Spice Girls and slip on a skater dress and some dizzyingly high flatforms. Louis Vuitton had its models all studded up in black and Issey Miyake took the athleisure route, while Delpozo’s versions were done up in pretty pastels, bows and sequins. Ashish and Ashish N Soni took the idea literally and had their models skate down the runway in sequinned dresses and stripes. It was a throwback to Chanel’s S/S 1994 runway, where Karl Lagerfeld sent models wheeling down the ramp, wearing the double-C logo.

The ’90s polarised fashion between pretty and punk. And if you sided with Marc Jacobs and Maison Margiela, you were on the right side of interesting. The journey of Jacobs’ decade-defining show for Perry Ellis is a metaphor for the revival of the ’90s. It first got rejected and got him sacked from the house, and in a historic volte-face, launched him into the fashion stratosphere. And remember the 1996 Margiela show where the models’ faces were covered to focus attention on the clothes? It was one of the Nineties’ most iconic shows, and cemented his reputation for sharp tailoring and an antithetic perspective. The elusive designer’s penchant for deconstructing everyday garments was carried forward into this season by Vetements, Hood by Air and Jacquemus.

Designers oscillated between OTT and minimal, showcasing how defiantly the decade refuses to be defined. Calvin Klein’s minimalistic slip dresses were resurrected by everyone including Céline’s Phoebe Philo and Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa. Burberry Prorsum, Givenchy, Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone…basically everyone in the fashion phone book sent out a version in silk or lace that made us want to wipe the
dust off our gym membership cards. Those who think the slip dress too risqué will find comfort in a handy ’90s trick that was universally adopted across runways — reverse layering. Wear the slip dress over a T-shirt (a la Rachel Green from the first few seasons of Friends), a cotton knit or even a turtleneck (think Phoebe Buffay), as seen on the runways of DKNY, Emilio Pucci and Max Mara. Dhruv Kapur of DRVV gave the slip dress some gravitas by pairing it with a black floor-sweeping jacket. But if Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler’s example in Aerosmith’s 'Crazy' is anything to go by, layering of any kind doesn’t necessarily make the slip dress any less sexy.

On a more modest note, Off-white’s Virgil Abloh owned all things denim. Overalls, deconstructed jeans, the essential denim jacket? Check! Ikai by Ragini Ahuja, Holly Fulton and Marc Jacobs also featured embroidered or deconstructed denim, in the tradition of embellishing denim to make it one’s own.
Meanwhile, the mom jean is having a rather underserved moment, and occasionally makes us snap out of our ’90s euphoria. Nobody makes weird look wonderful as adeptly as Gucci’s version of the Second Coming, Alessandro Michele (seriously, he even looks the part). Basing his collection on the cartoon Daria, the designer championed the oddball with vintage flair, beanies and spectacles that could make an Indian bureaucrat feel fashionable.

Choosing not to side with sobriety was Tim Coppens, whose S/S 2016 collection was festooned with graphics of mushrooms and splotches of colour. It felt very Nickelodeon meets psychedelic rock.Speaking of Nickelodeon, an eyeful of AM.IT’s kooky upcycled collection masterfully captured the depth and quirkiness of the Nineties colour palette.

Its music scene was on everybody’s mood board, too. Saint Laurent was channelling Glastonbury with rubber boots and leather jackets, while Tommy Hilfiger featured rave prints and rainbow dresses. Kaleidoscopic hues found their way to the runways of Anupamaa by Anupama Dayal and Chloé as well. At Chloé, in fact, the collection featured iconic women of the decade as muses. There was Kate Moss, of course, but also Milla Jovovich, Chloë Sevigny and Corinne Day.

Normcore buffs need not sit the trend out, because if there’s one rule that applies to the decade, it is that anything goes. Wear black everything and call it your grunge revival. Louis Vuitton paired black with patchworked jackets and leather to create looks that were, quite honestly, timeless.

If you’re looking for a common adjective that ties all these collections together, don’t bother. ’90s fashion offers something for every kind of someone, with diverse inspirations and muses that make everything else look clichéd. Only this time, it’s more trial and less error. This is what ’90s style was before it turned on itself, scoffing at the very things that made it so approachable in the first place. But then, that’s how nostalgia works. We only ever remember the good bits.