Ahh the ’90s. The decade of my youth, teenage, and young adult years. I never thought I would be writing about 1990s fashion history, but here I am, and it feels wrong. Very, very wrong. LOL. I think anyone feels like that when the clothing we wore not too long ago is now vintage. But trends come and go and I am happy to see many of the 90s clothes I wore back in fashion now.
If you have read my 80s fashion history or any other decade on VintageDancer, you know I write only about real fashions worn by real people, not obscure trends or high end fashion designers. So what did real teens and women wear in the 1990s, especially those back in style now? And how do I dress for a 90s themed party or everyday fashion with real vintage or vintage inspired outfits? I have a few ideas for you focusing on the early 90s, which are most on trend now.
Early 1990s Fashion Trends for Girls and Women
- High rise jeans with a straight leg, “mom” jeans, acid wash jeans
- Denim jeans, skirts, and jackets
- Oversize sweaters and knit cotton shirts
- Pleated pants, plaid patterns
- Belted dresses, peasant skirt and tops (#cottagecore)
- Casual primary color separates and beach clothes, the B.U.M look
- Preppy fashions – long blazers with tailored pants or pencil skirts
- Neon gym clothes, casual outfits – for kids and teens
- Windbreakers and puffer jackets
- Canvas shoes worn without socks
- Soft and natural makeup and hairstyles
Fashion historian Daniel Delis Hill in Fashion from Victoria to the New Millennium has this to say about the 1990s:
“In response to women’s assertion of style individuality, designers and ready-to-wear makers offered ever more choices: a wide array of skirt lengths and widths; pleated and plain front trousers; cropped, cuffed, pegged, or flared pants legs; constructed and unconstructed jackets with all varieties of lapel and pocket treatments; dresses of every imaginable cut and fabric.
“The overscaled sculpted and fitted looks of the eighties were deflated, replaced by natural shoulders and fluidly draped rayon jackets, blouses, trousers, and dresses. “Soft dressing” was repeatedly emphasized in advertising and editorials throughout the decade. Easy knit tops and dresses dominated the ready-to-wear market. Oversized, loose-fitting sweaters and vests topped gathered skirts of varying lengths. Trousers were multipleated or gathered and cut with wide legs.”
90s Jeans Outfits
Not unlike now, everyone in the 90s lived in jeans. The early 90s saw a continuation of the acid washed jeans with a pleated or paper bag waistband. They were high rise / high waisted with a tapered leg. Shorts were similar with a wide leg and loose fit. By the mid 90s, waistbands flattened out and the fit tightened down to a slim leg with a high rise and shaped “wedgie” butt, aka mom jeans. Guess jeans were the coolest brand to own.
Jeans were paired with casual cotton tops such as polo shirts, simple pullover shirts, rugby striped long sleeve shirts, turtlenecks, and button down blouses — both with sleeves and sleeveless. They were almost always worn tucked into waistbands with a belt. However some shirt-blouses were tied in a knot at the waistband.
90s Fall Fashions
Cozy and casual with an earthy palate was the look for fall and winter. Cotton, corduroy, or polyester pleated waist pants came in mostly browns and grey, in solids or plaid patterns. As with jeans, they paired well with long sleeve knit shirts, pullover oversized sweaters, or wintry Fair Isle print sweaters.
Shoes worn with pants were usually casual flats, canvas in summer or leather in winter. Classic Keds were the “it“ shoe brand to own. The lace up bootie was also popular in fall and winter.
The early 90s saw the modest 50s inspired dress paired with wide belts and sometimes padded shoulders as the conservative fashion look. It was worn by all ages, although I hardly remember them being worn by many teens to school. High round necklines, long or longer-short sleeves, pleated skirt waist and a midi to almost ankle length. Both summer and fall fashions wore dresses with flats or sandals.
The big belts are what make them very ’90s. Belts could be matching or contrasting colors, especially black or white.
One unique 90s dress pattern was the tropical print for the summer around 1992. Eye popping tropical florals and leaf prints with neon and primary colors included a lot of pink, orange, and teal blue. I am sure everybody had one of these dresses for summer vacations.
Big painted florals were also on trend in the fall seasons. They made women look like walking Victorian tapestries.
Speaking of neon and primary colors, you must nominate these for “really bad 90s fashion.” At the time, they were very cool new colors inspired by teenagers living up life in a California beach town. Young kids (I was 10 in 1990) and women wore these 60s Pop Art colors will all kinds of casual clothes and swimwear.
Loose shorts, called Jams, paired with a baggy crop beach-themed T-shirt was one of my older sister’s summer outfits. I went all neon- with mismatched shorts, tank top, and headband.
1990s splatter and sponge paint clothes with neon colors were VERY cool. They had shops where kids could paint their own (and all my friends had birthday parties there). Here are some neon outfits I might have worn but won’t readily admit to:
Primary colors were better for older ages, although I had plenty of these basics in my kid wardrobe too. Bright yellow, blue, teal, and hot pink knit tops, shirts, sweatshirts, pants, shorts, and dresses were simple pairings, usually with white or black bottoms. Very comfortable and happy outfits. No awards for high fashion here, just regular clothes to live in.
A carry over style from the 1970s and 1980s was the women’s blazer. Long length with one button closure with low notch lapels, it was worn casually or with a dressy outfit. Solid bright colors paired well over a white shirt and solid or pattern bottoms. Funky pattern blazers were mostly an 80s thing, but some were still being sold into the early 90s.
Denim, Denim, Denim
America’s love affair with denim didn’t stop with blue jeans. The Denim on Denim look of the 80s continued in the 90s but with a softer 90s silhouette. Denim dresses, denim pencil skirts, and denim jackets could be worn year-round. Light blue denim was the most popular shade followed by all white denim, all black, and occasionally dark blue denim. There was even floral print denim.
90s Midi Skirts
One of my favorite 90s fashion revivals is the button down midi skirt. It is soft, romantic, and casual, yet classy. The 90s paired them with button down blouses or knit pullover shirts and a pair of sandals in summer and tall boots in winter. Add a fluffy sweater and some warm tights and you have a modern day autumn outfit.
Many white blouses were inspired by the Victorian and Edwardian era with lace trim, ruffles, bows and other ultra girly details. The #cottagecore aesthetic has pulled both 90s blouses and skirts together again in a vintage farm house style.
Iconic 90s Jackets
Two jackets from the early 90s have come back in style. For winterwear, the colorblock pattern puffer jacket is trending. They were huge, puffy, and noisy nylon jackets with oversized pockets and smaller, useless zipper pockets in odd places. For less severe weather, the zip up windbreaker jacket was still in style from the late 80s.
The other memorable jacket was the suede fringe Western jacket. Oversized in typical 90s fashion, long strands of fringe hung from the shoulders and arms. It fit like a blazer jacket but had that unmistakable western look.
There were a few types of 90s shoes that could be worn with just about any outfit.
Heels: Colorful, skinny stiletto heels were worn with dress suits and dresses. The heel height dropped to a more reasonable 2 inches for most women.
Flats: Casual canvas flats such as Keds, Converse, and Skechers brands as well as unbranded sling backs, loafers, espadrilles, and deck shoes made up the majority of women’s summer footwear. In fall, these same styles came in leather. Socks were not popular in any weather but tights could be worn in a coordinating color. Shop flats.
Boots or booties: These, especially short lace up boots, were the trendiest winter footwear. Shop boots.
Sneakers: White high top sneakers or low top running shoes were still in fashion with those casual primary color outfits and gym clothes. My mom wore heels to work but slipped into her white sneakers for the rest of the work day. Shop retro sneakers.
Sandals: Flat, strappy sandals were welcome in summer. They looked sophisticated with summer dresses and skirts. Shop sandals.
90s Hair and Makeup
Hairstyles in the 90s embodied the soft look. Short bobbed hair and long loose tresses were the two choices. Both naturally straight hair and curly hair were welcome, embracing a freedom to let hair be its own thing with out excessive styling or products.
I had long hair that I usually blow tried wavy or straight. I had a deep side part with angled long bangs, something which was very common at the time. Sometimes I used Sun In hair lightening spray to make myself even more blonde for that “beach ready” sun-kissed look. My style didn’t change much over the 90s. My part was gradually less deep and I grew out my bangs but overall everyone had simple, natural, carefree hairstyles.
Short hair in a bobbed length was inspired by 1960s revival. Winona Ryder was the queen bee who sported the edgy short look. Hair could be very short pixies down to chin length bobs. Straight hair was curled under at the ends to soften the look or curled out slightly for a “60s flip.”
Women with natural tight curls could either let them be free and fluffy or straighten and roll into soft curls (Jackie Kennedy inspired) or waved back into edgy “power-suit” cuts. I loved watching A Different World in the late 80s and 90s and even now the reruns (on Netflix) are fun to see for all the fabulous 90s fashions and varied hairstyles.
Makeup was also soft and natural with light shades of lipstick, eyeshadow, and blush. Eyeliner and eyeshadows were subtle. Lipsticks were light pinks and corals. The “tanned” look was ideal for all skintones achieved through sun-tanning, tanning beds, or makeup that lightened or darkened skin into the prefect glow.
- Base: Porcelain, honey or tan, one shade lighter than skintone. Pale skinned women chose one shade darker.
- Powder: Translucent or a light shimmer. Glitter powder applied to the chest.
- Blush: Pink-rose or light coral-peach coordinated with lipstick. Applied with just a touch on the apples of the cheek.
- Eye Shadow: Purple, orange, gray, maroon with some shimmer. Applied to the upper lid and heavier on the outer third. A dark shade along the crease. Light powder on the upper brow bone.
- Eyebrows: Shaped naturally with a thin line that pointed up at the outer tips.
- Mascara: Black, brown or burgundy. Heavy on top, light on the bottom
- Lipstick: Pink-rose, brick red, nude, berry, plum, scarlet red, red-orange. Outlined in lip liner in two shades darker than lipstick.
- Nails: Expressive colors such blue, green, gold, silver or neon applied to artificial nails. Clearcoat over natural nails.
Shop 90s Clothing
Most clothing stores are full of 90s style clothing now. High waist mom jeans, ripped jeans, sweatshirts, T-shirts, crop tops, babydoll dresses, boots, high top sneakers, western inspired clothes, windbreaker jackets and retro workout clothes. It is a mix of early 80s and late 80/90s clothing, updated for today’s fashion ideals.
These are some good places to shop for both new and real vintage 90s clothing.
- NastyGal– Trendy 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s style clothing
- Modcloth – Cute and eclectic 90s clothing. Mostly everyday styles for your day to day wardrobe needs. Plus sizes included.
- Boohoo – UK based brand has trendy, affordable clothes for every 90s style.
- Madewell– Comfortable 90s jeans, sweaters, shirts and hair accessories.
- Old School Tees – All your favorite 90s bands, music, TV, products, and toys on classic T-shirts
- Amazon – Has some cheap 90s clothes (jeans, shirts, sweatshirts), novelty T-shirts, and accessories. Read reviews and always choose USA shipped brands. We love SweatyRocks!
- Forever 21 – Cheap 90s clothing, shoes and accessories. Get an entire outfit for under $100
- City Chic – Plus size 90s dress, denim, and everyday style
- Levi’s – 90s revival jeans, shorts, shirts, sweatshirts.
- Unique Vintage– Well know for earlier decades, they have some 90s accessories, T-shirts, and general Retro style clothing. Mixing up vintage was very 90s!
- Target – Who doesn’t love target? You can find a lot of 90s clothing (but its not labeled 90s, so you have have some ideas of what to look for.)
- Garmetory- Real vintage 90s clothing and boutique brand new clothing. Higher end options.
- Etsy– Everything vintage 90s can be found on etsy
- eBay – Even more 90s clothing is on ebay
- Open 4 Vintage– Luxury real vintage jewelry, handbags, belts, watches, sunglasses and accessories.
80s and 90s Clothing
We handpicked some 80s and 90s clothing, mostly focusing on costume parties, and created these shopping pages:
- 70-80s Workout Clothes- women and men tracksuits, sweatshirts, sweatpants, dolphin shorts
- 80s -90s Costumes- girls and guys
- 80s -90s Tops and T-shirts – New and vintage tees
- 80s -90s Sweatshirts and sweaters
- 80s Shoes – Women’s shoes, sandals, heels, sneakers and boots. More sneakers here
- 80s Hats, caps and visors – Women and Men
- 80s Jackets – Women and men. Windbreakers, leather, denim, fringe, and track jackets
- 80s Dresses – Casual to party dresses- real vintage 80s dresses
- 80s Prom Dresses, formal dresses, cocktail dresses
Need outfit ideas? We have some here.
Late 90s Trends
What about the mid to late 90s fashion? Well, I may get around to writing about them, but its not my primary focus for this website. These resources are some I use to research everyday 90s fashions.
christmas.musetechnical.com and wishbookweb.com/the-catalogs/ – Sears and JC Penny catalogs from the 1990s. While these stores were not trendy or “cool” they do have plenty of fashion for kids and mature women and men to look at. The teens sections is Ok but its not where I shopped.
vintageadbrowser.com/clothes-ads-1990s – Old magazine advertisements are another good place to see fashionable clothing.
www.youtube.com – Look at 90s news reels, talk shows, Tv shows, commercials and movies to get an idea of what real people and Hollywood types wore.
Ancestry.com – I get a lot of use from my membership. You can find school yearbooks helpful to identifying teenage style.