If there’s any era referenced for inspiration time and again, it has to be the ‘90s. The century’s penultimate decade was characterized by a hodgepodge of trends, making it difficult to pinpoint just one defining look. There was minimalism, popularized by '90s muses like Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow. There was grunge, which was pretty controversial at first when Marc Jacobs (for Perry Ellis) and Alexander McQueen pioneered the movement. There was also hip-hop (you know, baggy tees and equally baggy jeans), and the preppy, schoolgirl look (as immortalized in everyone’s fave film, Clueless).
Fashion’s proclivity for the '90s is manifested each season in different ways, but as the cycle goes, these trends come and go. However, there are trends that have proven to be as classic as they were cool in their heyday.
Here, we’ve rounded up all the chic '90s trends you can permanently welcome into your wardrobe. They’ll not only inject a little nostalgia but a breath of sartorial timelessness, too.
1. Denim anything (and everything)
From the mom jeans of the preppy look, the ripped jeans of grunge, to the baggy jeans of hip-hop, denim was a '90s staple, and you only need to look to the TV show Friends for proof (like Rachel’s overalls or Monica’s Canadian tux).
How to style it: There are no rules when it comes to wearing denim (well, except for skinny jeans), so you could go all-out nostalgic and throw on a windbreaker or keep it simple in a button-down and mom jeans with sneakers or heels.
2. Combat boots
Aside from plaid shirts (which were layered on top of shirts) and leather jackets, another hallmark of '90s grunge fashion were combat boots, which were loved by Kurt Cobain-obsessed teens.
How to style it: Combat boots add a whole of rock ‘n’ roll into a look, so you could use it as a great contrast with dainty pieces like Victorian-inspired frocks, smock dresses, or puff-sleeved blouses.
Whether it was crafted into slip dresses, blazers, or pants, velvet was everywhere in the '90s, even on the red carpet (hi, Winona Ryder). But if there was any fashion moment that captures the allure of this rich fabric, it has to be Gucci’s 1995 show helmed by Tom Ford, where sexy ensembles were made possible by velvet trousers.
How to style it: Choose one velvet piece that will serve as your outfit’s accent, like a burgundy-colored velvet blazer (matched with flared trousers) or a velvet button-down barely buttoned upfront a la Gucci with black trousers.
Another kind of footwear that gained popularity in the '90s were Birkenstocks, which experienced a renaissance of sorts in 2014 during the birth of normcore. It was featured in magazines like Vogue, seen on celebrities like Madonna, and parlayed on the runways of Narciso Rodriguez.
How to style it: Slip into Birks on casual days, worn with denim cutoffs or sleek black culottes. You can also try wearing them with socks (the quirkier, the better) with colored mini skirts or a slip skirt.
5. Baggy tees
As mentioned, baggy tees were part of the hip-hop uniform, but you only need to look to streetstyle photos (and Instagram) to see that it’s now become a modern fashion staple, all thanks to the streetwear trend that emerged in 2018. We have brands like Off-White, Stussy, and BAPE, to thank for it.
How to style it: For an athleisure look, wear it with joggers. For a gritty streetwear vibe, wear with baggy cargo pants, loose pleated trousers, and complete with high-cut sneakers.
6. Slip dresses
This wouldn’t be a '90s trends story without mentioning the slip dress. Popularized by Calvin Klein when he pioneered the “innerwear as outerwear” movement in his Spring 1994 collection, the slip dress has long become a fashion essential worn for both daytime and nighttime.
How to style it: Wear it for casual affairs with mules and a leather handbag. For fancier occasions, pair with an oversized blazer and slinky kitten heels.
7. Biker shorts
Perhaps the most memorable biker shorts moment in fashion history was all of Princess Diana’s casual outfits, which typically featured her in a printed pullover, crew socks, and dad sneakers. Iconic. (But there was also Chanel’s Spring 1991 collection!) Since its revival in 2018, biker shorts have been a daytime go-to for many fashionistas.
How to style it: Take cues from Princess Di by pairing it with any baggy top and chunky sneakers. Or, you can go for a more polished look by donning knotted button-down with stilettos or mules.
8. The oversized blazer
Aside from the denim jacket and those cute cardigans that marked preppy fashion (we’re talking about sweater sets!), perhaps the most enduring outerwear piece that skyrocketed in the '90s was the oversized blazer. Worn by celebrities like Julia Roberts and models like Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington, the humble blazer was—and continues to be—a go-to way to pull off easy luxe.
How to style it: Cop a model-off-duty look with biker shorts and a tee, or use it to elevate an office look by wearing it with cigarette pants or skinny jeans.
9. Cropped tops
Whether you’re a fan of baring your midriff or not, we have artists like the Spice Girls to blame for popularizing the cropped top, which lasted well into the 2000s. It epitomized the fun, flirty, and youthful fashion of the decade, and was rendered as sleeveless tanks, shirts, and sweaters.
How to style it: Instead of your typical cropped linen top or baby tee, why don’t you try a cropped sweater instead to channel your inner Cher Horowitz? You deviate from the preppy vibe by donning front pleat trousers instead.
10. '90s minimalism
Of all the fashion movements in the '90s, perhaps the trend that can be tirelessly worn is minimalism. And, contrary to popular opinion, minimalism isn’t just about black and white (very Scandi style!). It’s all about paring down outfits to their most basic elements, like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s boyfriend jeans-and-pullover look or Gwyneth Paltrow’s tonal gray outfit.
How to style it: There’s a plethora of ways to cop minimalism in this day and age, but one refreshing way to do so is to mix classic pieces with streetwear ones, like culottes and a cropped pullover paired with simple canvas sneakers.