Denim, Chokers and Scrunchies: A Retrospective on ’90s Style



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Ah, the ’90s! A decade that’s as unforgettable as the last episode of Friends, and just as fashionable. 

From the grunge flannel shirts that made us all want to be rock stars to the sleek minimalism that had us channeling our inner Calvin Klein, ’90s fashion was a wild ride of trends, influences, and iconic looks.

But what exactly made ’90s fashion so special? 

Was it the way it effortlessly blended the laid-back cool of grunge with the bold, in-your-face attitude of hip-hop? 

Or maybe it was the way it took the excess of the ’80s and stripped it down to a more streamlined, understated aesthetic that still managed to make a statement.

At its core, ’90s fashion was all about embracing individualism and self-expression. Grunge, with its flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and combat boots, became the uniform of choice for angsty teens and twenty-somethings alike. 

The rise of hip-hop brought baggy jeans, tracksuits, and bold, in-your-face bling to the forefront of fashion. 

And let’s not forget about the impact of TV and movies on ’90s fashion. Shows like “Friends” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” brought preppy, polished looks to the masses, while movies like “Clueless” and “Jawbreaker” made plaid skirts and knee-high socks a must-have for every fashion-savvy teen. 

But perhaps what made ’90s fashion so special was the way it embraced diversity and inclusivity in a way that previous decades hadn’t. 

The rise of supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks brought a new level of representation to the fashion world, while the grunge and hip-hop movements celebrated a more diverse range of body types and styles.

Even as fashion moved on, the influence of the ’90s never really went away. 

Today, we see echoes of ’90s style everywhere, from the resurgence of chokers and combat boots to the enduring appeal of vintage band tees.

Grunge: The Rebels Who Redefined Cool

Kurt Cobain performing on stage in his grunge aesthetic

Kurt Cobain, the frontman of Nirvana, became the reluctant face of grunge fashion, his thrift-store cardigans, ripped jeans, and worn Converse sneakers epitomizing the look. Fellow musicians like Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell also played a crucial role in popularizing the grunge aesthetic.

But music wasn’t the only medium spreading the grunge gospel. 

Films like “Singles” and “Reality Bites,” and TV shows like “My So-Called Life” and “Freaks and Geeks” brought the Seattle sound and style to the screen, showcasing the grungy, angst-ridden lives of American youth.

Screen grab of the Tv show, "my so-called life"

Image Credit: ABC

No discussion of grunge fashion would be complete without its iconic pieces. 

Flannel shirts, tied around the waist or layered over graphic tees, symbolized grunge’s effortless cool. 

Ripped jeans, the more shredded the better, were a must-have for any self-respecting fan. 

Combat boots, paired with floral dresses or baby doll tees, added a touch of toughness, while band t-shirts, emblazoned with the logos of grunge legends, allowed fans to pledge their allegiance to the scene.

Hip-Hop Fashion: The Birth of Streetwear


In the ’90s, hip-hop fashion was unmistakably shaped by iconic figures and influential brands. 

Tupac Shakur epitomized West Coast style with his bandanas, baggy jeans, and leather vests, while Biggie Smalls showcased the opulent East Coast look with Coogi sweaters and Versace sunglasses. 

tupak shakur dressed in all denim and a blue bandana
portrait of biggie smalls, showing his east coast style

Female artists like Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, and TLC added a significant feminine touch to the predominantly male fashion scene.

vintage image showing Aaliyah's 90s fashion

Key brands such as FUBU, Cross Colors, and Karl Kani catered specifically to the hip-hop community, with designs featuring bold colors, oversized fits, and graffiti-inspired graphics that resonated deeply within the culture.

Defining pieces of ’90s hip-hop attire included baggy jeans, symbolizing a rebellious spirit, and tracksuits, favored by Adidas and Nike for their practicality for breakdancers. 

Accessories like bucket hats and extravagant “bling” in the form of gold chains and diamond-encrusted jewelry also played critical roles, adding both a laid-back feel and a display of affluence to the hip-hop wardrobe.

Minimalism: Less is More

vintage image showing off Kate moss's 90s style. wearing a minimalist white top and blue denim jeans

In the ’90s, minimalism offered a sleek contrast to the decade’s more ostentatious styles, with designers like Calvin Klein, Jil Sander, and Helmut Lang leading the movement. 

This style emphasized clean lines, simple silhouettes, and a neutral palette, stripping fashion back to its essentials.

Kate Moss, known for her waifish and androgynous appearance, became a significant icon of this movement, embodying its cool, understated ethos. Models like Amber Valletta and Shalom Harlow further championed this aesthetic, their minimalist styles becoming magazine cover staples.

Key minimalist items included spaghetti-strap tank tops, sleek trousers, and fitted blazers, often presented in monochromatic black, white, or beige ensembles that exuded sophistication. 

The era’s quintessential minimalist garment was the slip dress, popularized by designers like Calvin Klein and Narciso Rodriguez, which epitomized the movement’s effortless glamor.

Preppy Chic: The Clueless Effect


In contrast to ’90s minimalism, the preppy trend embraced a polished, vibrant aesthetic characterized by plaid, pastels, and feminine details. 

The 1995 movie “Clueless” significantly influenced this style, popularizing it with its memorable plaid skirts, fitted blazers, and knee-high socks—all epitomizing the preppy look with a spirited attitude.

screen grab image from the movie "clueless"


Designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger captured the quintessential All-American preppy vibe, with brands like J.Crew and Gap also promoting the trend through their colorful, collegiate designs.

Key elements of ’90s preppy style included plaid skirts and blazers, often worn as matching sets, and knee-high socks that added a schoolgirl charm. 

Footwear like Mary Janes and platform shoes provided a distinctly ’90s twist, while the sweater vest emerged as a versatile, retro-inspired staple, often layered over shirts for a smart, geek-chic look. This ensemble made the preppy trend a lasting favorite of the decade.

Neon Dreams: The Bright Side of ’90s Fashion

Image from fresh prince of bel-air, showing will wearing a green neon shirt

Image Credit: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air/ Warner Bros

The ’90s fashion landscape was dominated by neon tones, a colorful rebellion against the subdued hues of previous decades. 

Neon was not merely a trend but a statement of defiance, with electric pinks and vibrant greens leading the charge.

Windbreakers, essential to this movement, combined practicality with bold aesthetics, making them perfect for streetwear and high fashion alike. 

The neon trend also embraced bike shorts and oversized t-shirts, celebrated for their comfort and statement-making silhouettes. Jelly sandals added a playful, carefree vibe to the vibrant decade.

Celebrated figures such as Will Smith, the Spice Girls, and Gwen Stefani not only embraced but also set these trends, epitomizing the decade’s spirit of bold individualism.

Gothic Glam: The Dark Side of ’90s Fashion

goth image of Nancy downs wearing all black and goth makeup

The ’90s also embraced a darker, gothic glam with punk influences, featuring black leather, heavy boots, and an underground allure. 

Essential to this style were studded leather jackets and chokers that lent a dark romanticism to the look. 

Fishnet stockings and bold, dramatic makeup with dark lips and smoky eyes intensified this nocturnal rebellion.

Icons like Marilyn Manson, known for his androgynous and provocative style, pushed fashion boundaries, while Courtney Love and Shirley Manson added punk rawness mixed with glam. 

vintage image showing off Marilyn Manson's crazy goth style fashion

Bands such as Nirvana, The Cure, and Nine Inch Nails heavily influenced this style, their dark and rebellious music echoing through the fashion of their fans.

Denim: The Fabric of ’90s Fashion


Denim defined ’90s fashion, transcending its fabric status to become a cultural icon. 

Ubiquitous from the streets to the red carpet, it appeared in various forms—high-waisted mom jeans offered a comfy alternative to the ’80s skinny jeans, while overalls brought playful charm.

Denim jackets were crucial, with designers like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger transforming them into sleek, versatile fashion statements. 

The era also celebrated more rugged styles like acid-washed and distressed denim, popularized by grunge icons such as Kurt Cobain. 

90s image showing a group of young men wearing denim on denim outfits

The Canadian tuxedo epitomized the bold denim-on-denim trend, a look immortalized by Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

Denim wasn’t just a trend in the ’90s—it was a lifestyle emblematic of a relaxed, carefree attitude, contrasting sharply with the polished aesthetics of prior decades. Whether it was a pair of classic Levi’s or statement acid-washed overalls, denim was the quintessential fabric of the decade.

Footwear: A Bold Stride into ’90s Fashion

collage featuring the different styles of shows worn during the 90s

Image Credit:

The ’90s revolutionized footwear with a range of bold, iconic styles, from sky-high platform shoes to rugged combat boots, each reflecting the decade’s fearless fashion ethos.

Platform shoes stood out as the definitive ’90s footwear, with chunky heels and towering soles that brought drama and a playful edge to any ensemble. 

The Spice Girls famously championed this trend, each member flaunting a unique style that epitomized the era’s exuberant spirit, whether in sandals, sneakers, or boots.

group image of the spice girls wearing different outfits in the 90s, as well as different show silhouettes that were popular during the time


On the lighter side, jelly sandals provided a colorful and casual alternative. These translucent, candy-colored shoes, popularized by brands like JuJu and Crocs, became essentials for beach and poolside wear, merging comfort with a fun aesthetic.

In contrast, combat boots symbolized the grunge movement’s tough, no-nonsense vibe, embraced by bands like Hole and figures such as Courtney Love. 

Dr. Martens, known for their durability, became synonymous with this rugged style, suitable for both mosh pits and urban environments.

High-top sneakers offered versatility and comfort, available in various colors and patterns, becoming a wardrobe staple for a laid-back look. 

Meanwhile, Steve Madden slides highlighted the ’90s trend of combining ease with bold fashion statements through their chunky platforms and simple slip-on design.

Timberland boots transitioned from workwear to fashion staple, especially within the hip-hop community.

Icons like Tupac and Biggie Smalls adopted these durable boots, cementing them as symbols of urban style.

These diverse footwear styles not only defined the ’90s cultural landscape but continue to influence contemporary fashion with their enduring, nostalgic appeal.

Accessories: The Cherries on Top of ’90s Fashion

collage image showing the different accessories worn during the 90s

The ’90s fashion scene was incomplete without its signature array of playful and bold accessories, each adding a distinct pop to the decade’s outfits. 

Hair accessories like scrunchies and butterfly clips were essential, with scrunchies in every imaginable color adding whimsy to various hairstyles and butterfly clips enhancing looks from simple ponytails to elaborate updos.

Chokers and tattoo necklaces defined cool-girl chic, infusing outfits with an edge through simple black ribbons or charm-laden designs, while tattoo necklaces offered a non-permanent dab into body art aesthetics. 

Adding to the mix of fun accessories were mood rings and jelly bracelets, with mood rings changing colors to reflect the wearer’s supposed emotional state and jelly bracelets stacking up on wrists in bright, eye-catching hues.

Practicality met style with fanny packs, providing a hands-free solution for carrying essentials in designs that ranged from understated to flashy. 

Mirrored sunglasses then brought a futuristic touch to ’90s fashion, their reflective lenses offering both mystique and a sharp style statement. 

Backpacks also became a platform for personal expression, with everything from mini backpacks adorned with patches to transparent styles that displayed one’s possessions. 

Completing the accessory lineup were body glitter and shimmery makeup, essentials for adding sparkle and glam to any look, from highlighting cheekbones to creating shimmering lids and glossy lips.

Together, these accessories didn’t just complement the ’90s wardrobe—they were pivotal in crafting the bold and expressive vibe that defined the decade’s fashion.

DIY and Customization: Making Fashion Your Own

Vintage image showing how you can customize your denim overalls by adding patched on them

If there was one thing that defined ’90s fashion, it was the idea that style was something you created, not something you bought. 

DIY and customization were the order of the day, with fashion lovers putting their own unique spin on everything from denim jackets to sneakers.

Patches and pins were one of the most popular ways to personalize your look in the ’90s. Whether you were showing off your favorite band, your political beliefs, or just your sense of humor, patches and pins allowed you to wear your heart on your sleeve (or your jacket, as the case may be). 

Tie-dye was another ’90s DIY trend that made a big comeback, with everyone from high school students to high fashion designers getting in on the action. Whether you were creating your own designs with rubber bands and dye or buying pre-made pieces from brands like Grateful Dead and Phish, tie-dye was a way to add some color and chaos to your wardrobe.

Bedazzling was another way to add some sparkle to your style in the ’90s. From jeans to t-shirts to handbags, no surface was safe from the glittery onslaught of rhinestones and studs.

Brands like Bedazzled by Dalia and Moschino were known for their over-the-top embellished designs, while DIY enthusiasts could buy their own bedazzling kits and go to town on their favorite pieces.

Micheal Jackson wearing a shiny sequin sweater vest, epitomizing the DIY style of the 90s


But perhaps the ultimate ’90s DIY fashion statement was the personalized denim jacket. Whether you were adding patches, painting designs, or even sewing on fabric scraps, the denim jacket was a blank canvas for your creativity. 

The Resurgence of ’90s Fashion: A New Generation Discovers the Decade


The cyclical nature of fashion has brought the ’90s back into the spotlight, and a new generation is discovering the decade’s most iconic styles.

From the runways to the streets, ’90s fashion is everywhere, and it’s being championed by some of today’s biggest fashion icons and brands.

Fila campaign image, showcasing 90s style vintage sportswear

Image Credit: Source: Vintage Fila campaign | Source: Courtesy

One of the most notable ’90s trends to make a comeback is the slip dress. 

This simple, slinky style has been spotted on everyone from Rihanna to Zendaya, and brands like Fila have made it a staple of their collections. Paired with a t-shirt or worn on its own, the slip dress is the ultimate ’90s throwback.

Another ’90s favorite that’s back in a big way is overalls. Whether worn baggy or fitted, in denim or corduroy, overalls have been embraced by fashion influencers and celebrities alike. With classic brands such as Dickies and Carhartt leading the wave.

Speaking of denim, baggy jeans are also having a major moment. 

Inspired by the oversized styles of the ’90s with flare and bootcut jeans are also making a comeback, thanks in part to the influence of ’90s-era celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Britney Spears. 

models wearing flared cut denim pants, showing the resurgence of the 90s trend in today's fashion

Image Credits: GETTY IMAGES & Acielle StyleDuMonde

On the footwear front, platform shoes are once again stomping their way into fashion’s collective consciousness. From sneakers to sandals to boots, platforms are adding a touch of ’90s edge to even the most modern outfits. 

’90s sportswear is also having a major moment, with retro jerseys and other athletic-inspired pieces popping up absolutely everywhere you look.

But it’s not just about casual wear—’90s-inspired formalwear is also making a comeback. 

Velvet, once a staple of ’90s red carpet fashion is so back, while oversized suit jackets have been embraced by fashion influencers and celebs alike. 

Plaid, another ’90s favorite, has also been given a modern update, with countless fashion aficionados incorporating the classic print into their collections.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about the ’90s fashion revival is the way it’s being interpreted and reinvented by today’s designers and fashion lovers. 

From the rise of gender-fluid fashion to the growing emphasis on sustainability and ethical production, the fashion world is a very different place than it was in the ’90s. And yet, the spirit of creativity, self-expression, and rebellion that defined the decade’s fashion scene is still very much alive.

As we look forward, let’s carry forward the ’90s legacy of bold experimentation and personal expression in fashion. It’s about feeling great in our clothes and having fun with our style—true to the heart of ’90s fashion. So, dust off those combat boots, layer that slip dress, and let the ’90s spirit inspire today’s fashion choices. 

The future of fashion is looking bright—and it’s got a definite ’90s twist.