Fads and fashions in the late '90s

Updated April 17, 2017

Fashion historians sometimes call the 1990s the "anti-fashion decade," an era of streamlined style reacting to the over-the-top trends of the '80s. Although some '90s styles were simpler and more natural, fashion took a lot of its cues from popular culture, particularly from the music of the moment. Fashion made statements for different subcultures and the styles sometimes clashed and other times overlapped and merged. By the late '90s, some fashions and fads from the early part of the decade had established roots and were evolving alongside a new generation of ideas and styles.


The ultra-casual grunge look, inspired by grunge rock bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, lasted throughout the '90s. Flannel shirts, baggy jeans, Doc Marten boots and clean but uncombed hair was a dominant style for both men and women. Grunge fashion pushed business wear toward khaki trousers, neutral colours and unstructured jackets. However, toward the end of the '90s, silk dresses and Pashmina shawls began showing up on store racks. Colour came back to clothing, and pink eventually became the top choice for women In 1999, even the Hawaiian shirt had a brief moment in the fashion spotlight.

Piercings and Tattoos

Grunge and indie rockers also inspired a widespread trend of piercings and tattoos. Ear, nose, eyebrow, tongue and belly button piercings all became mainstream fashion statements. Tattoos, particularly lower back, ankle and bikini tattoos for women, were also popular. In the late '90s, clothing adapted so that tattoos and piercings could be shown off. Short tops that highlighted bare midriffs and spaghetti straps that showed off plenty of shoulder were worn year-round.

Hip Hop Styles

Hip Hop music defined an urban street style that emerged during the late '90s. Oversized sports jerseys, baggy trousers and top-of-the-line sneakers formed the basic look. Thick gold neck chains and baseball caps worn backwards were common accessories. Designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein accommodated the new demand for extra-large versions of their traditional sportswear. The late '90s also saw the beginning of the hip hop-inspired sagging or low-riding trousers look that showed off a pair of expensive boxers. The look was modelled after the loose clothing inmates wore in prison where belts were not allowed.

Punk and Goth

Toward the end of the '90s, the punk and goth styles of the late '80s made a convincing comeback. The basic element of punk and goth style was colour, or the lack of it. Black ruled punk and goth fashion. Leather boots and jackets were a key part of the look with chains and studs. The chained wallet and gloves without fingertips were common accessories.

Hair and Makeup

During the late 90s, one of the most popular hair styles for women was the "Rachel," a layered almost square cut inspired by a character on the popular TV show, "Friends." Cornrows, layered bowl cuts and layered fringe swept to one side were also popular styles. Hair mascara which allowed users to apply brightly-coloured temporary streaks enjoyed a heyday in the late '90s. The natural tones of make-up popular since the earlier part of the decade expanded to include dark red lipsticks and blue and green nail polishes by the end of the decade. Body glitter was also a significant fad in the late '90s.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.