4/22/11

Vintage Style #19: When Fashion Had Style



I remember, back in 1993, I asked a friend if it was just me, or did it seem like the nineties didn’t have a distinctive fashion. She agreed, but added that it is always hard to peg a decade with a certain “look” while still in that decade. She said, “In the 2000’s, the ‘nineties look’ will be as distinctive as the ‘eighties look’ or the ‘seventies look’”.

Wrong. It’s 2011 and I still don’t see it…. and the 2000’s are no better. For instance, a picture of girl in the 1970s is instantly recognizable as being from that decade. You can even pinpoint which part of the decade – early, mid or late seventies. The same holds true for the eighties, sixties, fifties, forties, etc. What the hell happened?

The way I see it, there are only two possibilities.



1. I am just an old fart and cannot pick up on fashion nuances any more.

My grandparents, like many of yours I’m sure, stopped adjusting to fashion waves around the early sixties. Their furnishings and clothes would have fit perfectly in 1963…. not so much in 1994. Somewhere along the way, they just stopped being able to roll with the styles. It’s not like it was a conscious decision to not give a shit; I honestly think they didn’t think they were out of synch at all. “How could they not see it?” I thought. “It’s so obvious.” Obvious to all those young whipper snappers, but not to a geezer like myself.

In other words, the styles from the past two decades are every bit as distinctive as any other decade, but I am blind to it.

(And just for the record, I would not say “grunge fashion” elevates the 1990’s into the same level of distinctiveness as prior decades. The grunge look was brief and not that many people followed the grunge uniform.)



2. The other possibility is that I am right. Previous decades are instantly recognizable because they were bold and interesting. Whereas, the 1990s and 2000s are distinctive only in their blandness and unoriginality.

Take the 1980s for example. Think of the bright colors, the pastels, skinny ties, parachute pants, Vans, Ray Ban sunglasses, big ass earrings, Swatch watches, big moussed hair, leg warmers, acid washed jeans, shoulder pads, etc., etc. Any Polaroid of me and my family from 1985 does not need a date written on it – one look at our hair and clothes is all you need to ascertain when it was taken.

Not so 1995 or even 2005. I yawn just thinking about the fashions of the last twenty years. Lots of t-shirts and jeans, I guess…. not much to say really. Just blah.



So, which is it? And before you say anything, I am fully aware that the trademarks of a decade do not begin and end precisely according to the calendar. Nothing magical happened December 31st at 11:59 1979. As if, when the clock struck twelve POW! it’s the eighties! Bring on the Members Only jackets and The United Colors of Benetton!

I look forward to hearing your opinion on the matter. 

And it just wouldn't be a Bad Fashion post without a healthy dose of some vintage 70's chicks. VoilĂ ! 

















38 comments:

  1. The fashion of the 1990s was just a toned down version of the late 80's, with the addition of baggy jeans, crop tops, and combat boots. Definitely nothing to go on about but clearly different from the previous decades.

    2000s fashion - Low rise bootcut jeans and a t-shirt.

    2010s fashion - Skinny jeans and a t-shirt with a belt. 80's revival.

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  2. I have often remarked how nice it is that for the last 15 years or so you can wear almost anything and it works. If you saw someone dressed like the 70s walking down the street today they would not stand out. Heck, they could be walking with someone dressed from the 80s and neither one of them would stand out...
    But my wife said that in 84 they didn't have much money as kids and she was forced to go to school wearing bell bottoms- which were very dated in 84 and she was relentlessly teased.
    (I remember having a mustache and goatee in 87 and people looked at me like i was some kind of freak.)
    Today, I see it as freedom, if it looks good you can wear it! Of course there are fads in clothing- I just think it's a sign of mankind's progress that we allow personal expression and not walk around in "uniforms".
    Of course, this could all change next year...

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  3. What you say is true but isn't this a chicken and egg dilemma. Ever since the 90s when hundreds of cable tv channels and the Internet swamped popular culture with ironic and nostalgic images, we've looked at those images for style guidelines. Just the fact that there is a "retrospect" insures that the past stays present and no new style can emerge.

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  4. Sorry "retrospace" not "retrospect"

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  5. You know, we all dressed like sofas and curtains. What can I say? It was sort of interior decorating couture inspired by Levitz.

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  6. As you say, one can look at a photograph from the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s etc. until the early 1990s and tell what decade it is.

    There was a college girl we knew about 2000 that laughed at pictures of my wife from the 1980s and early 90s, and I told her she will be embarrassed at pictures of herself in her tacky hair and sloppy clothes when she gets older and fashions change again. She didn't believe me, but I know I'm right.

    A few things the girls (and guys who notice details of fashion) might be able to ID is the length of shorts, how baggy or tight the pants are, and such. I work at a college and notice slight changes every few years. But you're right that basically it's jeans and t-shirts.

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  7. Reminds me of the Kinks Dedicated Follower of Fashion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxYGOSSj9A0

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  8. You pegged this one right.
    The 90s had no sense of style.
    Not a distinctive one anyway.

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  9. Have you seen those recently published photos a guy took in the mall in the 80's of the women with the hideous, monsterously huge big hair? Ack!

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  10. You are correct, sir! (How's that for dating myself!) There's a group of young men who are renting the house across the street from me and I never see them in anything but sweat clothes. Baggy stretch pants, shorts past their knees, and baggy hoodies all day long. And when their girlfriends come over on the weekend and take their ritual "walk of shame" from the house on Sunday morning, they're dressed the same way. No one cares about style anymore. Everyone just wants to be comfortable. To me, if you are too comfortable, you shouldn't be out in public. Presenting yourself to the world takes a little bit of effort. Except for business attire, I can't define any trends from the last 20 years.

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  11. there is one "fashion trend" from the past twenty years that always makes me holler on the street, "pull your pants up son, your drawers are showing!"

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  12. I actually agree with the assertion that fashion of the 1990's and 2000's were not distinctive or unique, whatsoever, and have pondered the reason for that myself. I think it is a matter of having turned a corner in our human experience where everything has been done, everything has been tried - every shape has been worn and the generations before were able to be creative in coming up with something new. Now, nothing is new anymore because everything that can possibly be done has been done - and therefore, styles, shapes and trends are recycled looks from the past. Everything is a reference to something else. That is simply a fact.

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  13. The whole nineties revival just confuses me and its my own age group behind it because I was born in the nineties.
    The 'grunge thing' for maybe the past two years or so have made a little resurgence in the fall with all the plaid button-up shirts and alpine wool sweaters (paired with skirts? What?) I don't know, maybe they think twenty years is an appropriate time to actually pin down the nineties 'style' and really, it didn't have much of one. The nineties to me just makes me think of just recycling stuff from the eighties (stirrup pants, neon, Jellies) and sixties (tie-dye) and it is just UGH, goache. Like, why would you go back to such an ugly and capricious fashion decade?

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  14. Oh there are styles alright, besides the exposed underwear there's also been the street walker look, also there is a lot of sport hoodies and baseball caps. Also piercing and semigoth/goth, skaters with cargo pants and tees.

    You just aren't noticing it.

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  15. Eh, what comes to mind when I think of 90s fashion is around '97/'98/'99/'00. I remember lots of light blue and white, especially fluffy fake fur, inflatable backpacks. Jelly shoes... halter tops... crimped hair... it was tacky in a "we're trying to look futuristic for the new millenium" kind of way.

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  16. The only distinct fashion trend I can think of off the top of my head from the 90s was the "grunge" look...yuck, hated it.

    However, I think the worst was the printed tank dress worn over a t-shirt..a look that I admit I was guilty of.

    The past decades' looks are considered classics now...many of the older trends, especially the clothing featured on shows like Mad Men, will always be wearable in my opinion.

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  17. oh classic! look at those white bell bottoms! As I was born in 1971 I was very much a teenager of the 80s so for me the denim look was in with big hair and jewellery - a la 16 candles.

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  18. You are absolutely 100% right - I've often said the 90's and beyond are a fashion twilight zone, but doubted my own perception until my 16 year old son asked me why he can't differentiate between fashions from the 90's to now....Hmmmmm. When he watches footages from the 80's, 70's, 60's, etc, he often refers to these footages as "the ancients" - However, interestingly enough, he knows exactly the decade he's looking at. When it comes to 90's and beyond he doesn't know if that was yesterday or 10 years ago. I don't know whether this is a good or bad sign because I can't tell the difference either other than by musical or my intuitive perception of cultural correlation.

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  19. I'd agree with Lynleigh, the '90s were toned-down '80s. Acid washed jeans, still lots of mousse and hairspray. For girls, I'd say the 2000s is the decade of the freak-slut; fucking tatoos and piercings ruining their beautiful bodies, unnatural colored hair (blue, pink, etc), non-descript grunge-goth clothes with more tatoo-influenced graphics (just go into The Buckle and you'll see that designers todays are all on crack), all working together to make them look like sideshow rejects.

    Give me a clean looking girl in a nice mini-dress and nicely styled single-color natural hair any day.

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  20. I think part of the problem, which others have alluded to, is the fact that nothing in the last 20 years has been particularly impressive. Sure, there have been identifiable trends, but for the most part the name of the game seems to be to wear the ugliest, tackiest thing possible. Two notable exceptions are the continued popularity of wide leather belts with jeans among younger women (very 70s and one of my favorite looks, if only they would hitch them up a couple inches), and the recent wave of classy womens' boots that has also swept the current generation. They kind of represent a return to the chunky and the substantive in my opinion, rather than the wispy, willowy, floaty weirdness of late. When will we see the end of the empire-waist tunics already?

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  21. Here's a fashion distinction from the nineties :the banded collared shirt , a.k.a , the Chinese collar .I knew quite a few people who wore those .If you really want to
    see a "nineties" look , check out Sci - Fi tv shows like Babylon 5 , or TeK War; They scream "90s".

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  22. Excellent and interesting I live in Guatemala and the fashion is a reflex of Usa and I can't make a diference by fotograps of the past 15 years

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  23. I agree with you whole-heartedly. The same can be said for the music of the 90's and 00's. Aside from the grunge of the early 90's, the music of the last two decades has been mind-numbingly dull and completely without its own style. While I can hear a song and remember when it was released, there is nothing about the style of the music that places it in one of those decades. I could hear a song from the 50's, and even if I had never heard it before, I would know it's from the 50's. Same with every other decade up until the mid-nineties or so. It seems artistic style just went away.

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  24. It is true, fashion has kinda stopped at one point in 1992. Not much difference in 2002 and I'm sure in 2012. Last week I watched American Graffiti, and I realised it was a nostalgia film just shot 10 years after the period depicted!! What a difference between 1962 and 1972!

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  25. Hmmm... It is hard to imagine someone shooting a movie in 2012 about the good 'ole days of 2002 :)

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  26. I remember at the height of the Lilith Fair phenomenon, seeing a lot of girls wearing pretty sun dresses with what I presume were meant to be ironic army boots. Made me so sad.

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  27. So we're not creating anymore but recycling past fashions and making weird combinations. The concept of recycling came about in the 90s ...

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  28. I actually think the 90s had quite a distinctive look. There's a huge 90s revival in fashion at my college with girls wearing short babydoll sundresses paired with doc martens and boys wearing ripped levi's with flannel. I think part of the reason why we cannot attribute a unique sartorial trend to the 90s is because it was relatively recent. Fashion now, is certainly a conglomeration of past trends (high-waisted bell bottoms, for example, are seen among the folksy crowds of Brooklyn and Silver Lake in LA)...yet the return of a new and distinct fashion trend that will serve to define the 2000s is highly unlikely. As others have said upthread, fashion generally reflects the collective psyche of society...now we strive for comfort and individualism as opposed to one trend that will serve as a common denominator amongst people.

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  29. Gilligan I think you are at least partly right. It isn't so much that there aren't trends but that those trends are, in the aggregate, bland in comparison to previous decades or epochs. I think Klara nailed it when she said that "we turned a corner in our human experience."

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  30. Because of the internet nothing has a chance to percolate anymore. That is why fashion has been in a holding pattern since the mid 90's.

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  31. I think you're right in one sense - there's no singular cohesive fashion style that you can point to from the '90s or the 2000s. I've got 6 older siblings, plus aunts and uncles galore, and after living through the 70s and 80s with them (plus looking at the pictures/home movies of the 50s and 60s) I think that there are a lot of factors involved.

    On the one hand, it usually takes some aspect of big pop culture to define the style of a previous era. If you ask anyone under 40 today what the 50s were like they'll almost certainly reference all the cultural memes put forward by American Graffiti and Happy Days. When people think of the 60s it's all bell-bottoms, hippies, revolution, and woodstock. The 70s are Polyester, Disco and sex. The 80s is members-only jackets, big hair for the girls, and coke-fueled parties. All of these definitions have been helped along at various points by solid pop culture landmarks. We have Woodstock footage defining the 60s, and films like Scarface and Saturday Night Fever for the 70s, and John Hughes as the definitive 80s documentarian. But all these landmarks only define -one- aspect of an era at best, and at the worst, they're just caricatures of one person's remembrance, filtered and distilled through time. Not everyone in the 70s dressed like a prospective member of Abba, just like not everyone in the 60s looked like a flower child. I'd even go so far as to say those looks were actually in the minority.

    The 80s are a special case because you had the rapid expansion of mass media creating a sort of feedback loop that influenced styles to a much greater degree. People went to see Ferris Bueller or Pretty in Pink or watched MTV and came away from it thinking that was how the rest of the country dressed, and were then able to go to their local mall and buy exactly that kind of style. Up until Cable TV and other influences of the 80s it was rare to have different regions (of the country or world) in sync with each other. The fashion industry and the media fed off each other, and it continued to accelerate through the Madonna look to the late 80s/early 90s commodification of hip hop culture (remember hammer pants?) and finally hit a brick wall with Grunge.

    From that point forward there have been definitive looks or styles that can easily be pegged to an era, but they have been more fragmented - usually along the lines of a particular culture or subculture. The Goth look of the late 80s/early 90s, the rave look of the early to mid 90s, the gangsta/thug look, etc. The key difference in the post-MTV era is that these looks aren't widespread across an entire population, but are broken along whatever demographic a person identifies themselves with. You no longer have an overwhelming "fashion look of the season" being promoted by big retailers, you have an ever-increasing array of niche markets that slowly but continually evolve. We live in an era of Hyper-Individuality where anyone growing up now has countless options as to how to dress, including being a complete iconoclast and crafting their own style.

    so yeah - the landscape has completely changed. But, there is still the possibility of a defining work of pop culture that will cement the public mind as to the "look" of the 90s. Usually these kinds of work come well after the fact, or at least are not recognized for what they are until well after the fact. We're all to close to the 90s and 00s to have a concept of those times that can be condensed into a few easy-to-remember memes, but as the next generation gets older they may latch onto "quintessential" (defined by them, not us) icons of the eras that preceded them. It could be Friends or Seinfeld as easily as it could be Benny & Joon and In Living Color. Only time will tell.

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  32. I do think a little more time may bring the '90's into better focus. As an example, while living through the '80's, I knew turquoise and pink were popular, but I didn't realize HOW popular till recently, when I notice turquoise and pink on everything I see from the '80's. And, to add a furhter wrinkle, those colors were partly hot because of "1950's nostalgia" at that time.

    A few things I think will be distinctive about the '90's to present:
    Grunge style
    Hip-Hop style
    Goth style
    Tattoos and piercing
    And less niche, almost universal among men: baseball caps.
    The "business casual" look will stand out in photos from the workplace someday, with khaki slacks and blue polo shirts on the men.

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  33. AnonymousMay 05, 2011

    The 90s had it's own distinctive style. It was baggy, shapeless shit with penchant for clunky, unattractive shoes, but it was there.

    God knows why everything had to be oversized in the 90s, from jeans to shirts to coats. Everything. It was terrible.

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  34. Hmm... quite a lot of those '70s outfits in your pics look '60s to me! The cutting edge thing of the '60s was the hippie look. Things got a bit stuck in the '70s, the '60s rather overshadowed the decade, but if you truly want to present the mood and cutting edge style of the '70s, may I suggest Punk?

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  35. Punk certainly wasn't mainstream until the '80s.

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  36. There's always been more than one style to a decade. When I think of 60's, I think of Mods. The Hippies had terrible taste. There were Rockers in the 60's too. The 70's had the Disco, but also Punks. The 80's had New Wave, the Two Tone movement, Mod revival, the Goths.... I'd argue it's always been diverse. The Grunge and the hip hop thing exist side by side. I think you are just focusing on the cliches here, or rather one particular aspect of the era. Each era has been multifaceted.

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  37. I honestly couldn't disagree with the above posts anymore if I tried. As someone who was born in 82 I can differentiate in an instant between the styles of the 80s, early, mid, and late nineties (All which by the way are comprised of totally different looks). The late 2000-10s are just a regurgitation of the overall 80s and early 90s styles. So here are some hints/ clues to look for when watching movies. First the whole beefy body type/ spiked hair look was very in for youngish guys in the mid to late 90s extending through the early 2000s. Now guys are more anorexic than women if you look at current 2010 and on films with the emo skinny jean look. Also belly shirts for women were very in in the late 90s early 2000s (ala britney spears). Also totally agree with whoever said the late 90 were some misguided attempt to look futuristic (aka the rave scene). Walking around with knots/corn rows with blond hair while sucking on a blow pop, in a white baby tee half shirt, and a baby blue pleather blazer was a staple of the late 90s. Early 90s consisted of big hair and MC hammer pants. Then came grunge, then, just watch the movie clueless which depicts fashion from 95-97. Then 97-2000 again is the effed up futuristic/ minimalist/ 70s influenced styles. In the early 2000s 2002-2004 the beach look was crazy in. Think hawaian flower print shirts and shorts, and puca shell necklaces. Since the 80s were so unbelieveably tacky with regards to clothes, it paved the way for the more minimalist fashions of the late 90s early 2000s.

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  38. AnonymousJuly 29, 2012

    I agree with Bev,and I was born in '94. It's becoming more of a seventies look here in Los Angeles. My young days in the 90s- '02, were startingly distinct. Perhaps you guys are too old? :P My dad's glasses were very '90s... let alone the rest of him and my mother.

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