Most people who were there have good excuses for failing to remember the ’60s, but the forgetfulness that washes over fashion followers when it comes to ’90s style is an entirely different strain of amnesia. Recalling the details, silhouettes and palette of the 20th century’s last gasp is more difficult than wearing a citrus-lime blazer with conviction, and can’t be blamed on a psychedelic haze.
The fashions of the ’90s are overlooked because of the decades they are sandwiched between: the court-shoe heels and padded-shoulder Dynasty-style glamour of the ‘80s and the youthful excesses of Y2K.
The ‘90s whispered refined slip dresses, maxiskirts that hugged the body, and tops unbuttoned or cropped to reveal bellies, pierced or otherwise.
“This was the era of the waifs,” says stylist Judith Cook, who was fashion director at Vogue Australia in the ’90s. Over the decade, reigning supermodels Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford were challenged for cover positions by the gamine models Kate Moss, Jodie Kidd, Stella Tennant and Australian Emma Balfour.
Along with that change came a shift of attitude towards dressing. “It was a freeing up and loosening of things after the ’80s,” Cook says. “It seems like not a lot happened but this is when designers like Miuccia Prada and Dries Van Noten began. It was a fashion renaissance following on from the design stars of the ’80s like Jean Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani.”
It was Uma Thurman, wearing a simple lilac gown with a delicately embellished hemline at the 1995 Academy Awards, that helped launch Prada internationally as a luxury ready-to-wear label.
That same year, Carolyn Bessette made meringue wedding dresses passé when she wore a pearl-white silk crêpe slip dress by former Calvin Klein designer Narciso Rodriguez at her wedding to John F. Kennedy jnr.
While simplicity offered the style reset we had to have – in the same decade as the recession we had to have, according to then prime minister Paul Keating – ’90s fashion was about more than slip dresses and monochrome silks.
“This was also when you couldn’t move without seeing a plaid shirt,” Cook says. “There was a sense of individuality as designers felt free to interpret things the way they liked.”
At preppy brand Perry Ellis, emerging designer Marc Jacobs drew influence from the grunge music scene emerging from Seattle. The leather skirts, shrunken tops and denim jackets of his spring 1993 show offered a new vision of streetwear. “A typical outfit looks as if it were put together with the eyes closed in a very dark room,” wrote the The New York Times’ fashion critic, Bernadine Morris.
Labels such as Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel and Guess Jeans went on to change the fashion soundtrack from grunge to rock’n’roll and R&B. But it’s the grunge beat that continues to ring loudly, with online fashion resale platform Depop seeing a 169 per cent increase this year in searches for the term. Luxury label Bottega Veneta has further refined the aesthetic, re-creating plaid shirts in soft leathers.
“It all comes around again,” Cook says. “The ’90s is worth remembering.”
Styling by Penny McCarthy; Hair by Keiren Street using Wella Professionals; Make-up by Aimie Fiebig using Sisley Paris; Styling assistant Poppy Friedmann; Model Kristina at Priscillas.
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