For many of us, talk of the 1990s conjures up nostalgic memories of a simpler time. A time of new beginnings, of hope; Tony Blair was hanging out with the Gallaghers, Bart Simpson was showing us how to ‘do the Bartman’, and there was still a slim chance that Ross and Rachel would maybe just get it together in the end.
But it wasn’t all rosy. For some, the 1990s was also a decade plagued by unfathomable crimes against style, from thick curtain hairstyles to bleached elasticated jeans.
Today – as is fashion’s wont – it’s the 1990s that grave-digging designers are turning to, breathing new life into old favourites and abject horrors alike. But what to don and what to ditch? Here are our pointers to get you started on the path to style nirvana.
Bring Back: Bomber Jackets
Following on from its inception as a piece of military uniform in the 1950s, the MA-1 flight jacket was co-opted by skinheads from the 1970s onwards as part of their ‘bovver’, brawl-ready looks. By the early 1990s, however, this classic bomber was less a means of intimidation, more a layer to beat the biting chill on emerging from a sweaty warehouse after a heavy night’s raving.
“The key to styling this trend in a modern way is all in the cut,” says Giles Farnham, head of River Island’s complimentary styling service, Style Studio. “Back then, the tendency was to wear them hugely oversized, but you don’t want to look like an extra from This Is England ’90. A well-fitting bomber in navy, black or olive green goes with almost any casual outfit.”
Contemporary labels A.P.C. and Our Legacy offer options worth investing in, while River Island, Topman and H&M carry styles worth a look on the high street. Worn with a simple crew neck tee or sweatshirt, slim jeans and white leather sneakers, this is a no-fail, vaguely 1990s-inspired look to keep.
- He By Mango Side-pocket Bomber Jacket
- Asos Bomber Jacket In Teal
- Alpha Industries Bomber Jacket With Insulation Slim Fit
- Allsaints Tolbert Bomber Jacket
- Topman Dogtooth Bomber Jacket
- River Island Ecru Casual Contrast Neck Bomber Jacket
- Mki Wool Ma-1 Bomber Jacket
- Reiss Petras Padded Bomber Jacket
- Our Legacy Brushed Cotton-canvas Bomber Jacket
Kill Off: Frosted Tips
Frosted tips. Wow. What’s there to say? Some trends can be revived and enjoy happy, healthy lives in the modern world, but some trends need to be taken outside and, well, shot. Frosted tips is one of them.
Remember Justin Timberlake with frosted tips? Remember how ridiculous he looked? And he’s Justin Timberlake. Now imagine what you’d look like. Yeah.
What has stood the test of time, however, is the classic short back and sides. A neat, cropped cut is fast becoming the alternative to the slick styles of recent years. Just remember, no matter how ‘funky’ Sharon at the local unisex salon assures you it will look, steer clear of the bleach.
The Alternative: Short Back & Sides
Bring Back: Oversized T-shirts
There’s an ever-so-thin line between ‘oversized’ and too big/an actual dress. The last thing you want when opting for oversized is to end up looking like a gawkish teenager dressed in his big brother’s hand-me-downs.
“It’s all about balancing your outfit,” says Farnham. “[Counteract] the larger tee with a slim jean and well-fitted jacket; otherwise you run the risk of looking plain scruffy.”
And if you’re already scheming to add in tie-dye or similar 1990s affectations, then listen up: “It’s best to avoid that and keep it simple with a plain tee in a neutral colour.”
To go OG, look for tees in generously cut, skater fits or purposely oversized designs; sizing up one or two grades in standard T-shirt styles (slim-fit, muscle fit etc.) might seem like it makes perfect sense, but is actually a recipe for disaster.
Head to the high street for the best selection of colours and sizes, keeping your eye out for 100 per cent cotton styles. For sheer variety and affordability, Uniqlo can’t be beaten, however COS offers boxy cuts which can work well when worn oversized.
- Jack & Jones Super Oversized T-shirt
- Asos Longline T-shirt In Oversized Fit In Black
- Brooklyn Supply Co T-shirt Oversized Marl Contrast Stitch
- Topman Oversized Tyga T-shirt
- Topman Oversized T-shirt
- Allsaints Faxley Crew T-shirt
- Uniqlo Men Airism Crew Neck T-shirt Short Sleeve
- Cos T-shirt With Chest Pocket
- Puma X Stampd Oversize Tee
Kill Off: Dodgy Denim
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the birth of rave culture. And along with the yellow smiley faces, pills, whistles and glow sticks came some very questionable denim. There was the massive baggy jean that made you look like a walking weight loss campaign ‘after’ shot. And then there were dungarees, as well as a lot of acid wash.
“Most denim trends of that era have not aged well at all,” says Farnham. “But you can inject a little of the 1990s into your look without going overboard by trying a lighter wash in a slimmer silhouette.”
Levi’s exclusive 501 CT range for Mr Porter offers the just-right balance, with washed retro takes on the 501 classic, tapered though the leg. Elsewhere, denim specialists like Acne Studios and Nudie Jeans offer lighter washes in all their signature cuts.
The Alternative: Light Wash Denim
- Loewe Slim-fit Jeans
- Levis 501 Ct Jeans 501 Ct Slim-fit Jeans
- Nudie Jeans Grim Tim Slim-fit Organic Dry Denim Jeans
- Our Legacy First Cut Jean
- Acne Studios Ace Stretch Jean
- River Island Light Wash Selvedge Sid Skinny Jeans
- Uniqlo Men Regular Fit Straight Selvedge Jeans
- He By Mango Slim-fit Light Vintage Tim Jeans
- He By Mango Slim-fit Light Wash Tim Jeans
Bring Back: Grunge
Nineties fashion was awash with musical influences, from Liam Gallagher’s parka to Jarvis Cocker’s horn-rimmed spectacles to Tim Burgess’ haircut (just Google it). But rave and Britpop aside, another genre currently filtering through men’s fashion is grunge.
Unlike some other 1990s trends – best tackled with a more light-handed approach – grunge is a style you can wholeheartedly crowdsurf your way into. “When it comes to grunge, you really have to throw yourself into it, and consider every element of your outfit,” says Farnham. “Otherwise you’ll just look shabby.”
It’s about putting a lot of effort in to, well, appearing like you haven’t put any effort in. Loose, distressed knitwear and flannel shirts teamed with equally distressed denim and heavy boots (black or oxblood Dr Martens 1460s) is a fail-safe look Cobain himself would approve of.
If you’re prepared to do a little digging, head to Beyond Retro in London or any good vintage outlet to sniff out the makings of a truly authentic ensemble.
Kill Off: Wraparound Sunglasses
Also known as the universal marker of a Eurotrash DJ, these are by all accounts unforgivably bad. Teamed back then with a backwards baseball cap and goatee à la Fred Durst (*shudder*), wraparound frames fail to flatter any face shape.
This is partly because of the curves clashing with the natural contours of your face, but mainly because they make you look like a wasp. An actual wasp.
Far more flattering is the wayfarer, originally made famous by Ray-Ban; they’re as stylish and relevant today as when Tom Cruise mixed his first mojito.
The Alternative: Wayfarers
- Spitfire Wayfarer Sunglasses
- River Island Retro Style Sunglasses With Cobalt Detail
- Polaroid Wayfarer Sunglasses
- Thom Browne Tb-705 Sunglasses
- Sun Buddies Type 01 Sunglasses
- He By Mango Acetate Frame Sunglasses
- Tom Ford D-frame Tortoiseshell Acetate Polarised Sunglasses
- Ray-ban Matte Military Green Print Wayfarer Sunglasses Rb2140 50
- Topman Ray-ban Tortoisehell Wayfarer Sunglasses
Bring Back: Retro Sportswear
Born out of the golden era of Britpop and ‘Cool Britannia’ in the mid-late 1990s, this trend – consisting of sweat separates from the likes of Ellesse and Fila and old-school kicks from adidas – isn’t just good for P.E. classes, it’ll work as part of your downtime wardrobe too.
“This is a look that I have always been a fan of, but make sure you avoid that full tracksuit look,” says Farnham. “Damon Albarn’s uniform style was iconic and he’s pretty much stuck to his guns since then – a well-fitting tracksuit top or polo shirt, slim jeans and trainers.”
It’s a look worth emulating, just be sure to keep the (fine) balance between nodding to old-school athletic gear and coming off like a terrace terrorist.
- Adidas Beckenbauer Track Top In Navy
- Fred Perry Laurel Wreath Maroon Track Jacket
- He By Mango Flecked Jersey Bomber Jacket
- Farah Knitted Polo With Long Sleeves
- Ellesse Caprini Track Jacket
- Fila Vintage Retro Over Head Track Jacket
- Fred Perry Bradley Wiggins Stripe Cuff Polo
- Adidas Gazelle Indoor
- Adidas Hamburg Oslo
Kill Off: Baggy Cargo Pants
It’s boyband stylists that need to take the blame. Sported by the likes of 5ive, these sloppy-looking trews are now usually seen with a clumpy skate shoe and ill-fitting Slayer T-shirt, complete with suspicious cigarette burns and crusty Pot Noodle stains.
People of the United Kingdom – it doesn’t have to be this way. Cargo pants can still be done, and done right, but you’ll need a tailored fit. Italian brand Incotex, self-proclaimed purveyors of ‘impeccably cut trousers’ offer a sharp collection of tailored cargo pants, as do preppy stalwarts Ralph Lauren, J.Crew and Michael Bastian.
The Alternative: Slimline Cargos
- River Island Navy Wool-blend Cargo Joggers
- J. Crew Wallace & Barnes Donegal Wool Cargo Pant
- He By Mango Cotton Cargo Trousers
- Michael Bastian Slim-fit Cotton-twill Cargo Trousers
- Incotex Cotton And Linen-blend Slim-fit Cargo Trousers
- Brunello Cucinelli Tapered Washed Cotton-twill Cargo Trousers
- Suitsupply Grey Cargo Trousers
- Nigel Cabourn X Lybro Combat Pant
- Bleu De Paname Moleskin Cargo Pant
To paraphrase Coco Chanel: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” It made sense in 1930s Paris and it still applies – especially when it comes to reviving the 1990s. So, if you’re wearing washed out denim, isn’t that oversized tee a little too much?
Will you be tipping your cap to the nineties this season? Are there any other trends that you think don’t get enough airtime these days?
Share your thoughts below.