90s fashion worth remembering

MMost people who were there have good excuses for not remembering the 60s, but the oblivion that plagues fashion followers when it comes to 90s style is a totally different form of amnesia. Recalling the details, silhouettes and palette of the last breath of the 20th century is harder than wearing a lime green blazer with conviction, and cannot be blamed on a psychedelic haze.

Calvin Klein jacket, $189. CK brief, $30.
Credit:jedd cooney

’90s fashions are overlooked because of the decades they’re sandwiched between: ’80s Dynasty-style heeled pumps and padded shoulder glamor and ’00s-style youthful excesses.


The 90s whispered dresses with refined straps, maxi skirts that hugged the body and tops that were unbuttoned or cropped to reveal bellies, pierced or not.

“It was the days of the waifs,” says stylist Judith Cook, who was fashion director at vogue Australia in the 90s. During the decade, supermodels Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford were challenged for cover positions by gamine models Kate Moss, Jodie Kidd, Stella Tennant and Australian Emma Balfour.

Anna Quan “Etta” dress, $695.  Elsa Peretti's Small Bone Handcuffs, $2,250 each, from Tiffany & Co.

Anna Quan “Etta” dress, $695. Elsa Peretti’s Small Bone Handcuffs, $2,250 each, from Tiffany & Co.
Credit:jedd cooney

Along with this change came a change in attitude towards clothing. “It was a release and a loosening up of things after the 80s,” Cook says. “It doesn’t seem like much happened, but that’s when designers like Miuccia Prada and Dries Van Noten started. It was a fashion renaissance after the design stars 80s like Jean Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani.

It was Uma Thurman, wearing a simple lilac gown with an intricately embellished hemline at the 1995 Oscars, who helped launch Prada as a luxury ready-to-wear brand internationally.

That same year, Carolyn Bessette rocked meringue wedding dresses when she wore a pearl-white silk-crepe gown by former Calvin Klein designer Narciso Rodriguez at her wedding to John F. Kennedy jnr.

Bassike tank, $130.  Vintage Levi's jeans, $120, from Route 66.

Bassike tank, $130. Vintage Levi’s jeans, $120, from Route 66.Credit:jedd cooney

While simplicity offered the style reset we needed to have – in the same decade as the recession we needed to have, according to then-Prime Minister Paul Keating – 90s fashion was not limited to dresses with straps and monochrome silks.

“It was also when you couldn’t move without seeing a plaid shirt,” Cook says. “There was a sense of individuality as the designers felt free to interpret things however they wished.”

“Filo” dress by Christopher Esber, $895.  Elsa Peretti's Small Bone Handcuffs, $2,250 each, from Tiffany & Co.

“Filo” dress by Christopher Esber, $895. Elsa Peretti’s Small Bone Handcuffs, $2,250 each, from Tiffany & Co. Credit:jedd cooney

At preppy brand Perry Ellis, up-and-coming designer Marc Jacobs was inspired by Seattle’s emerging grunge music scene. The leather skirts, shrunken tops and denim jackets from her Spring 1993 show offered a new take on streetwear. “A typical outfit feels like it was put together with your 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 then changed the fashion soundtrack from grunge to rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. But it’s the grunge beat that continues to resonate strongly, with online fashion resale platform Depop seeing a 169% increase in searches for the term this year. Luxury brand Bottega Veneta has refined the aesthetic even further by recreating plaid shirts in soft leather.

“It all comes back,” Cook says. “The 90s are worth remembering.”

Styling by Penny McCarthy; Hair by Keiren Street using Wella Professionals; Makeup by Aimie Fiebig using Sisley Paris; stylist assistant Poppy Friedmann; Model Kristina at Priscillas.

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