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The 1990s could be best described as the years when the “grunge” clashed with the “gangsta,” and everywhere outside those two circles, the rest of the world turned minimalist.
It was the age of Dickies and Tommy Hilfiger. It was considered by fashion experts to be a transition between the ostentatious, flashy clothes of the ’80s and the “anything goes” school of the modern age.
It was such an easy and comfort-oriented fashion era, some of us are still having trouble leaving behind our untucked shirts and beltless pants.
For those of us who fell in love with the ’90s, here’s another chance to look back—then find a way to move forward.
The grunge look
The grunge look evolved with the popularity of grunge music, whose musicians preferred to go the extremes of naturalness.
And we do mean extremes. For instance, ’90s icon Kurt Cobain was described by music journalist Charles R. Cross as “just too lazy to shampoo.”
So with all this naturalness, one could naturally expect the clothing to be extremely laid back as well. Gone were the power suits and brown neckties of the past decade. These were replaced by faded jeans and untucked flannel shirts, thrift store items, and vintage ready-to-wear clothes.
T-shirts and khaki pants also came into the picture. Sneakers were in; leather shoes were out.
The gangsta look
At the other side of the fence, a different kind of music-influenced fashion had also been born.
From the hiphop music of the 1980s came the fashion trend known as gangsta. The trend started when young actors such as Will Smith and Christopher Reid dropped the neat and uptight preppy look and chose a louder, sportier image with bomber jackets and brightly-colored track suits.
Gangstas wore baggy pants buttoned below the waist, without any belts, and bandanas replaced the cap. Boots—the tough and heavy work type, not the sleek leather sort—were the footwear of choice by the gangstas, perhaps because sneakers were too closely identified with grunge.
The rise of the minimalists
Grunges and gangstas believed in their fashion with almost cultlike devotion.
But beyond these hardcore circles, the minimalists were coming into the scene. Fashion experts believe that this third trend was a response to the shoddy appeal of the two dominant styles of fashion of that time.
Instead of baggy pants and worn-out jeans, minimalists wore capris and khakis. Old trends such as power dressing were revived, but with a more subdued tone.
One thing the minimalists had in common with the grunges and the gangstas was a focus on comfort. But for the minimalists, comfortable clothes did not have to be too large and overly casual. “Comfortable clothes” simply meant not too long, not too short, not too loose, not too tight.
Looking back, the minimalists seemed the most “mature” group of all. But they were not without their quirks either. For instance, as black had at that time become the color of the goths—an offshoot of grunge fashion—the minimalists abandoned that classic color and went for brown instead.
Thus came brown coats, brown pants, and brown ties. This ensemble became popular with businessmen around the world. For casual outdoor attire, cargo pants were paired with double shirts.
Finding your way back
Eventually, most people got tired of grunge and gangsta, and the rest—well, they simply grew older. Who would have thought the day would come when the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would actually be caught wearing a suit and a silk brown tie? But it happened.
Still, despite the passing of these three fashion trends, a new openness to experimenting with new styles remained. This daring-but-smart attitude to fashion is the legacy of the grunge, gangsta, and minimalist styles.
Thanks to the 1990s, we can wear black dress shirts, neon pink ties, and khakis to work without getting flagged by the fashion police.
Khakis, in particular, are making a comeback; and today they have a serious new image that makes them as good for the boardroom during office hours as for the bar afterward.
So if you miss the 1990′s, go for grunge-fashion khaki pants, but make sure they fit well. Choose a minimalist beige sweater. And if you’re missing gangsta days, put on a bit of neon—but limit it to your tie.