Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thrifting 101, Part 19: Dating vintage clothes by era - the 1990's

Four weeks ago in Thrifting 101, I began exploring the history of fashion from the 1920's to the 1950's  in order to help you determine the age of a garment while thrifting. Three week ago, we focused on the 1960's; a week after that, we delved into the 1970's, and last week we examined the 1980's. This week I'll follow the fashion timeline through the 1990's. Understanding more about the history of modern dressing is a great way to figure out when a garment was made.

Missed any previous parts of the series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments, and tips for shopping for vintage online.

The 1990's

90's style and fashion was heavily influenced by TV, Hollywood and the music industry. Fashion fads of the 1990's took us from looks inspired by Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, to the Grunge style of Nirvana and My So-Called Life. While the 1980's represented a time of exuberant and outrageous fashions in a neon rainbow of colors, the '90s brought a more somber Grunge-inspired note and proceeded forward with flatter hair and a more subdued palette.

Early 1990's

The early 1990s saw a continuation of 1980s fashion. Women wore tight-fitting stirrup or drainpipe pants with elastic straps, oversized denim shirts, neon colors, straight-leg, high waisted jeans, baggy sweaters in bold colors and patterns, and black leather jackets. Colored tights remained popular, often paired with denim skirts, ankle boots, and short dresses.

Early 1990's Chanel ad

The first new nineties silhouette was the 1991-2 fingertip-length longer line jacket that moved down an inch for every year of the era. It was worn with an above knee skirt or flirtatious circular layered or snappy pleated skirt. Ra-Ra skirts, composed of short frills or net set on a mini skirt were popular in the early 90's.

A short, sleeveless, boat neck shift dress that initially showed about 8 inches of the lower dress under the jacket was seen as a useful business outfit. This last look remained an acceptable fashion for the decade, one which could be dressed up or down.

Also emerging in the early 1990's was the Empire-waisted babydoll dress, in bold floral prints, plaids, and polka dots. These dresses were often accented with lace trim, oversized collars, embroidery, and contrasting stitching, and became easily translated into maternity and plus-size styles. Leggings were occasionally worn under babydoll dresses or on their own with oversized sweatshirts and tees.

A vintage babydoll dress

Casualwear became much more important in the nineties, as a more youthful generation became increasingly influential in popular culture. Structured shapes of the eighties gave way to soft draping and loose-fitting silhouettes. By the edge of the 21st century dressing down in every aspect of life became an acceptable norm. Ordinary retail clothing sales, textile manufacturing industries and stores all declined from a less active more casual marketplace.

As a result of the nod towards casualwear, denim saw a brief reemergence in popularity. Jeans and denim jackets were available in coordinating colors, typically in pastel and dark shades rather than the bleached acid wash of the 1980s. Women began to pay closer attention to brand, often favoring designer labels over fit. Calvin Klein, Guess, and JNCO developed baggier silhouettes with large back pockets. Though women increasingly turned to cargo pants, leggings and chinos, jeans were still utilized in casual looks.


A still from the film Clueless, 1995

The preppy looks of the 1980's continued into the nineties, though through bolder colors and more form-fitting silhouettes. Replacing the penny loafer of the 1980's were white Keds canvas sneakers, often paired with white slouchy socks tucked over chinos or straight leg jeans. It was not unusual to see multi-generations of women wearing similar footwear. Abbreviated tartan skirts in bold colors, polo shirts, Bermuda shorts (often in tartans and flannel) and logo sweatshirts by brands such as Tommy Hilfinger and Ralph Lauren were popular components of the preppy look, along with rugby and oxford shirts, cardigans, chinos, v-neck and argyle sweaters, and knee socks.


The punk trends of the seventies and eighties continued into the nineties through the emergence of the Goth movement. Citing origins from the Victorian era, Goth fashions were focused around black clothing, accessories, and cosmetics. Black velvets and lace, empire dresses, corsets, fishnet stockings, leather garments, ruffled long skirts, and thigh-high boots were signature elements of goth dressing. Brightly dyed hair, an element of early punk fashion, was incorporated as well. Lingerie elements, including corsetry, hook-and-eye closures, and exposed garters were included in many Goth fashions.


Marc Jacobs Grunge collection shown for Vogue, 1992

The developing music scene that emerging from Seattle in the early nineties gave way to the Grunge movement. Strongly anti-commerce, anti-establishment, anti-fame and anti-celebrity, Grunge artists such as Nirvana, Pearl Jame, Courtney Love and Soundgarden embraced a simple, straightforward look completely absent of logos and any trace of corporate brands. Grunge fashion was generally unkempt and disheveled, and communicated a message of shabby poverty through the use of ripped jeans, flannel, thrifted and vintage clothing. Hooded sweatshirts, workboots, babydoll dresses worn with ripped tights, wool cardigans, and combat boots were embraced by college students. Dark colors were utilized in fabrics, including maroon, brown, deep indigo, and spruce green. Hair was often uncombed and shaggy; dark visible roots were preferable on women, as was long hair on men.

Ironically, the fashion industry marketed "grunge fashion" to consumers, charging premium prices for items such as knit ski hats. Designers such as Marc Jacobs and even Chanel incorporated an element of Grunge fashion into their collections, whether through the use of plaid, flannel or distressed finishes. Critics asserted that advertising was co-opting elements of grunge and turning it into a fad. Entertainment Weekly commented in a 1993 article, "There hasn't been this kind of exploitation of a subculture since the media discovered hippies in the '60s." The New York Times compared the "grunging of America" to the mass-marketing of punk rock, disco, and hip hop in previous years.



Chanel 1991 runway, showing a strong hip-hop influence

 In the early 1990s, pop rappers such as The Fresh Prince, Salt and Pepper, Kid 'n Play, and Left Eye of TLC popularized baseball caps and bright, often neon-colored, clothing. Hip-hop stars wore clothing items such as brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin and leather bomber jackets, throwback pullover baseball jerseys, graphic-print t-shirts and neon-colored sneakers. Oversized bomber jackets, bold gold jewelery, baggy carpenter jeans and overalls were popular among young men as casual wear. For women, TLC popularized oversized pants paired with a tight shirt and  a sports bra underneath. Door knocker earrings, flashy chains, and gold belt buckles were also embraced by female hip-hop stars.

The sagging trend became a popular element of hip-hop culture beginning in the early 1990's. According to Wikipedia, Lee D. Baker, Dean of Academic Affairs at Duke University, states that it is widely believed sagging was adopted from the United States prison system where belts are prohibited. Belts are sometimes prohibited to avoid suicide by hanging oneself, or to avoid being used as a weapon in fights.The style was later popularized by hip-hop artists and trickled down into mainstream black culture.


Calvin Klein spring/summer 1995

In the late 1990's fashion began to move towards silhouettes with influence in minimalism. Designers such as Calvin Klein and Prada created clothes with no embellishment in a dramatically stark, dramatic palette of colors. Basic black, gray, and white pieces in the form of slim cigarette pants, v-neck sweaters and tee shirts, silk slip dresses,  a-line skirts and shift dresses were worn. American designers such as Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors showed sleek, elegant clothes, typically paired with no jewelry, extremely natural looking makeup, and sleek hair parted in the middle.

A group of designers known as the Antwerp Five came to prominence in the late 1990's, and further developed the minimalism trend. Three influential members of the group were Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, and Walter Van Beirendocnck. Fluid, streamlined designs in exquisitely tailored pieces managed to be both classical and original. Utilitarian touches such as buckles, grommets and exposed zippers defined the modern, austere aesthetic.

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