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How to pull off the 90s trend

How to pull off the 90s trend

Whether you experienced it the first time or are nostalgic for the 90s you never lived through, the decade that gifted us with boy band-approved turtlenecks and candy-coloured tracksuits is everywhere. That means voluminous pieces are back, and athletic wear sits comfortably alongside smart-casual pieces in wardrobes once again.  

So why does this 90s revival align so well with the spirit of 2019? “The 90s were a time of freedom and expression, with a number of movements and subcultures creating these iconic looks," says stylist Toby Standing. "Now, those movements are re-emerging through gender expression, changing perspectives on masculinity, and political and environmental unrest. These rallying cries echo rave culture and grunge, and this angst and frustration is reflected in today’s clothing.”

Rebelling against the stuffier aesthetics of previous decades, this era of comfortable and casual styles fits well with colourful seasons like summer, whilst the layering translates to colder months. Tactile fabrics, like thick knit or mohair cardigans, and track jackets and windcheaters are great for autumn, whilst comfy jerseys are perfect for facing the elements.

So whether you’re channeling the grungier look or sticking to relaxed sportswear, you’ll want to heed to a few rules – and leave the decade’s more cringe-worthy styles in the past. 

Grunge

The 90s grunge trend relies on easy, oversized pieces that appear effortless. Grunge is about blending different styles like the DIY punk vibe alongside loose fitting skater shapes. Take inspiration from icons of the style, like Kurt Cobain, to create outfits that are easy to put together, like straight leg jeans, a loose-fitting top, and comfy sneakers. 

What’s great about grunge is that it doesn’t rely on any bold hero items, so it’s easy to recreate cost effectively and can be easily combined with pieces from your existing wardrobe. But as with borrowing inspiration from any decade, make sure it doesn’t look like a costume. “Always be sure to dial it back a notch,” Toby says. “Take certain elements and bring them into the modern way of dressing. You’re not imitating the Gallaghers, just take cues from items or ways of layering, like the silhouette of a cardigan over a t-shirt and jeans.” 

For casual dress codes, grunge style is a no-brainer. Wear it to a party, on days off, or even to work if you can get away with a more relaxed get-up. A modern interpretation is a safe bet, and it won’t turn loads of heads – unless you go full Cobain in an old tea dress.

“Get a good slobby cardigan,” Toby says, “It’s a really easy layering piece, and if you pick a bold colour, it won’t overwhelm your outfit in the same way as a jumper.” Cardigans are a great alternative to a casual blazer or jacket when the weather allows for it and won’t cost a fortune, making it a low risk and versatile investment that can be worn as an outer layer, or as a pop of colour under your coat.

When it comes to jeans, avoid styles that are overly ripped and go for something that feels more authentic. One knee blow-out or some distressing around the ankle is more restrained and harks back to a time when ripped jeans weren’t mass produced, but a by-product of skateboarding or gigs. If you want to put your own stamp on the look, source a vintage pair that you can repair yourself for a contemporary DIY finish.

Sportswear

Similar to grunge, the sportswear trend looks to oversized pieces, but with more of a focus on branding, so don’t be afraid of logos or colour. Bolder pieces won’t feel out of place teamed with casual, understated items. Speaking of bold items, the 90s is where the chunky trainer trend really kicked off, so take on bigger shoes and look for sporty fabrics rather than premium textiles – the key is dialing your look down in a considered way.

When you’re reaching for other casual pieces, don’t worry about matching brands. The tribalism of athletic wear can be restrictive, but this trend is bright, irreverent, and relies on chunkier shapes than sleek contemporary athleisure, so make it your own. Then wear it out. 90s-inspired sportswear works in most casual settings – parties, running weekend errands, and some casual work environments. If you’re tempted to wear it to dinner, dial it down with something slightly smarter like a pair of slim fit jeans. 

Other easy access points into 90s sportswear realm is via a track jacket and a pair of sneakers – the pairing will bring a sporty element to your look without overpowering it, but avoid a head-to-toe tracksuit – they’re best left to Will Smith in the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. 

“Tracksuits can look cool but they can also seem lazy, so maybe don’t wear one out for a nice brunch,” Toby says. Instead, try mixing and matching the elements of a tracksuit, and avoid Mr Motivator shell suits. But mainly don’t overthink your look – whether you opt for sportswear or grunge – and always remember to have fun. You can follow Will Smith’s lead on this one. 


Words: Ella White
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Toby Standing