1990s fashion has a style all its own that with due time, will surely have its place in the canon of fashion history.
According to industry standards vintage style is anything officially 20 years or older, so only a piece produced between 1990 and 1992 is technically vintage for 2012.
So depending on your personal opinion and vantage point to the era, the ’90s is a toss-up for vintage classification. A girl who grew up in the ’90s may prefer to avoid the ’90s fashion trends of her childhood and prefer wearing ’50s, ’60s , and ’70s clothing, while a teenager today may find the styles of the ’90s vintage simply because she can’t remember ever having experienced them before.
Since I grew up in this easy era and can remember most of the trends firsthand, I decided to thrift my favorite ’90s styles for a fun trip down memory lane at my hometown Salvation Army in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
To share the history of ’90s fashion trends, I combed the racks for the era’s most memorable pieces from cutesy denim overalls, printed shorts and crush-worthy velvet mini dresses to the era’s most quintessential prints like sunflowers, daisies, ditzy floral and preppy plaid.
Keep reading after the jump to see the 10 memorable ’90s fashion trends I thrifted from Salvation Army, and to learn more about how I experienced each back in the days of my youth!
Vintage stores like Grey Era in New York City’s East Village are cropping up to sell nostalgic pieces of the 1990s since the styles continue to creep onto designer runways and influence what we wear right now.
What quintessential styles of the ’90s should I hunt for next time I go thrift store shopping? Let me know in the comments below!
Feel free to scroll through the post see the ’90s fashion trends I thrifted from my hometown Salvation Army store, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article!
THE TREND: Denim overalls were a big hit with teenagers in the ’90s. When the weather turned warm, overall pants were replaced with shorts and if you were really trendy, you only wore one strap and let the other hang loose down your back!
Overall shorts were sold in every denim wash, from regular blue (what I thrifted, above) to dark, light, stonewash, khaki and a muted, grunge-inspired floral.
The ’90s was an era of minimalist ethos, so if you happen to thrift upon a pair of overall shorts with a patchwork, tribal or brightly-colored design you’re more than likely looking at a pair from the more flashy ’80s fashion era.
MY ’90s MEMORY: When I was in 4th grade, it was expected that every girl who was “cool” owned a pair of denim overalls from the Gap.
Back when I was 10, my closet was curated thanks to the tastes of my mother. But once the peer pressures of pubescent adolescence hit, I begged my mom to take me to The Gap at the mall to buy me a pair of this must-have fashion status symbol of elementary school.
She implored — and I rocked those Gap overalls like nobody’s business back in 1996!
THE TREND: Shorts of the ’90s weren’t cut like ’70s hot pants or booty-exposing Daisy Dukes, but rather fit high-waisted, fell to a longer length mid-way down the thigh and had eye-catching prints like stripes, daisy flowers or grunge-inspired patchwork or plaid designs.
The pair I thrifted are fresh for 2012 thanks to their white base and vibrant blue pinstripe with minimal detail and no embellishment. I love them paired with this blue sports top that perfectly matches the color of the short’s stripes.
MY ’90s MEMORY: I grew up as a member of a preppy country club, spending my youth surrounded by Bermuda shorts, collars with Lacoste crocodiles and a strictly followed khaki-over-denim dress code policy.
I remember eyeing up some pretty sweet shorts worn around the golfing greens by the more fashion-forward females of the club.
Since ’60s fashion saw a resurgence in the ’90s, I’m sure there was a pair of cotton colorblock printed shorts or two worn for a round of four!
THE TREND: Contemporary entertainment often inspires a fashion trend, like the movie Clueless did with the sexy schoolgirl style trend of the late ’90s.
The 1996 cult flick introduced impressionable girls like me to Los Angeles fashion princess Cher’s computer operated closet of mini skirts, sweater vests, button-up blouses, knee high socks and Mary Janes.
She’d wear her sultry schoolgirl look to her bourgeoisie high school by day and then stripe it off and slink into a pair of black Prada pumps and a flesh-colored Calvin Klein tube dress to hit the town for a night of partying.
MY ’90s MEMORY: I remember renting Clueless to watch at my 4th grade birthday party in 1996 and immediately wanting my own version of Cher’s pretty-in-plaid look.
Within weeks (and most likely after pulling my mother’s purse strings), I was the proud owner of a blue plaid mini skirt and a matching blue sweater vest I’d wear over a white button-up blouse. The trend was to leave the button-up blouse untucked to hang below the sweater and over the skirt. Sloppy, but cute!
The complete outfit was from The Limited, one of my favorite vintage ’90s brands (the styles were so much better then than they are now!) and a fav of my mother’s thanks to its more conservative take on the trends.
THE TREND: The sunflower design trend was one of many print trends to come out of the ’90s, along with daisy floral, ’60s inspired colorblock and dirty grunge plaid.
Sweet and innocent seeming, the sunflower print was fitting for the grunge girl who wanted to pair it with a tattered long sleeve denim shirt and utilitarian combat boots for an ironically rebellious fashion statement.
But sunflowers were marketed to the mainstream market too, and designers tacked them onto just about every item of clothing imaginable from maxi skirts (like the one I thrifted above) to jumpers, tops, shorts, bags, accessories and hats (with oversized sunflower appliques a la ’90s fashion icon Blossom).
MY ’90s MEMORY: In 7th grade (1999) I lived in my sunflower print tankini from J.Crew. I thought I was so sexy in it!
Tankinis were another big trend of the late ’90s early ’00s, and a great two-piece compromise that was mother-approved for a 13-year-old like me.
Here’s a picture of me on the Sammy Davis Vintage fan page rocking my sunflower suit in my bathroom with a DIY face mask that I remember making from an issue of Teen Magazine!
THE TREND: The velvet mini dress trend of the ’90s is a throwback to the same trend of the ’60s.
Like ’80s did ’40s, ’70s did ’30s and ’60s did ’20s, the ’90s did the ’60s and these soft babydoll ensembles are just one of many ways 1960s fashion found its way into contemporary ’90s fashion.
The ’90s modernized velvet dresses into velvet vixens with a fitted waist, sweetheart neckline and a bit of tulle to create an A-line skirt. They were also prolific as tightly fitted body-con styles in gothic scarlet reds, royal emerald greens and deep purples.
The shorter the better the style for the ’90s, which is why wearing a dress like this you definitely did not want to be seen bending over, unless you were rocking biker shorts (another ’90s trend I loved seeing on Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains it All) for coverage below.
MY ’90s MEMORY: I was too young to embrace the sexy side of the ’90s velvet trend, but I do remember wearing a velvet dress for the holidays in the early ’90s.
The dress I remember seeing from vintage family photos had a white Peter Pan collar and matching bib bodice with black buttons, and I most definitely wore it with white tights and black Mary Jane shoes!
THE TREND: Jumpers were a blend of mini dress and overall shorts in one. Jumpers have similar detachable straps like overalls, but without the boyish fit of shorts or the overload of hardware the comes with wearing overalls.
They were easy styles worn with cropped tees and jelly sandals in the summer, or with a mock turtleneck, leggings and perhaps some chunky Doc Martens in the fall/winter seasons.
The one I thrifted above screamed ’90s over any other jumper because of its daisy print design. Like sunflowers, daisies were a popular floral print because the ’90s revitalized ’60s boho style. Daisies were a popular flower for costume jewelry and mod print design in the swinging decade of the 1960s.
MY ’90s MEMORY: I’m pretty sure my mother dressed me in some pretty fine jumpers from OshKosh B’Gosh!
I remember owning a black corduroy jumper in the 3rd grade that was from suburban department store JCPenny. Although for an active girl like me, I think I still preferred the sneakers and stirrup pants look.
Today, I’d wear this sweet jumper in a heartbeat. I guess it’s true what they say: What goes around, comes around!
THE TREND: The skort is a cross between a skirt and shorts which when combined phonetically, equals “skort.”
While the ’90s embraced a handful of ’60s styles, the skort was a direct inspiration from the ’70s “Scooter” skirt.
You put the skort on like a pair of shorts, and then buttoned a flap over your shorts so that to the visible eye, it appeared as if you were wearing a skirt. Another nickname for this trend is “secret shorts.”
MY ’90s MEMORY: Skorts were a convenient fashion trend for a Tom girl like me because you could wear a skirt to please your parents while still having the peace of mind not having to worry about your underwear showing on the playground.
Like jumpers, I’d love to own a few pairs of skorts today. They’re a great idea for active urbanites like me who don’t want to get caught with their panties exposed when the wind blows on those city streets!
THE TREND: Floral maxi dresses were a ’70s flower child revival with a ’90s fashion spin.
Rather than made from a sweaty ’70s polyester and printed with oversized florals in bright bolds, the ’90s maxi was a breezy rayon-cotton blend of ditzy florals (more like a ’30s feedsack dress print) and commonly buttoned from top to bottom.
In my thrifting travels, I can’t remember ever seeing a long sleeve ’90s maxi, so it’s safe to conclude short sleeve styles were the most popular and most produced for the era.
MY ’90s MEMORY: While I was too young to pull off the maxi style in the ’90s, today I can wear that ’90 flavor with a variety of modern twists. Unbuttoning a ’90s maxi to wear as a festival cape over denim cut-offs and crop tops (another ’90s fashion trend) has become a recent trend for summer 2012.
The more DIY inclined can also create a hi-lo maxi by cutting away a foot or two of fabric in the front to create a fishtail effect, like guest vintage style contributor La Petite Marmoset did with her ’80s floral maxi skirt.
THE TREND: Dresses separated by a denim bodice-top and patterned skirt was a trend completely original to the ’90s.
This dress style was like wearing a denim shirt and skirt in one, almost like the popular shirtwaist dresses of the 1950s were a button-up collared shirt and A-line flared skirt combined.
The convenience of the denim shirt attached to a skirt seemed like a good idea but after witnessing its execution, isn’t as attractive to 2012 tastes. Perhaps we’ll see this style of dress make a future comeback in reverse — floral printed tops attached to denim skirts, anyone?
MY ’90s MEMORY: I remember my 4th grade teacher Ms. Smith wearing denim top dresses to class at good ‘ole Nitrauer Elementary school. She was the hot 20-something that I’m sure all the male teachers lusted over during lunch!
Like the popular maxi dress styles of the period, the denim top-skirt pairing was also a button-up style. It gave the dress a casual, Western-inspired vibe that reminds me today of the American Midwest!
THE TREND: Second skin body con dresses was the minimalist antithesis to the opulent fashion of the ’80s. The emphasized shoulders, ra-ra skirts and peplum puffs of 1980s clothing were completely wiped away in the ’90s for more subdued palettes, streamlined designs and less-is-more decoration, materials and prints.
In their place was simply a solid colored, tight-fitting dress that was so body-conscious that it arguably birthed the need for thong undergarments and wireless bras!
MY ’90s MEMORY: Growing up, my mother worked full time so when my brother (who is four years younger than me) and I had off from school during the summers, we were put under the supervision of an 18-year-old nanny named Christie.
Christie was a PYT who definitely rocked a body con dress or two! She was probably buying them from hot fashion mall stores Express, 5-7-9 or Rainbow.
While my 11-year-old consciousness probably didn’t realize it at the time, I’m sure my brother and I were getting a lot of attention when we’d leave the house with a hot nanny who could pull off the body con styles of the day!
Thank you to the Salvation Army of Lancaster, PA for permission to shoot photos in their store.
MORE ’90s FASHION
TRENDS: The 15 Most Wearable 1990s Fashion Trends
FRESH PRINCE: How I Styled a ’90s-Themed Party
TRENDS: The Hottest ’90s Trends by Complex Magazine
’90s BABY: Everything You Wanted to Know About 1990s Clothes
SHOPPING: Where to Buy 1990s Fashion
PLUS: ’90s Grunge Style on JaKenna Changing