As anyone who came of age in the nineties will tell you, the era had a distinct style. Sure, there was the ultra preppy look as highlighted in the cult classic 1995 film Clueless, but there was also an undercurrent of avant-garde grunge afoot (also on display in the flick). It was the height of O.G. supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington — who this fall recreated their iconic 1990 Vogue cover. It was the rise of the so-called heroin chic aesthetic, led by Kate Moss. Even today, she continues to steal the spotlight as the face of Yves Saint Laurent and on the runway for Bottega Veneta, where earlier this year she donned a nineties-inspired ensemble.
Then came the aughts, with its many fashion missteps — see ultra low-rise denim, Juicy Couture tracksuits, dresses-over-pants looks, and fedoras and trucker hats on the red carpet — that were well-documented given that the Internet had arrived in full force. It was around 2003, when I was sporting chunky hair highlights (yes, I did it) and Abercrombie & Fitch graphic tees, that I realized that nineties style had been a moment all its own.
Of course, every generation is wont to believe there’s something special about the time in which they grew up. But during a recent conversation with fashion photographer Erik Madigan Heck, he reaffirmed the inherent uniqueness of nineties style. Much like myself, he looked to magazines to connect him to the real world beyond the bounds of his Twin Cities upbringing. And he argues that the era was the peak of avant-garde fashion. For more hot takes from the contemplative creative — whose remarkable work has been seen the world over in the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and in campaigns for Chanel, Valentino and the like — check out our feature story, “In Your Wildest Dreams.”
After a couple decades of increasingly homogenous style, I’m excited to see Gen Z take the fashion world by storm and destroy all the norms. In so many ways, it feels reminiscent of the nonconforming nineties, when prep and grunge — two ostensibly opposing concepts — lived in harmony. It seems the old impossible beauty ideals have been broken once and for all (good riddance).
Need proof? Just look to the catwalks, which are more inclusive these days thanks to trailblazers like Indigenous activist Quannah Chasinghorse, whose facial tattoos defy outdated beauty standards and reflect her Hän Gwich’in heritage, and Antiguan-American model Aaron Rose Philip, who is breaking barriers as the industry’s first Black transgender model with a physical disability. Or consider Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which busted box-office records this year by showcasing a wider range of lived experiences (even if they were all technically dolls) and calling into question the societal expectations placed on both women and men. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that while we can honor the past with retro looks, we need to push toward a more just future where everyone feels seen, empowered to embrace their singular style and encouraged to practice radical self-love.
Kate Nelson, Editor-in-Chief