One of the most iconic decades in fashion returns this fall.
By Ashley Breeding
For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, the flannel shirt (think former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl), the slip dress (a la “Melrose Place”), loose-fitting jeans (as worn by Monica Geller, played by Courteney Cox on “Friends”) and sweater vests and knee-high socks (as seen in “Clueless” and Aerosmith’s “Crazy” video) return this fall with a punch of nostalgia. Can you smell the Sunflowers and CK One?
While many have vowed to never wrap on a plaid skirt post-1999 (especially those who attended a parochial school), the decade also delivered many a cool trend whose return we’ve long awaited. “The 1990s was a distinct era when designers fused culture and fashion,” says Newport Beach stylist Deborah Keillor, who led local label Jacob Keillor with partner Hillary Jacobs in the 1990s. “Versace merged pop culture with high-gloss fashion.” Meanwhile, legend Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel blended the brand’s classic tweed textiles with the street-style attitude of the time, and the world’s biggest supermodels emerged on the catwalk wearing denim with crop tops, mesh tees and colorful tweed jackets.
But Keillor’s all-time favorite is Tom Ford, “who revived the Gucci brand at that time” as womenswear designer and then creative director, she points out. “Tom Ford’s slick and sensual collection from fall 1995 highlighted button-down silk blouses mixed with menswear-influenced suiting and sexy stilettos,” Keillor says. “He certainly gave us a new view on power dressing.” In this nod to power style, Jacob Keillor focused on knits and suits; made in playful colors and paired with short skirts and wide-leg pants, the office staple became equally popular in social clubs as it once was in the boardroom.
On the flip side was a casual, carefree attitude—think Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder as well as models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell—that some have also been eager to reembrace. Well, sort of.
“I think ’90s fashion also exuded an air of ‘I don’t care’ and ‘I just found these pieces lying on my floor,’ ” recalls Newport Beach stylist Leslie Christen. “I really loved that at the time, but not so much now as an adult. We now want to look more put together and like we care.”
Here, some of the area’s best style mavens demonstrate how to tailor the look if you’re older than Gen Z.
Your Boyfriend’s Outerwear
From the boyfriend blazer to the bomber jacket, “this is definitely a trend to revisit or even try for the first time,” says Keillor, who still wears vintage pieces but also favors modern styles from Balenciaga (at elysewalker in Lido Marina Village and Saks Fifth Avenue at South Coast Plaza) and Celine (also at South Coast Plaza). “To keep it modern, pair with a fitted silhouette, like a cat suit … or continue the ’90s vibe with a bralette and paper-bag wide-leg pant.” If you really want to master the rewind, add a big pair of hoops, choker or even a scrunchy. Still too warm for a second layer? Shop Jarbo (in Westcliff Court), featuring oversized turtleneck tunics and boyfriend V-neck knits.
“Classic Levi’s are a standard, always,” Christen says. “In my opinion, those will never go out of style. There will always be a market for them, and with the new generation loving resale and vintage shopping, they are even more of a necessity.” Nineties redux includes denim in a lighter rinse with a high rise, looser fit and ripped knees. Try Mother brand’s The Tomcat jeans ($248 at Rococo in Costa Mesa), AMO’s Mia jeans in Yesterday ($248 at The Red Balloon Ltd.) and Citizens of Humanity’s Emerson Slim Fit Boyfriend jeans ($218 at Laguna Supply).
A Little Help From Your “Friends”
The ’90s sitcom “Friends” preserved iconic styles of the time with decades of syndicated runs—it’s even back with a reunion show and all the old episodes on HBO Max. Chances are, those born even after the turn of the century know Monica’s “mom jeans,” Rachel’s silky slip dresses and cropped knits, and Phoebe’s carefree frocks and Docs. “The slip dress is one of those trends that’s flawless for all ages,” says Christen, who advises clients to always favor what fits over what’s trendy. “A slip dress can be worn so many ways—to the office with a fitted blazer and pointed-toe heels; on a date, with a leather jacket and ankle boots; or out to lunch, with a crisp button-up tied at the waist and gladiator sandals,” she says.
Christen also loves the elevated look of a billowy floral dresses with a waist bag. “They are not just convenient, but also comfortable and double as a belt to bring in some of the volume on a dress or accentuate your waist on a tighter silhouette,” she says. Keillor adds that designers are also having fun with cropped knit sets. “I like Jonathan Simkhai’s play on the crop cardigan with a billowy sleeve, paired with a matching crop tank,” she says. (Find crop cardigans at Intermix at South Coast Plaza.) Pair with “a high-waisted crop pant, or mix it up with a silk skirt for ultra comfort,” Keillor says.
Grunge, Only Cleaner
While Kurt Cobain (the late Nirvana frontman) and the ubiquitous flannel shirt never fully faded out of fashion, the full-on grunge look is back with the reemergence of relaxed jeans, lace-up Doc Marten boots and an ever-expanding collection from Birkenstock. (Traditionally donned only in the double-strap Arizona, you can now slip them on in a variety of styles in leathers, suedes, metallics, two-tones, animal prints—the list marches on.)
“A cleaner version of grunge can be achieved by mixing your oversized plaid shirt, ripped baggy jeans and logo tee with a chunky, lug-sole penny loafer, like those from Ganni,” Keillor says. “A luxe bag with a chain—like Bottega Veneta’s Chain Cassette shoulder bag—will also turn this look up.” (Find the bag at Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island and Saks Fifth Avenue at South Coast Plaza.)
Christen, who still wears Birkenstock sandals from 20 years ago, appreciates the edge that Doc boots lend to a feminine floral dress. Want to go high-fashion with grunge? Laura Hickey, of elysewalker, points to the Doc Marten look-alike Alexander McQueen Wander Boot or Balenciaga’s Mallorca Jelly Slides (with two straps, it’s reminiscent of the classic Arizona by Birkenstock) paired with R13’s Fluffy Plaid Cardigan.
Ten years cover a lot of runway trends, and the ’90s embraced an eclectic range of styles. Whether you’re revisiting your love for grunge or are old enough to rock a power suit for the first time, fall 2021 offers myriad ways to modernize this amazing decade of fashion.
From classic grunge to the avant-garde, here are four styles to try this fall.
For a high-fashion grunge look, try pairing Alexander McQueen’s WANDER BOOT, $990, and R13’s FLUFFY PLAID CARDIGAN, $695, both at elysewalker, Lido Marina Village. (949-612-2646; elysewalker.com)
A cult classic, the Birkenstock’s two-strap sandal now comes in a color for every mood, like this ARIZONA SPLIT, $170, at Birkenstock, Costa Mesa. (714-557-6639; birkenstock.com)
A timeless staple, the ’90s slip dress can be casual or formal, such as this COWL SLIP MIDI DRESS by Astr the Label, $89, at Nordstrom, Fashion Island. (949-610-0700; nordstrom.com)