Future/Past: 90’s Nostalgia on the Runway and in Culture

February, 2013, New York City. The party is in the very dark and very low-ceilinged basement of a huge store in Soho. The darkness is compounded by walls covered in black graffiti, amidst which aloof skaters with Dash Snow braids under factory-fresh Supreme skate caps chain smoke. A girl wearing a yellow, smiley face bra (one large smiley face per breast), printed leggings, and platforms also had long braids, and glows from the darkness; the accessory of choice for her, and many others at the party, is the mini-backpack. The mini-backpack! Back from the dead! The nostalgic vibe of the environment welcomes me to a throwback fantasy of the 90’s teenage life that I once lived, squeezing past warm bodies in a sea of outrageous, grungy, club kid outfits.

Illustration: Ron Egatz

Illustration: Ron Egatz

It’s now spring 2013, and we have come full circle to return not just to the identity-embracing fashions of the 1990’s, but also to the attitudes and culture that helped create these fashions in the first place. Rave parties in basements? Check. Girls with enough confidence in their bodies that they wear literally what-ever they want in the streets of New York City, even if that’s a belly-shirt, a fanny pack, and black lipstick? Check. (Oh, and smoking inside? Check. Could have done without that one.) Even beyond the 90’s body ideals of waif-chic an Amazon-chic, here was a decade for the assertion of the individual and her body. And her cultural heritage. 90’s identity politics informed not just a decade of contemporary art, but also of fashion and body politics that made for incredible interesting and diverse fashion.

If you were alive in the 90’s, or if you know how to navigate a Google search, you will recall 90’s fashion in the above categories also had some of the most unfortunate textural characteristics of almost any decade: layers of lace and stretch velvet, oversized, floppy layers which sometimes included floral overalls; unflattering stretch synthetics with cheap prints; and one of my personal irritants, the mini-backpack as seen at the aforementioned Dis Magazine party. Yet, designers have been taking these seemingly unredeemable details of fashion history and reworking them into some of 2013 most esoteric and avant-garde pieces.

Now back to the spring and fall 2013 runways of Dries Van Noten, Phillip Lam, and Givency. Amongst other designers, between these three we find a wide swath of 90’s nostalgic looks, but strongest in the reinterpretation of high-grunge into the avant garde. Especially at Givency, there is an embracing of the sense of the individual with eccentric accents, candy-colored hair, and mismatching patterns and textures, with sheers, tight bondage-patent leather, and flannels all coexisting on one body (see plaid and floral patterns united at the Givency spring 2013 runway).

These esoteric re-workings of the 90’s can be some of the most wearable pieces if high fashion for 2013, as they harken to a decade of staunch individuality, unisex trends, and graphic accents—the 90’s marked a paring down from the glitzy shoulder-padded opulence and preppy elite looks that characterized the 80’s, and brought the American woman back into the real world, where she could assert her individual style, imply her political opinion, and express her subculture affiliation or emotional state (hello, grunge: finally, a fashion that finally embodies postmodern depression!) There is no doubt that the 90’s redux fashion of 2013 is by far smarter and more cutting edge than the original.

But even if the Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, or Phillip Lam pieces are too esoteric for you, I recommend that you add pieces to your 2013-and-beyond wardrobe that remind you of the 90s. Even if you just wear a pear of purple velvet Doc Martens through this spring, you might tap into a time before irony and when Amazons wore smiley-face bras with leggings and platforms. When fashion wasn’t quite so sharply about self consciousness, but rather about individual empowerment through unabashed love for color, texture, and even outrageously mismatched pieces that scream about your identity. How American! Viva the 90’s!