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.
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.