History of fashion series: the 1990s

Welcome to our new history of fashion blog series, in which we’ll be rummaging through more than a century of styles to inspire today’s stitchers.

We know vintage is officially cool. From stylists combing eBay for ironic 80s sweaters to stars wearing 50s Dior on the red carpet, it has never been so ‘in’ to wear the fashions of the past.

For stitchers, the history of fashion is a treasure trove of inspiration. Plus, unlike your average shopper who has to search for the perfect 40s frock, we can make our own, to fit us, in the colours and fabric we like. We can take inspiration from 1920s beading and add it to our own bag design. In short – we’re time travellers.

So, buckle up and come with us as we begin our vintage inspo adventure, starting in the decade many of us can just about remember: the 1990s…

The 1990s feel like five minutes ago but they’re back on the style pages and a goldmine of fun fashions, from hip hop styling to rave culture. There’s plenty for grown-up women to wear too (with or without the Spice Girls-style Buffalo trainers…).

First up: grunge. The music of the disenchanted recession generation came with its own philosophy, expressed in the clothes: ripped jeans, functional plaid shirts, thrift store-find dresses and army boots.

Ironically, the anti-consumerist movement became super-fashionable when Nirvana released their mega-hit album Nevermind and in 1992, a young Marc Jacobs dressed the hottest models (including one Naomi Campbell) in couture grunge (including ‘flannel’ shirts made from silk) – outraging pretty much everyone and losing his job in the process. Today the high street is full of grunge style, from torn jeans to pastel hair.

Sew the look: style up this Burda slip dress with chunky boots, or keep it casual with a Grainline Studio shirt and jeans.

90s grunge

Alt screen stars
Claire Danes is back on our screens in Homeland, but in the 90s she was the star of cult teen drama My So-Called Life. She was just one of a number of quirky, youthful and rebellious screen stars of the 90s: Liv Tyler in Empire Records, Drew Barrymore in flower crowns, Winona Ryder in everything – even the zany styles of Melissa Joan Hart in Clarissa Explains It All. We’re thinking: layering, waistcoats, dungarees, crop tops, scrunchies, berry lipstick and red hair dye.

Sew the look: We love Pineneedle Collective’s DIY crop top and McCall’s comfy dungarees. And who could forget that classic 90s hair accessory, the scrunchie? Boat People Boutique’s scrunchie tutorial is an easy way to add a touch of 90s style if you don’t want to go all out.

90s alt stylescrunchie
A reaction to the dazzle of the 80s (more on that next time), 1990s mainstream fashion returned to minimalism with simple, pared-down styles in hues of black, white and taupe – silky shoulder-baring dresses, pencil skirts, high-waist tapered trousers. Pair everything with a white shirt, a thumb ring and maybe a spritz of CK One.

Sew the look: Wear Papercut Patterns’ Guise trousers with a plain tee or white shirt, and New Look’s slinky dress with minimal jewellery and a sleek ponytail (and that all-important spritz of CK One, of course).
90s minimalism


Katie Allen PlumKatie Allen is a writer, content editor and crafter based in London. She is the author of craft book Just Sew Stories and also runs ethical clothing business Plum. She loves reading, writing and all things kitty. Follow her at @KatieFQ.

Photo copyright Leonie Morse.