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The Good, the Bad, the Early 90s

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, October 9, 2009 21:27 EDT
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I know everyone’s talking about the Nobel Peace Prize, but that’s why I can’t think of anything to say that hasn’t been said. So I’m writing about this instead.

Back during SXSW, I noted that the 80s were back in the most full-throated way. I need to revise that opinion slightly. It’s more like the late 80s/early 90s are hitting a high nostalgia peak, and they should be taken as one era, much in the way that the late 60s/early 70s are really one era. But the fact that the nostalgia/inspiration trip has moved from the New Wave era to the late 80s/early 90s became impossible to deny after seeing !!! last weekend. There were small-brimmed hats, and those baggy tank tops with the giant arm holes, people. Moreover, their main inspiration was obviously the Happy Mondays. Witness, right down to the slow mo applied to the bizarre close-ups of the dancing:

The Vivian Girls don’t sound early 90s, but they have the look down cold:

And cassette tapes. Good lord, how long before CDs get a nostalgia revival? Like all eras, this one had the good and the bad. Public Enemy was dominant, but so was Vanilla Ice. There was some top of the line dance pop, like the Happy Mondays or the Divinyls, but there was also Right Said Fred.

Pro: Heavy bass. It really took off in terms of popularity back then, and I still like putting something like the Mondays on in Marc’s car, equipped with a decently large subwoofer, and jamming out.

Con: Dorkiness. In many forms—silly dances, everything involved with the movie “Singles”, and especially the wearing of really stupid looking hats.

Pro: Comfy clothes.
I spent most of my junior high and high school years without even an ounce of discomfort from my clothing. Cotton, loose-fitting pants, baggy shirts, tossing a ratty cardigan on for warmth, sundresses, Doc Martens, Chuck Taylors, and yes even the flannel shirts that had their grunge heyday. There is something noble about practicality in clothing, and making comfort a priority.

Con: Pantlessness.
Comfort is good, but it got way out of control, and the worst offender was the sudden enthusiasm for pantlessness, an enthusiasm that has come back in full force. Giant baggy sweatshirts that barely cover the butt, long men’s dress shirts held together with a belt, pieces that aren’t long enough to be dresses but not short enough to be shirts—all were worn without pants, justified by the presence of the ubiquitous legging. As someone who personally committed this offense in my wayward youth, I beg of young women of today: Please wear pants. Or skirts. Or dresses. But a sweatshirt that barely covers your ass over leggings does not an outfit make. And if your leggings have stirrups or at cut off above the ankle, shame on you. Tucking legging into your socks or boots doesn’t improve the situation. It makes you like a distorted comic book character. If you give into the siren call of the legging, you will regret it. I have personally witnessed women of my generation burn cherished family photos rather than have anyone see what they wore.

I had paisley-patterned leggings in junior high school, that I would wear with an oversized purple shirt. Don’t let yourself become a victim like me.

Pro: Natural hair. For a brief, shining moment in the late 80s/early 90s, it suddenly became hip to not fuck with your hair too much. Don’t perm it, straighten it, dye it, or get overly fancy haircuts. (The one exception to that rule is men and some women who shaved patterns into their hair.) It probably had something to do with the ban on fluorocarbons, which meant that crazy amounts of hairspray wasn’t working anymore. I wore my hair long and straight down my back. Actually, I still do, with just the addition of bangs. But there was a dark period in the late 90s/early 2000s where I actually dyed my hair and cut it shorter at times in an effort to have something close to a style. Fuck that noise. Now, I comb it and pull it back. Occasionally wash it. Very 90s, and totally back in style.

Pro, part two: Clean-scrubbed look. Wearing a lot of make-up wasn’t really a thing, either. This is a remarkable, time-saving innovation.

Con: Weak-assed hippie shit. Of course, the reason a lot of these common sense innovations were part of our lives was not just due to the grunge-y direction that punk rock took, but also because there was a nostalgia trip for the 60s that concentrated heavily on white-washed flower child imagery, which meant that flowers appeared on those awful short brim hats. Paisley, daisies, and other offenses against common sense flourished. Remember, this resulted in great national shames like the Spin Doctors and Blind Melon, and there’s no amount of reconciliation that will make up for that. There was a brief surge of wide-ankled jeans—some bona fide bell bottoms—that helped make up for this, but they weren’t on the market long enough, and just collapsed back into boot cut. But at least it did end the reign of terror that is known as the tapered ankle jean. (No wonder women gave up on pants.)

Pro-ish: Okay, some hippie shit I like. That said, I had a pair of wooden clogs that were comfortable, sexy, and went with everything, but especially my stove pipe jeans, which I wore until they fell apart after the third time I patched the butt up. I have never been able to find a pair of wooden clogs quite like those. All I find are a little off somehow. I miss those fucking shoes, even though it’s been 15 years since they died.

So how about you? What would you love to see come back, and what would you hope never to see again?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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