There’s no arguing that 90s culture has found a resurgence in a big way. Between the subtle and not so subtle fashion trends that draw inspiration from 90s grunge and flannel to florals and day-glo, like Jeremy Scott’s most recent collection pictured below, to the return of some of my favorite shows from growing up (Nickelodeon’s “The 90s Are All That” = Love!) you can see signs of it everywhere.
But the literary theory lover in me keeps speaking up as I re-watch Clarissa explaining it all and I’m starting to question what it is about 90s culture that just seems so right right now.
I wonder if this is just a “Fashion 360⁰”, where we grow up and wear what we wanted to wear when we were 10. After watching a couple of episodes of “Clarissa Explains It All,” I found myself unsettled by how much my brain was registering Clarissa and her friend, Sam, as mini hipsters. In other words, I was confused by how familiar their fashion was to what I’ve seen people wearing now. In reality, of course, the situation is reversed. These kids, around fifteen when the show began, were dressed at the height of progressive 90s fashion. That same fashion is being revamped and sold by big name designers and then eventually, filtering out into mainstream clothing availability like the trend-setting American Apparel or the trend-relevant Target. (I recently bought an ankle-length button-down floral dress that, while being current, made me feel a lot like Amy Grant.)
Why does fashion feel so important? Fashion doubles back on itself all the time, re-inspecting those layers of past-self-representation and mining them for new fashion gold. But is there something that fashion was responding to in the 90s that we are finding ourselves trying address again in the current?
Buzzfeed.com just posted the article “48 Pictures That Perfectly Capture The ’90s,” that had the above Lisa Frank clothing campaign and it really caught my eye.
Are we still “The Now Generation”?
Another picture that article displayed a handful of “high-tech gadgets, built to fit easily into your backpack” that are laughable when compared to that computer-in-your-pocket existence of smart phones and that ad is probably less than 20 years old. In my lifetime, which I recognize as being relatively short, we have been witness to an astounding revolution in technology.
The 90s saw the birth of that all being accessible and it’s hard to detach my first memories of the internet with America Online and the intellectual explosive from the bright colors of Day-Glo and Lisa Frank; that’s all just as easily juxtaposed with the gritty realness of grunge rock and the death of Kurt Cobain. The 90s remain as a weird amalgamation of extremes.
And maybe that’s why I find the 90s so attractive. Sometimes, we look back to the 50s or 60s, and coming up the 20s, trying to idealize the past. We appreciate that past because we feel like we can understand it, that it was a simpler time. Maybe the 90s, are still close enough that we can identify instead of idealizing. Maybe we can see the 90s as the decade that introduced causes that were both easy to believe in and yet feel easy to digest:
As usual, I’m not sure that I’ve really come to a conclusion on this topic. I know I appreciate the influence of the 90s on our current culture and that we are reveling in its glories from a comfortable distance. Even though feminism packaged inside sex-appeal may give us plenty of problems now, the easy-going openness of the 90s feels starkly in contrast to the Tea Party politics and Arizona white-washing. Were there negative politics in the 90s? I’m sure but I wasn’t really aware of them yet; I’m older and, with the internet, it’s harder to avoid it.
In that weird world of extreme contrasts that are somehow permeable, the loudness and brashness of Day-Glo and DIY zines allowed niches to disappear into. And maybe that’s what we’re looking for as we look back through those cultural markers of fashion, the ideals that somehow seem embedded in them. So, do we really remember the 90s? We’re just far away to know what we feel to be the capital-T-Truth of that time while it’s already glossed over with a fine sheen of nostalgia.
And also, RuPaul is definitely here forever,
and makes a pretty convincing first couple.