1990 t-shirt on woman with dark red lipstick
Brunette girl in retro Italian home. Film simulation.

5 Gen-X Style Staples I’m Never Giving Up

When I was asked to write a piece about 90s style clothing that still matters, I looked down at my enormous skater jeans (within which I could probably smuggle the entire discography of Paula Cole, The Sundays, the Sugarcubes, Sarah McClachlan and Tori Amos) and said Yes quicker than you can say “spoon man.” Because my love language is the Delia’s catalog, my aesthetic is Blind Melon, and I have no problem looking like a 42-year-old Bee Girl.

There’s a photo of me on my last day of high school in June 1996. I’m wearing a thrifted t-shirt, enormous off-brand JNCOs, and brown faux leather cage sandals that were the Payless (RIP!) approximation of these Doc Marten sandals. That was 25 years ago (ack!). I’ve certainly followed trends over the years , but my sister once shared a theory I now essentially subscribe to and have come to embody: people often get stuck in the style from the year they graduated high school (which explains so many GROWN DUDES in ratty cargos and flip-flops. Ugh, gross). And, again, while over the years, I’ve filled my closet with trendy crap from Zara, the closer I get to what I hope is the just the midpoint of my life, the younger I feel (well, mentally, at least, and the more my style gravitates toward “Alanis wailing in a 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V” and away from FashionNova TikTok Bae hell.

Slouchy, quirky, slacky comfort was the point of the 90s, and if a global pandemic isn’t the time for slouchy comfort, then I did not own a ball chain necklace in 1994. (I did.)

Here are the Gen X trends I still stand by — and wear:

Daisy and sunflower prints! 

retro daisy print shirt
(Photo: Dolls Kill via Los Angeles Magazine)

Recently I’ve heard the call back to daisy prints: A prairie style (deal with it) black Zara dress with a yellow sunflower print, a pair of chunky black platform loafers with little daisy on the vamp. I’d draw the line at an Anne Geddes-style straw hat with a sunflower ribbon trim, but otherwise, if it’s be-daisied, it’s in my consideration set.

Big. Ass. Jeans.

JNCO jeans
JNCO’s The Camilla Jeans

If you see me in jeans that aren’t swallowing my body, that ain’t me. I refuse to engage in or comment upon the insipid “skinny jeans are dead” debate other than to say WEAR THE JEANS YOU WANT TO WEAR and that while I’ll keep my skinny jeans in the rotation, I also like my jeans baggy with a side of Poetic Justice.

Thrift-store shirts

Hall and Oates shirt
Available in lots of colors from TeePublic

Because what else are you going to tuck into your elephant ear jeans. Even if “ironic t-shirt” isn’t your vibe (and I get it — some can definitely feel performative), the fit of a single stitch or paper-thin ‘70s Hanes Beefy T is just chef’s kiss.

Black bike shorts

black bike shorts
(The Girlfriend Collective)

Two things recently converged to hurtle me back to 1990: I re-watched LL Cool J’s “Jingling Baby” video (doesn’t matter why!) — which, WHOA ’90s bike short fashion nirvana — and I started wearing black bike shorts on my dumb Peloton. (Yes, like a true Peloton basic, I’ve managed to shoehorn a reference to Peloton anywhere and everywhere it does not belong!) Did the bike shorts look good on me? Debatable. Did I care? I unquestionably did not. Still, I stand by the fact that Salt N Pepa’s Idol Maker jackets and a pair of bike shorts are the apotheosis of ‘90s cool. Celebrities are giving them a spin in real life out on the street, but I’ll take a hard pass on that. 

A sad cardigan

vintage mohair cardigan

While the ‘90s certainly didn’t invent the cardigan, never was a cardigan sadder than when Kurt Cobain performed wearing the perfect fuzzy (sad) mohair grandpa cardigan in “Come As You Are” on MTV Unplugged in 1993.

And One Style We Should Never Bring Back (Even Though It’s Already Back)

While you can take 1994-era Chloe Sevigny, Denise Huxtable’s entire wardrobe, and the full essence of this Max Blagg Gap commercial and inject them directly into my veins, there are a few Gen X style missteps so egregious that they must never be repeated. Those are:

Babysitter shoes

(Steve Madden slides)

I have a vivid memory of a trip to NYC in February 1998. It was a chilly, rainy day the color of a three-week-old midtown snowbank. I was in Manhattan to interview for my college summer internship at Jane Magazine (NAILED the interview, and I spent the summer… opening mail and living off Burritoville (RIP FOR REAL) and Cowgirl Hall of Fame margaritas. But, most saliently, I remember BEGGING my poor parents to let me stop in David Z Shoes before we drove back to Virginia so I could buy a pair of Yellow Box brand black wedge platform shoes. They weren’t THE ‘90s Steve Madden black slide (which my husband refers to as “babysitter shoes” because “that’s what babysitters wore”), but they were its terribly evil cousin. And while they were so shapeless, tasteless, clueless, so offensive  that they could barely even be a called a shoe, I obviously thought I was a ‘90s teen dream queen when I paired them with… my black polyester Silvertabs (what can I say? It was a different time. Also, my Google search for their likeness was ultimately fruitless, leading me to believe that they were so heinous that “the Internet” has censored them, which is probably for the best in this case. We have children to keep safe! 

Whatever your age, whether or not you remember a simpler time before Aunt Becky became a higher ed scammer criminal, may your jeans be roomy, your beanies Alanis, your flowers daisy, cardigans sad, and your Wino forever.

Tell Us in the Comments

What Gen-X style staple are YOU never going to give up?

3 Responses

  1. Margit

    Jean and leather jackets for-evahhh

  2. Margaret Crandall
    Margaret Crandall

    I can’t articulate this as well as I want to but: when I think of GenX style it’s sort of like “norm core” because of the IDGAF aspect. That may be the influence of the DC hardcore scene? Basically the opposite of “dress to impress.”

  3. Beth

    Black leather motorcycle jacket and skinny jeans. Alas, I can’t wear Doc Marten’s anymore. otherwise I would.


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