As with every decade, the ’90s were defined by fashion trends that are inextricably tied to that place in time forever. During the ’90s, branding became bigger than it had ever been before and with that rise in corporate branding came a barrage of fashion brands ready to capitalize on the efforts of their astute and highly capable marketing departments. While some of the most popular clothing brands of the ’90s enjoyed popularity before and after the ’90s, some are solely linked to the decade of the Discman and the Clinton administration. All of the most ’90s clothing brands, though, are permanently ingrained in our minds as stereotypical garb for retro ’90s parties.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie built a late-’90s empire by selling pre-tattered clothing branded with the company’s name and often tied with fictional sporting events and parties. The ultimate irony is how Abercrombie sold so much clothing even though the brand’s models barely wore any clothing at all.
British Knights became a household name at the dawn of the ’90s due to the rising popularity of hip-hop music. The company’s high-tops were notably seen in rap videos for Public Enemy and the brand even hired MC Hammer as an official spokesperson. It doesn’t get much more ’90s than Hammer-time.
During the ’90s, the Calvin Klein fashion brand was an instantly recognizable household name and the company’s iconic logo was donned by people of nearly all demographics. Kermit the Frog even got in on the trend and he wouldn’t even let Miss Piggy get between him and his Calvins.
Cross Colours was one of the pioneering urban clothing brands, establishing itself as a leader long before the segment was dominated by the likes of FUBU and Sean John. The company billed its pieces as “clothing without prejudice” and even actively contributed to causes encouraging education and discouraging violence.
Back in the ’90s, there was no item of clothing that transcended cliques and sub-cultures like Dr. Martens; everyone seemingly owned a pair or wanted to own a pair. Sure, the shoes were popular prior to the ’90s, but it was during that time that they reached peak popularity.
Officially the clothing brand was called Marithé François Girbaud, but everyone referred to the clothing company as simply Girbaud. Girbaud jeans were the hallmark of the fashion brand and were easily distinguishable from less popular and less expensive competitors by the company’s trademark tab on the fly and the “knife” pocket on the leg. Girbaud’s popularity was firmly established in the early-’90s, but continued on when New Orleans rapper Juvenile name-dropped the company in songs like “Ha,” “Soulja Rag,” “3rd Ward Soulja,” and “That Man.”
Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, you say? Well, in the ’90s, JNCO changed all of that by making it so much easier with their trademark “stovepipe” jeans. Skaters, gang members, and rockers were all sporting the comfortable JNCO pants and they eventually found their way to suburbia via Gadzooks. Remember Gadzooks?
L.A. Gear propelled itself into the spotlight in 1992 with the release of the iconic L.A. Lights line of shoes. With each step, the shoes lit up like a Christmas tree, okay maybe not so much but the second grade nostalgia got the best of me for a moment. I apologize.
Launched in 1986, Mossimo quickly positioned itself as one of the most recognizable clothing brands of the ’90s just as “Friends” was hitting the air. It seems like the company’s biggest seller was its logo tee-shirt, which was probably more indicative of the mid-’90s fascination with graffiti-style graphics than the consumers’ actual love of Mossimo’s fashion designs. A well done logo can carry a company very far.
Generation-X came of age during the ’90s and marketers capitalized on anything with ‘X’ in the title, including extreme sports. No Fear cashed in on the craze in a big way with its trademark shirts screened with existentialist quotes. Department stores across the nation were pushing these shirts to people who were more likely to wear the shirts to middle school gym class than anywhere near a motocross bike or downhill mountain bike.
The company’s logo was cute and endearing with the frog holding up a peace sign, but the company’s social conscience is what really moved Peace Frogs shirts. Peace Frogs was committed to environmental causes before such sustainable actions were en vogue.
There was nothing like owning a Starter jacket in the ’90s. Owning any other brand of jacket with your team’s logo on it was simply blasphemous behavior during this time, and if you were a school kid in the ’90s it was worse than blasphemous; you would be ostracized by your peers for wearing a nylon jacket made by anyone other than Starter. Starter was to the ’90s what Members Only was to the ’80s.
Polo is timeless and never goes out of style but it seems that during every decade a rival pops up and becomes extremely popular before fading into the horizon, leaving Ralph Lauren’s Polo brand as the lasting hallmark of American style. During the ’90s, Tommy Hilfiger became immensely popular with the preppy crowd, but the buzz had worn off by the end of the decade and Polo still remained the undisputed leading purveyor of American prep style just as the company does decade after decade.
Surf culture was huge in the ’90s and people across the nation, even in flyover states, were wearing board shorts and shirts branded with surf imagery. Yaga was a little surf, a bit beach, a tad Rastafarian. Their shirts were everywhere and worn by many who had never actually touched the ocean.
Parchute pants with zebra-like stripes. What else is there to say about Zubaz? They were big in the early-’90s, and like other in-your-face trends, they quickly fell out of fashion. Actually, let me correct myself here. They quickly became unpopular. I don’t think anyone would ever say that Zubaz were fashionable.
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