The fashion world has a thing for nostalgia. Many of today’s trends are reinterpretations, if not outright replications of styles that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Those oversized shoulders, puff-sleeve blouses, prairie dresses, and pleated trousers that everyone is wearing right now? They're all straight out of the ‘80s playbook. And evidence of the current obsession with all things ‘90s is even more extensive: Square-toe shoes, slip dresses, bike shorts, baguette bags, and tiny sunglasses are just a few of the fashion trends from the '80s and '90s trends that have made a triumphant return in recent seasons.
If you dig a little deeper through the archive of celebrity looks, runway moments, and your own personal style memories, there are plenty of old-school revivals that are ripe for a comeback. From close-fitting tailored vests to stirrup pants, leather fisherman sandals, and chunky gold pearl earrings, certain vintage looks haven’t yet been resurrected to the modern mainstream, but totally should (and most likely will soon enough). Keep scrolling to get ahead of the curve and rediscover some of these pre-Y2K styles that you completely forgot you loved.
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Back in the ‘80s, trendsetter Princess Diana put bike shorts on the map with her iconic sporty ensembles featuring the bottoms. The athletic shorts made an unexpected return a few summers ago, and have remained a wardrobe staple ever since.
Puff-sleeve blouses were one of the must-have silhouettes of the ‘80s, according to Princess Diana and actors like Melanie Griffith (shown above in Working Girl). The romantic style has become a runway staple over the past few years, thanks to designers like Saint Laurent and Ulla Johnson.
Thanks to shoulder pads, blazers in the ‘80s had a boxy shape to them (above, an image from the 1988 teen movie Heathers for proof). Now, browse through luxury retailers like Net-A-Porter and Farfetch and you’ll spot a slew of boxy blazers from fashion girl-favorite brands. Pro tip: If you’re yearning for a style straight out of the decade, you’ll probably be able to snag a piece from a local thrift shop.
A slew of A-list celebrities opted for slip dresses on the red carpet in the ‘90s — just look to Halle Berry at the 70th Annual Academy Awards. On the runways, Kate Moss’ slip dress during the Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 1997 show further proved the silhouette’s popularity. While they might have been worn for fancier occasions back in the day, today, slip dresses are considered more of an everyday style. Pair the pieces with white sneakers and a casual denim jacket for a daytime look.
Blame The Spice Girls for the ‘90s platform craze. Above, Emma Bunton (aka, Baby Spice) wore a pair of white platform heels for the music video On Top of the World in 1998. Today, brands like Notaledo, Simon Miller, and Miu Miu have helped bring the funky style back.
If there’s one nostalgic fashion trend the industry can’t seem to get enough of right now, it’s sweater vests. In the ‘90s, the knit was worn by everyone from Tina Turner to Brooke Shields. As of late, influencers and celebrities alike are deeming the style cool again.
From Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day to Rachel Green in Friends, claw clips were an accessory staple worn on-screen back in the ‘90s. Over the past year, the model set, including the likes of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, have worn hair clips in multiple street-style looks.
Pastel Metallic Leather
With leather returning to the fashion landscape in such a big way lately, it’s only a matter of time before the frosted pastel iterations from the ‘90s show up on the scene. If you’re looking to try out the look, labels like The Attico and L’AGENCE have you covered.
Scrunched Socks & Sneakers
Sporty sneakers made their return seasons ago, but this particular way of wearing them was huge in the eighties and early nineties, and something you haven’t seen enough of in 2021.
Chunky Pearl Earrings
Princess Diana is the ultimate style icon of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and her signature chunky gold and pearl studs are ripe for a resurgence, especially in light of the recent popularity of chunky gold jewelry and polished pearl pieces.
If you’re looking for a style that’s more snug compared to your boxy blazers, consider scooping up a vest. The silhouettes are more form-fitting and tailored, such that one could easily be worn alone as a top when not layered over a turtleneck or prim pussybow blouse.
You probably best remember this style as it was done by Dr. Martens — all chunky-soled and well-worn. After tapping dry the square-toe and ultra-strappy looks over the last year or two, woven leather fisherman styles seem like the logical choice for the next ‘90s sandal obsession.
Sheer Black Pantyhose
Most would agree to keep flesh-colored stockings a thing of the past, but sheer black pantyhose might be worth reviving. Once a staple with skirt suits, dresses, and even more casual styles (Rachel Green wore them with everything from mini skirts and LBDs, to fitted shorts and her coffeehouse apron), there’s a sultry vibe they add that feels more stylized than bare legs but less covered-up and gamine than opaque tights.
Consider this the next stage in the evolution of vintage necklines following the recently trendy prairie style. Instead of ruffled yokes and frilly shoulders, this type of collar is simpler, often squared off, with a distinctly nautical vibe.
Minimalism has its time and place, but we’re seeing maximalist motifs creep in more and more — especially when it comes to accessories. Big statement cinchers and chunky chain link belts are the perfect options for adding extra oomph around the waist of that sleek menswear blazer or those high-rise slouchy slacks.
The fabric favored for wedding gowns and prom dresses in the 1980s got a bad rap in the decades since, but there’s more to taffeta than those stiff, shiny dresses that make an appearance in your family photo albums. Maxi skirts, tent dresses, and puff-sleeve styles are all currently popular silhouettes that would work well in a voluminous textile like taffeta.
We’ve seen bucket hats make a comeback but where are the berets? The equally iconic headwear style is an elegant and sophisticated alternative to the bucket, and infinitely more suited to fall wear.
Sometimes it’s the simplest detail that makes a style feel of a particular era. A normal pair of leggings? Nothing special. But add a stirrup strap at the bottom and suddenly we’re back in an ‘80s state of mind.
Long, straight skirts could be the next ‘90s minimalist obsession. Keep an eye out for column-style maxis in solid fabrics or small-scale prints, featuring a slit along the side or back seam.
Polo tops and rugby shirts are defining elements of retro sportswear. Nail the look in a collared knit that’s classic and country club-esque, in a bold solid hue, vintage-inspired argyle, or blocky stripe.
This small-detail trend is on the verge of blowing up — just look at the Balmain and Gucci runways for proof. Everything from sharp blazers to tweed jackets, tailored dresses, and cardigans are going glam with big shiny buttons along the plackets and cuffs.
Sequins went out of vogue when a more simplistic aesthetic took rise, but the return of everything ‘80s means a renewed appreciation for a bit of flashy glitz. Give your going-out attire the glamour it’s been missing with a sparkly jacket or bedazzled frock.
Big Bow Accents
Nothing conjures a throwback vibe quite like a well-placed oversized bow — be it on the shoulder or waist of a party dress, atop a pair of statement heels, or worn as a big, bold hair accessory.
Move over, mom jeans. The next generation of vintage jeans is going to be blouson pleated denim. Whether light wash or dark rinse, peg-legged or wide and baggy, pick a pair with darts at the waistband to get a jump on this inevitable fashion revival.
‘90s schoolgirl style wouldn’t be complete without a pair of preppy knee-socks. They’re an ideal match for the chunky loafers and platform Mary Janes that every influencer is wearing this season.
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