What’s old somehow always manages to become new again, so it’s not a surprise that ‘90s fashion has officially come back around. It may have been a time before social media and cell phones that could reasonably fit in our pockets, but so many style trends directly came from the best movies of the decade.
Though most of us probably don’t rock plaid mini skirts and over-the-knee socks these days, it’s impossible to deny that ’90s movie fashion was on point. Many of our favourite ’90s stars– from Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler to Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp – donned some iconic outfits in ’90s movies that will go down in both film and fashion history for decades to come.
These are the best outfits from ’90s movies, from “Clueless” to “Cruel Intentions.”
Cher and Dionne’s coordinating plaid sets in “Clueless” defined a fashion era.
It’s impossible to talk about ’90s movie style without mentioning “Clueless” – the colourful, happy fashion from the 1995 film served as the perfect antidote to the grunge of the earlier part of the decade, and somehow made Mary Janes effortlessly cool.
The entire movie was a fun, fashion bonanza, but perhaps the most iconic outfits were Cher and Dionne’s coordinating plaid suits in the early part of the film.
In 2018, costume designer Mona May told Interview Magazine how the plaid sets came to be, saying, “When we started working on ‘Clueless’ there was pretty much just grunge everywhere. We went to some high school in L.A. and it was all very Kurt Cobain, with flannel shirts and baggy jeans. For the movie, it was really to bring back the feminine in Cher and Dionne. To bring back the fun, the girly. It was the ’90s so there was no internet and I had to research everything with books.”
Of Cher’s Dolce and Gabbana suit, May said, “For the opening scene, we wanted Cher to stand out…. I looked at red and it didn’t seem right, blue was pretty, but not bold. And Cher is bold – she doesn’t have any excuses, she just goes for it. When we finally found the yellow, that was it. Amy Heckerling, the director, and I just knew. And then I complemented Dionne with black and white and red on her shirt and hat.”
Romy and Michele hit their high school reunion in unforgettably fun frocks.
While “Clueless” was very much a high school movie about life as the popular kids, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” is about what happens after high school, and what it means for the less cool kids to go back to their old stomping grounds.
May was also the costume designer for that film, and she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2016 that it was “kind of the grownup version of ‘Clueless’ and I was able to do more racy stuff.” The two titular characters eschewed “grown-up” fashion though, instead opting for neon crop tops and mini skirts, even at the gym, making for movie fashion history.
Their best looks are at the end of the movie when they finally arrive at their reunion, and instead of conservative satin pastel suits that the popular girls wore, these high school misfits donned coordinating pink and blue latex baby-doll dresses, featuring plenty of shimmer and attitude … which is exactly how it should be.
Josie Geller’s “first day of school” white outfit with feather trim was perfectly misplaced.
The ’90s proved that going back to high school can be rough for any of us, but in “Never Been Kissed,” Josie is a 25-year-old copy editor sent back to the hallowed halls of her high school for an undercover report.
Instead of opting for a wardrobe of jeans and tees, Josie arrives for her first day back at school in an all-white sheer blouse with feather trim, paired with white jeans, pale lip gloss, and teased hair. It looks laughably out of place, but that’s what makes it so perfect.
Of course, she spills chocolate milk all over her white pants, but the whole look is so over-the-top and relatable that we can’t help but love her for trying it.
Angela Bassett’s summer looks in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” are still iconic.
Angela Bassett’s killer beach wardrobe from “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” is the epitome of trendy, with its brightly-coloured bathing suits and glam flowy dresses.
That move was intentional, costume designer Ruth E. Carter to the LA Times at the time.
“The director and I wanted to bring a softer Angela to the screen, softer than ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ softer than ‘Contact,'” she told them. “She always plays these wonderful role models, but they’re very tough and structured and suited and tailored. Any mention of Angela Bassett also included, ‘She really works out doesn’t she?’ I thought it was time to reverse that. I wanted to do glamorous the whole time.”
But the look we can’t get enough of and would totally rock today is this striped crop-top with straw hat and skirt. It’s classic and a pop of colour at its finest.
Corey Mason’s fuzzy crop top and plaid mini skirt serves as Cher Horowitz’s edgy sister.
If Cher Horowitz and her friends are the cool kids in school, Corey Mason and hers in “Empire Records” are the artistic, edgy ones hanging out at the record store instead of the mall.
And this being the ’90s, Corey and co. donned plenty of signature trends from the decade, but it’s her baby blue fuzzy crop top, plaid mini skirt, and Doc Marten boots that still look cool more than two decades later. And it turns out that this outfit, in particular, was given lots of thought by the production team.
In 2014, costume designer, Susan Lyall told ELLE.com, “Liv Tyler was kind of the name at that time. It was a real buzz moment for her, so everyone was very interested in what she wore. I remember we shorted the mohair sweater a little bit because it was kind of sexy to reveal her stomach. … I believe those boots were hers. We decided to just use hers rather than go buy a new pair and age them down.”
In 2015, Tyler herself remembered the importance of the outfit, telling ELLE.com, “The boots were mine! I remember that,” she said, adding, “We had a different outfit and then, the night before, the studio protested my outfit and made me change. They wanted something more classic. I don’t remember [what it was before]…something a little bit cooler and more me and that I felt more comfortable in. I was like, ‘Really, that’s so cliché. You want me to wear a plaid skirt?’ but I don’t remember exactly how that happened. I was so young. I just remember fluffy blue hairs from the mohair going up my nose all day. Mohair is not very fun – especially in the south where we were filming.”
Amanda Beckett’s post-breakup outfit at the grad party in “Can’t Hardly Wait” is a standout.
“Can’t Hardly Wait” is the quintessential high school graduation movie from the decade, and while plenty of the film’s fashion was cringe-worthy even at the time (Kenny’s space goggles and wide-legged jeans come to mind), popular girl Amanda Beckett stole the show when she makes her grand entrance at the grad party – her first public appearance after breaking up with football star Mike Dexter.
Amanda wears a baby blue tank top and a navy blue skirt, and while the look and the film itself is definitely underrated, it’s a standout style moment in teen movie canon.
Nia Long’s heart crop top was cool girl chic.
Though the movie “Friday” is more than 20 years old, much of the style has come back around. Case in point, actress Nia Long had some killer style moments in the movie that we’d still love to rock today.
Her best was this heart crop top and skirt with sneakers, a casual look that would fit right in with the summer looks of the 21st century.
Kathryn’s corseted top and pants pair perfectly for one of the best villains of the decade.
Alongside all the fun, frothy teen comedies of the decade comes “Cruel Intentions,” a dark, devious addition to the decade’s classic films. Since the movie is about a group of rich Manhattan socialites, the fashion is appropriately on point, but we’ve gotta give Kathryn Merteuil special props because costume designer Denise Wingate dressed her in slinky, sensual looks that changed depending on her mission of the moment.
In 2015, Wingate told Dazed, “I tried to blend high-end fashion with a mix of pieces I designed and made that were a nod to the original film [1988’s ‘Dangerous Liasons’], for example using this corset and ruched bustier with a Dolce & Gabbana suit on Sarah Michelle Gellar. Her character was so Machiavellian and manipulative that whenever she was trying to act sweet, like going to talk to Cecile’s mother or being seductive with Sebastian, we tried to use softer lines on her.”
Paired with some statement jewellery and silver sandals and a fashion movie moment is made.
The prom looks in “10 Things I Hate About You” remain perfect.
Instead of designer duds and high fashion, the kids in “10 Things I Hate About You” largely looked like high school kids, which is a refreshing change from the way teen fashion is usually depicted in high school movies.
Prom style almost never holds up, so while the main characters look adorably dated in their prom outfits, we can’t help but feel nostalgia for the days of tight curly up-dos, spaghetti straps, and corsages, as worn by Kat and Bianca Stratford and co in the movie.
The Dude’s sweater in “The Big Lebowski” has become a legendary fashion item.
It’s true that much of the iconic fashion of the era was worn by women, but the guys have a few standout style moments. Case in point: Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, whose Western-inspired Pendleton sweater is now part of movie history.
Per the brand, “Super thick and warm, the Westerley was one cosy sweater. We carried it for more than 10 years. Throughout those years, the Westerley’s zip front, ring zipper pull, shawl collar and Greek key pattern all stayed the same, although the colour variations were surprisingly wide. The sweater went out of production in the 1980s, but found popularity again in the early 2000s, thanks to an obscure movie that didn’t stay obscure for very long.”
Pendleton revived a version of the cardigan in 2011, bringing back the original in 2013, and adding new colour options in 2014, and is still available to this day for a cool $US239, proving that no one wants to be considered “undude.”
Vivian’s polka dot dress in “Pretty Woman” showed off an iconic style transformation.
Julia Roberts has plenty of endearing style moments in the classic 1990 rom-com, and while we love both her thigh-high boots and crop tops and bold red evening gowns, it’s Vivian’s brown belted dress with white polka dots that we love most all these years later.
Sure, the matchy-matchy brown and white hat, gloves, and white heels are definitely a relic of the time, but her poised look (topped off with perfect pearl earrings) remains a classic movie moment that we’ll never forget.
Catherine Tramell’s white turtleneck dress in “Basic Instinct” is a headturner.
Though Sharon Stone’s character Catherine Tramell might be better remembered for what she did in that interrogation room, we’re going to instead give a shout out to what she was wearing.
Catherine’s wardrobe featured plenty of looks fitting for the femme fatale, infusing structured basics with more flirty frocks, but her cream turtleneck dress with matching stilettos and an overcoat remains part of film history.
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick told Clothes on Film that she sketched and designed the white dress“from scratch,” with the character’s potential guilt or innocence always at the forefront. She added, “We are always questioning ‘did she’ or ‘didn’t she’ do it. I was interested in creating imagery that was best suited for her character. Catherine was deliberately the icy blonde, similar to a Hitchcockian character.”
Add a sleek updo, diamond studs, and a cigarette, and the rest is history.
Mia Wallace’s white button down is another fashion forward femme fatale moment.
Pretty much everything about Uma Thurman’s character Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction” is iconic because it takes a true fashion maven to take a basic button down blouse and have it forever etched in pop culture history.
Costume designer Betsy Heimann told ELLE.com in 2014 that Mia’s tailored style was a deliberate choice, but dressing Thurman proved to be a bit of a challenge. Of the classic outfit, she says, “It started with the pants. We had no money, as usual, on ‘Pulp Fiction,’ and Uma’s very tall. All of the black trousers that I liked were a little bit short, so I made the executive decision. I said, ‘Well, let’s just cut them off,’ and make a proportional statement. You know, I kind of brought back the cropped pant – or rather, reinvented the cropped pant, because they weren’t in fashion at that time. So I cut the pants off, which made them hers, as opposed to what was out there, and then I just put these gold Chanel slippers on her feet to accentuate the fact that she was the mob boss’s wife.”
She adds, “As for the white shirt, it was a version of a man’s shirt that we made a little bit sexier. The whole thing was my custom design: the larger collar and long cuffs feminized the look, as did the suppressed waist. I wanted there to be this tension because we know that Marsellus is a scary guy. She’s the boss’s wife – a do-not-touch item – and yet, she’s hot and a bit of a bad girl. Those are the parameters I was working with.”
The “mean girls” fashion in “Jawbreaker” is the perfect antidote to the film’s dark subject manner.
The campy, black comedy “Jawbreaker” remains a bit of a cult classic among ’90s teen movies, and the bright, neon fashions in the film serve as the perfect stark contrast to the edgy subject matter – when a group of cool girls accidentally kill one of their pals on her birthday by accidentally choking her to death with a large piece of candy. Oops.
And while Courtney, Julie, and Marcie, don plenty of patterns, pops of colour, and short skirts similar to other teen queens of the decade, this girl gang always took things a bit edgier. The hemlines were shorter, the blouses were lower cut, and the heels were higher, with director and screenwriter Darren Stein noting that he set out to take elements from several decades prior. In production notes for the film, Stein reportedly said, “I’ve always seen this as a very highly stylised film, and a film that you couldn’t place, taking elements from the ’40s, ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s.”
Janet Jackson’s Justice fashion in “Poetic Justice” inspired trends everywhere.
Jackson was a full-fledged music legend by the time the ’90s rolled around, but in 1993, she made her big screen debut as Justice, a young woman trying to find her way amidst the chaos of her family life.
And while Justice’s style was mostly laid-back, with crop tops, oversized jerseys, and high-waisted jeans, her box braids, and combat boots perfectly epitomized the time, especially with her signature newsboy cap and watch over her shirt sleeve, making her an unsung style icon of ’90s cinema.
Tyler Durden’s red leather jacket, printed button-down, and red sunglasses were as memorable as Brad Pitt’s shirtless scenes in “Fight Club.”
If the first rule of fight club is to never talk about fight club, surely the second rule is to never wear red leather and matching red sunglasses, but the genius of Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is that he somehow pulled it off.
Costume designer Michael Kaplan said he went through painstaking efforts to snag that red leather jacket. In 2011, he told The Independent, “In ‘Fight Club,’ [Pitt’s] character had no money, he was living in a house that didn’t belong to him and his clothes couldn’t be fancy. I decided he was going to be a person who gets great things in thrift shops, because I do that and I know they can be found.”
He added, “The problem was that we needed multiples – I couldn’t just go to a thrift store and buy him a great leather jacket because of the fighting scenes and stunt doubles. We needed maybe 12 of the jackets. I made his clothes and found this old, hard leather base they used to make jackets out of in the 1970s – it’s almost like car upholstery, not like the soft, buttery leather they use now. I had it dyed and I wanted it to be the colour of dried blood. We designed it and fashioned it after the way clothes were made then but it looked like it was from a thrift shop – we broke some buttons, tore the lining and put stains on it to make it look like something somebody wouldn’t want anymore.”
Add some spiky hair and you’ve got the makings of a cult classic look for an iconic movie character.
For more great stories, head to INSIDER’s homepage.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.