The Best And Worst '90s Fashion Trends Making A Comeback

The 1990s has taken over pop culture and fashion, with Gen Z resurrecting the style trends that Millennials and Gen Xers, especially, remember. It turns out there's a logical reason for the resurgence of these '90s trends many of us were happy to leave behind.

Krystine Batcho, a psychologist and professor at Le Moyne College who researches nostalgia, credits an increase in nostalgia amid uncertain times. She explained to Insider that looking to the past is common during troubling economic periods. "For many people, particularly young adults or those without a financial safety net, poor economic conditions raise fears of being able to meet financial obligations like rent or student-debt payments," Batcho said. "Nostalgia is a refuge, as people turn to the feelings of comfort, security, and love they enjoyed in their past."

We're taking a closer look at these '90s fashion trends making a comeback — including the ones we love and the ones we love to hate.

Best: Combat boots

New York Fashion Week 2022 featured something both new and something that hasn't been done for some time. During Vogue World, a unique live runway show honoring 130 years of the iconic fashion magazine, spectators saw models strut their stuff in chunky combat boots with everything from casual attire to dresses, per Vogue.

We love this resurgence of the badass combat boot. It means that we may even get our hands on a pair of Doc Martens — the ultimate ode to grunge and rebellion — which seemed to evade us in the 1990s when many of us were too young to purchase a pair with our own money. The Doc Martens official website describes the brand's wearers as "people who have their own individual style but share a united spirit ... People who possess a proud sense of self-expression. People who are different." These days, per The Guardian, celebs including Rihanna, Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, and Kaia Gerber are all rocking a pair of Docs.

Put on a pair of combat boots, and you'll instantly feel that much cooler and more confident. And, with a platform pair, you'll literally tower over the rest of the pack. The Cut shared its pick of combat boots, from basic black Doc Martens to snakeskin and furry versions.

Worst: Platform shoes

With the return of combat boots, it's no surprise that platform shoes are everywhere. We have no problem with platform shoes as a whole — they're especially helpful for those of us who are vertically challenged. No, we're talking about the over-the-top, Spice Girl-era clunky shoes that can easily lead to tripping and falling. Holr Magazine highlights a few pairs, with both monstrous and moderate heights.

According to The Zoe Report, the sky-high footwear made its resurgence for spring and summer 2022. Elizabeth Semmelhack of the BATA Shoe Museum explained the apparent link between difficult economic and political periods and the rise of fashion trends as an escape. She referenced the shoes' popularity in the '30s following World War II, during the Vietnam War and energy crisis of the early '70s, and the '90s dot-com bust. "Interestingly, here we are again with footwear that rises to towering heights and captures media attention," she added. The coronavirus pandemic, the January 6, 2021 insurrection, and record-breaking inflation are likely contributors.

Per CNN, a hot pink Versace pair donned by Beyonce, Ariana Grande, and Dua Lipa was Lyst's second-most searched item this year. "People just want to feel happy again," celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez said. "We're coming out of wearing sneakers and being in comfortable shoes, and so the jump from sneakers to stilettos is a big one ... The platform, because it is more comfortable, is a great alternative."

Best: Acid-wash denim

Acid-wash initially made its return in 2018, according to a Vogue feature from that year. The style came to prominence in California in the 1960s when surfers found that their jeans would fade from the sun and saltwater, per The Zoe Report.

Monica Paolini, Sea New York creative director and co-founder, explained to The Zoe Report in 2021 how the brand has incorporated acid-wash denim. "The washing technique softens both the texture and color we're using in the pieces so they feel approachable and easy for every day," she said. By using the wash on everything from shorts to skirts, she added, "I'm hoping the combination feels fresh and less familiar."

According to Tim Kaeding, creative director and co-founder of Mother Denim, the return of acid wash is part of the fashion industry's fascination with the good times of the '90s and even the '80s. "People are wanting to have fun with the way they dress again and experimenting with washes is a great way to do that," he said. High-end fashion houses, including Gucci, Balmain, Stella McCartney, and Proenza Schouler, have included acid-wash pieces in their collections in recent years (per Thrilling).

Let the acid-wash piece be the focal point of your outfit, pairing acid-wash jeans with a plain white tee, as Kaeding suggested. Or, add a matching denim jacket, swap the jeans for a denim skirt, or go for an acid-wash denim jumpsuit.

Worst: 'Mom' jeans

Those of us who endured the frustration of finding a pair of jeans that fit and looked flattering in the '90s were ecstatic by the rise of high-waisted skinny jeans. Once "Mom" jeans, distinguished by their high-waist, lack of stretch, and straight, roomy leg, were no longer deemed cool, they became associated with clothing worn by moms, "the absolute antithesis of cool," as Emma McClendon, museum curator and author of "Denim: Fashion's Frontier," shared with The Atlantic.

But the jeans that Millennials hated are now being worn by Gen Z, who never had the pleasure of wearing them at the height of their popularity. These days, both Gen Z and Millennial fashionistas, with Gigi Hadid, Kourtney Kardashian, and Alessandra Ambrosio wearing the style while out and about. "Mom Jeans are so comfortable and easy to wear, and offer so many new outfitting possibilities. Size up for a looser vibe, or try a longer inseam for a more throwback silhouette," as Lara Knight, VP of denim design for American Eagle, shared with InStyle. Today's designers are also spicing up the look with a paperbag waist or rips at the knee and frayed hems for a distressed look, as InStyle demonstrated.

Best: Overalls

Overalls are the epitome of casual wear. The news of its comeback was initially met with trepidation, especially when we remember giving up our love of overalls for more feminine attire as we matured. Eliza Huber of Who What Wear referred to overalls as "Fall's New It Item" after spotting them during Oslo Fashion Week and at multiple shows during New York Fashion Week 2022, including Brandon Maxwell and Coach.

Once the '90s came to a close, overalls took off with the decade, not making its resurgence until about 2017. While it took some time to embrace them again, overalls seemed to be everywhere by 2022. However, today's overalls are updated for the 21st century with a variety of flattering shapes and silhouettes to satisfy various tastes and figures, per Who What Wear. From blue denim overalls sporting a straight leg, black denim overalls with flare, a distressed pair with visible rips, or a pair in leather, the '90s style staple has returned with many options to suit your fancy.

Worst: Low-rise jeans

Another denim trend that's made a return is the dreaded low-rise jeans. Millennials remember having to constantly pull up their jeans, just one struggle faced from the "hypersexualized style," as one author described for InStyle. "I was in college in the early '00s, and I think I still have PTSD from my low-rise Juicy Couture sweats ... There was a constant feeling of being too big for low-rise pants," as Pauline Montupet, founder of San Francisco boutique Le Point, informed Refinery29, explaining how she'd compare her figure in low-rise jeans with popular celebs of the time, such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. "I constantly felt that I was in a losing battle between my body and low-rise denim."

Talk of the style returning began in 2018; by 2022, the look, according to Refinery29, was "officially back," with Sophie Turner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid sporting a pair. "We've heard rumors over the last few years that low-rise jeans would be making an inevitable comeback, but now, it's safe to say these are rumors no more," said stylist Stephanie Valponi. In May 2022, the online consignment retailer thredUP reported a 50% increase in searches for low-rise jeans compared to 2021. "Love it or hate it, there's no denying that more people are trying out low-rise denim again," said merchandiser Kesha Linder (per Refinery29).

Best: Sheer and mesh

We love that sheer and mesh fabric shows a hint of skin while still covering up. According to L'Officiel, the look first made waves from designer Jean Paul Gaultier in the '90s. While the style is primarily more appropriate for the warmer months, it's versatile enough to be worn year-round, whether layering or on its own.

According to Vogue, vintage mesh, including long-sleeve tattoo-like looks reminiscent of Gaultier's designs, are also seeing a resurgence. Glamour showcased both long- and short-sleeved sheer and mesh shirts, some with turtlenecks, in a February 2021 feature.

Lisa Danbi Park is one designer known for her love of mesh, with Dua Lipa, Kendall Jenner, and Billie Eilish sporting her designs. Auné Collections is another brand offering custom mesh pieces. "I love the versatility in terms of being able to make something that is empowering and sexy, yet comfortable," founder Xenab Lone shared with Vogue. "The fact that mesh feels like a second skin and can be layered under or over garments is great."

Worst: Biker shorts

In the '90s, biker shorts were all the rage, with the late Princess Diana popularizing the trend. According to Vogue, the controversial trend made a return to the runway in Anthony Vaccarello's spring/summer 2021 show. While some of us are comfortable only wearing biker shorts to the gym, more daring fashionistas are incorporating them into their evening looks, pairing them with everything from oversized blouses to crop tops to blazers and jackets. Designer brands that jumped on board early include Ottolinger, Coperni, Charlotte Knowles (KNWLS), Staud, The Elder Statesman, and more.

Celebrity fans include Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, and the Hadid sisters, per L'Officiel. "They've lasted this long as a trend because they are not only comfortable but they are also easy to style in various ways," Stephanie Arant, marketing consultant and style influencer, told CNN. "They really do look good on everyone." She loves wearing her biker shorts with "an oversized button-down, usually a printed one, and cropped tank underneath." She added, "I go for the more 'resort' style."

A practical reason to wear biker shorts is for an alternative to leggings during the summer. "I love Zella bike shorts, which is Nordstrom's brand," said Los Angeles-based style expert Kristina Zias (per CNN). "They're so thick and they have pockets!" Find yourself a pair from Good American, Beyond Yoga, Anine Bing, Alo Yoga, Nike, or Electric & Rose.

Best: Band tee-shirts

An October 2018 article from Glamour declared band tees to be "cool again," largely a result of the music biopics scoring big at the box office: "A Star is Born," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Rocketman." 

Modern versions of vintage tees as well as the original versions can be found at many retailers and online. As designer brands, such as Coach and Givenchy, show vintage-style band tees in their shows, the original versions are drumming up major interest. If you can find a concert tee-shirt from back in the day, you're in luck — some sell for thousands of dollars, according to Financial Times. "I can think of Nirvana shirts that I sold 15 years ago for $10 that are now worth anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000," said Kirby Fisher, founder of Vancouver, British Columbia, shop Dead Union. "Vintage T-shirts tap into nostalgia ... immediately tak[ing] me back to ... good, carefree times in my life," added Deeps Samra, a collector of vintage R&B and hip-hop shirts. "When you stumble on those pieces there's this sense of, 'I'll pay whatever they're asking.'"

When rocking a band tee shirt, there are rules to remember, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. For one, only wear tee shirts for bands you follow.

Worst: Tiny sunglasses

Big sunglasses have been all the rage for some time, so it may not be all that surprising that tiny specs have returned. Celebrity trendsetters, including Rihanna, Bella Hadid, and Kylie Jenner, are all sporting the trend, as sunglasses retailer Alpha Sunglasses noted.

The look referred to as "micro shades" doesn't do a whole lot for eye protection, according to BuzzFeed News, which consulted ophthalmologist Andrew Iwach, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "The diameter of the lenses is so small that it doesn't even cover the entire eye, so it makes sense that light will come in from around the glasses and hit the eyes," he said, explaining that letting in more of the sun's UV rays does more harm than good. In addition to increased risk for eye damage, including vision problems and growths around the eyes, which can be cancerous, "the eyes will get drier because the small lenses don't protect against the wind, so there's a comfort issue," Iwach said.

Best: Flare jeans

Not too excited about '90s-style jeans making waves once again? The good news is that flare jeans are back. Per People, stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Kendall Jenner, and Miranda Kerr are all wearing them. "A flared jean typically fits snug around the waist, hips and legs and then flares or widens towards the bottom," Sarah Ahmed, DL1961's co-founder and chief creative officer, informed WWD. Ahmed further explained of the style: "Current trends are a little more modernized than '70s flares. For example, raw hems and split hems are everywhere."

Additionally, these updated versions of flares can be worn with not only boots, booties, and platforms but also with sneakers. "My [favorite] style of jeans will always be a cropped flare/boot cut. I find it the most universally flattering, and it looks great throughout the seasons, whether with ankle boots or a great strappy sandal," style expert Mana Mansour shared with the Daily Hive.

The style, said to have a "leg-lengthening silhouette" (helpful for those on the petite side), per People, comes in a variety of widths. Our favorites are high-waisted and give legs a nice lean look. We love Spanx flare jeans for their easy pull-on style, high-waist, stretch fabric, and inclusive sizing — XS through 3X, available in petite, regular, and tall — in midnight shade, vintage indigo, black, and white. Or, per WWD, try a pair from Madewell, Levi's, Mother, Paige, Frame, or NYDJ, among others.

Worst: Wide-leg jeans

With more loose styles of jeans trending in a big way, it's a given that wide-leg jeans are back, with celebs such as Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, and Tracee Ellis Ross rocking the style. However, with wide-leg jeans, be forewarned: Many of these styles are low-rise (which can be unflattering on its own) with a baggy fit down the leg (per W Magazine). "They are not the most flattering on most body types," Canadian producer, host, and style expert Mana Mansour told the Daily Hive. "If you're say, petite or curvy, they don't do much to lengthen height or flatter curves." She recommends finding a stretchy pair that's not too tight around the thigh area or too loose in the leg.

A few of our favorites from W Magazine's selection are the Eytys Benz Galaxy Jeans with a higher waist and a hint of sparkle, Diesel's Blue Ark-SP Jeans with a loose straight leg that's not too crazy, the Denimist Blair Pleated Wide-Leg Jeans with its washed-out look, and the Paris Georgia Black & White Cocoon Jeans for its modern, wide-leg spin on conservative work pants. If you do opt for a pair of wide-leg jeans, wear them with a skinny tee shirt, a fitted blouse, or a tucked-in tank top.

Best: Leather and faux-fur

According to Vogue and Who What Wear, leather jackets and faux-fur coats and collars are dominating 2022 and 2023 trends. Leather jackets, which especially rose to popularity in the '90s and early 2000s, are a classic look that never goes out of style. Vogue points out that Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, and Diesel all featured leather jackets in their fall 2022/spring 2023 runway shows. To get even more specific, StyleCaster noted that leather trench coats and fluffy trim were two of the top coat trends for 2022.

The faux fur trend is both stylish and super cozy and one we used to see a lot of on Jenny McCarthy while co-hosting MTV's "Singled Out" in 1995 and 1996 (via IMDb). Who What Wear shared that designers, from Proenza Schouler to Stella McCartney, have been all about faux fur jackets for fall 2022 and winter 2023 — whether the faux fur is all over or just used around the collar and/or sleeves and other spots. For this look, it doesn't matter whether coats are long or cropped; what does is that cruelty-free faux fur is used as opposed to the real thing (per Glamour & Gains).

Worst: Vinyl

In the '90s, vinyl was everywhere. In 2018, it initially returned with high-end designers, including Versace, Fendi, and MSGM, offering updated looks incorporating the shiny material, with everything from moto jackets, sweaters, and pants to suits, skirts, and boots made of vinyl, according to Refinery29.

The main problem with vinyl is that it's not environmentally friendly. "Vinyl is PVC, which is one of the worst forms of plastic," Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standards Institute, said in an interview with Fast Company. "It's derived from fossil fuels, which is energy-intensive to create, and it does not biodegrade. It's all-around bad."

When consumers are over everything vinyl and get rid of their vinyl items, the material likely gets burnt, depositing carbon into the air, or ends up in oceans or landfills, transforming into microplastics and later showing up in the food we eat and the water we drink, posing damage to the liver, Bédat added. Per National Geographic, a Yale study found that the average person swallows over 74,000 pieces of microplastic each year.