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Cool intentions: why we’re still obsessed with 90s minimalism

Photography By Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images
Published 23.08.22

In case you missed the not-so-subtle reference, the title of this piece is a nod to Cruel Intentions, a masterpiece of 90s cinema that’s aged surprisingly well thanks to its stacked cast and excellent soundtrack.

Most other things that were popular in the decade haven’t fared so well: Tamagotchis, flip phones and pants so wide you could fit three people inside each leg have all been relegated to the annals of pop culture history. But somehow, one of the biggest trends of the 1990s has endured. A minimalist aesthetic championed on the runways of Tom Ford’s Gucci, Calvin Klein, and Helmut Lang and papped on the bodies of the most iconic celebrities of the era, including the face of the 90s, Kate Moss.  

Revolting against the showiness of the 1980s, the new guard of 90s minimalists celebrated clean lines and classic styles, with basics like tank tops and jeans always on heavy rotation. The trend was all about fit and function – slim tailoring, neutral palettes and simple accessories are a few of its hallmarks. Reflecting from 2022, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this style and the relatively new concept of the capsule wardrobe, a considered approach to dressing that prioritises timeless staples. It seems 90s supermodels also knew that the perfect pair of jeans is forever.  

The sheer simplicity of 90s minimalism has allowed it to rise above the trend cycle and retain relevance even as we’ve moved into the age of microtrends. Brad Pitt stepping out in a knitted vest and white tee feels just as fresh today as it did back then, only now we’re viewing his ’fit on a Pinterest board instead of in a glossy magazine.  

The best thing about 90s minimalism is how easy it is to achieve with just a few elevated basics. Channel this eternally cool style with our round-up of the 90s looks that are inspiring our winter wardrobes in 2022.  

Jeans and a nice tank

Trust Kate Moss to show us exactly how 90s minimalism is done in one of the most popular looks of the era: straight-leg denim and a tank top. This fail-safe combo is still a go-to for all those occasions when you can’t think of anything else to wear. If you don’t have these staples locked down yet, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Business casual

Is it just us, or does this look like something Bella Hadid would step out in today? Chunky bangle included. Recreate the workwear-meets-eveningwear look by pairing a sleek wrap top with relaxed tailored pants and a knitted bag.

Couple dressing

Brad and Gwen were the 90s fashion power couple. This cute, coordinated moment is brought to you by tiny little sunglasses, pastel tones and a rather fabulous vest. Bite Brad’s style with a knitted vest and black sunnies or, if it’s warm out, go full Gwen in a breezy white dress.

Relaxed suiting

Uma makes a strong argument for oversized tailoring in this perfect cream suit. Steal her style with a wide-leg bottom, like the Relaxed Trouser by Arnsdorf, and consider sizing up in the matching Joan Jacket. We love the flaxen colour for that same bright, natural look, paired with gold accessories and a good pair of loafers of course.

Leather pants

Leather is back in a big way with head-to-toe looks taking over the fall 2022 runways and our social feeds. These days, thanks to plant-based and eco-friendly alternatives like recycled leather, it’s also a trend you can take part in without harming animals or the planet. How good. Recreate Gwen’s chic head-to-toe black outfit with a fitted skivvy, leather trousers and a red lip.

Date night

How dare a teenage Natalie Portman be more stylish than us! We can’t stay mad though because a) she’s too darn cute and b) she’s just given us the ultimate date night outfit inspo. We plan to wear exactly this next time we take ourselves out to the movies or spend an evening sipping natural wines with our significant other. The best part? We don’t have to get changed in between the office and wherever we’re heading after.

Sheer layering

This excellent outfit is yet another example of 90s celebrities predicting modern fashion trends. The blazer and bra look is a favourite among Instagram influencers and this year’s biggest fashion event (the Met Gala, duh) was all about sheer clothing and “naked” dresses. Steal Naomi’s sexy yet classy style by pairing a sheer bra with a black jacket for your next night on the town.

Full glamour

It would be rude to leave without talking about at least one glam dress first. Aside from the infamous slip dress, a strapless gown has to be one of our favourite 90s styles. Here, Winona shows us exactly how it’s done with a floor-grazing black number and some glitzy jewels. Test out a more casual version of this awards night outfit by pairing the Bella Midi Dress with beautiful, sculptural pieces by Released From Love.

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