A Definitive Guide to Vintage '90s Streetwear

Updated on November 7, 2019
Ian Barron profile image

Avid sneakerhead and streetwear enthusiast, Ian has been experimenting with style so you don't have to.

Even Kurt and his crew showed that ripped jeans were cool on the '90s, and not a skinny pair in sight. Chic grunge be damned.
Even Kurt and his crew showed that ripped jeans were cool on the '90s, and not a skinny pair in sight. Chic grunge be damned. | Source

Vintage Streetwear Is Finally Hitting the Mainstream

From grunge to chic vintage to sporty looks, vintage streetwear is everywhere, and it can be seen on everyone from Travis Scott to Kanye West and many other big faces. So how do you dress vintage without shelling out for overhyped streetwear and designer pieces? Luckily, I'm here to help you out!

Look at Travis! Light blue jeans, flannel, and a bright color pallette! A good start!
Look at Travis! Light blue jeans, flannel, and a bright color pallette! A good start! | Source
My modern grunge fashion.
My modern grunge fashion.

First, Identify '90s Trends

The trends of the '90s were way different from the trends of the '00s and '10s (obviously). Whereas we focus on earth tones, minimalism, and beauty in fit and fabric, the '90s valued colors and aesthetics in design and color. With all this love for color and designs (mainly logos and such), any '90s outfit should integrate a healthy amount of color.

Primary colors work best, and branching out from that and finding appropriate color-blocking with these primary colors is the best way to start creating vibrant, fun '90s fits. On top of color blocks and primary colors, tie-dye is a fun experiment in vintage fashion as long as you keep your tie-dye piece as the staple of your outfit. Don't go pairing tie-dye with four other patterns and other primary pieces. The goal is to be colorful and laid back, not clashy and uncomfortably out of place.

If you're going for a more rugged grunge or punk look, you can always integrate distressing and faded garments into your wardrobe. However, a universal rule to '90s clothing is to stay baggy. Rarely was anything in the '90s super tight and fitted (including jeans) so don' t hesitate to bust out an old pair of straight-legged jeans and pin-roll them to actually get the aesthetic you're striving for.

The baggier and flowier the fit, the closer to actual '90s streetwear you are. This is especially useful for more alternative looks, as grunge kids, punks, and skaters all valued comfort and the baggier fits of jeans and shirts. This means your MNML skinny jeans aren't as grunge as you like to think they are. Opt for a baggier ripped pair of denim, and ditch the Supreme for something more authentic.

You know how many "comin to gentrify yo neighborhood" looking guys I had to scroll through to find a legit '90s image? Too many. I hate hipsters.
You know how many "comin to gentrify yo neighborhood" looking guys I had to scroll through to find a legit '90s image? Too many. I hate hipsters. | Source
Colors, long sleeve under short sleeve, and baggy jeans. I am truly a '90s icon.
Colors, long sleeve under short sleeve, and baggy jeans. I am truly a '90s icon.

Brands and What to Look For

Athletic brands in the '90s were huge, and people knew it. Vintage Adidas, Nike, Fila, Kappa, and so many more had their branding everywhere. Again, in '90s fashion, it was color, graphics, and logos. And these brands definitely played into this trend. Lots of older Adidas, Nike, and Fila pieces have huge logos, creative colorful designs, and lots of color.

Another set of noteworthy brands are Tommy Hilfiger, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Lee (yes the jeans brand, though Levi's were always big and Wrangler also works). These were hugely popular among the streetwear enthusiasts at the time, and they often incorporated colorful and highly branded designs into a lot of their (sadly more expensive) vintage garments.

Reebok was apparently huge in the '90s, so go look for some '90s grails.
Reebok was apparently huge in the '90s, so go look for some '90s grails. | Source
These all remind me of Jordan 12s, wow.
These all remind me of Jordan 12s, wow. | Source

Sneakers

Of course, another massive factor in vintage streetwear is the sneakers. The big players, obviously, are Nike and Adidas. Nike had the iconic Air Max line in the '90s, as well as a huge variety of retro runners that are currently making a comeback and the obvious Air Force 1s. Nike also had a huge host of basketball sneakers, from the Air Pennies to the Jordans. Nike ran the vintage sneaker market, but Adidas also had a fair share of the industry, with iconic vintage sneakers such as the Sambas, Superstars, EQTs, and the Crazy Eights.

While Nike and Adidas ran the sneaker game, though, there were so many other brands that had smaller appearances but equally iconic sneakers. Asics had the Gel Lyte series in the '90s, which were the first real retro runners people paid any attention to, and Saucony also had a fair amount of runners in the 90s people remember fondly. Fila also had a huge '90s presence, with their Original Fitness sneakers, Grant Hill basketball sneakers, and several other vintage models that look good with the vintage style. And a classic of the era Reebok had several iconic shoes, such as the Club C, the Classic Leathers, the Pumps, and the QuestionMids. All these are sporty, but for a more casual and less sporty look, Chuck Taylors and Vans Old Skools help look both modern and vintage.

Never forget Adidas
Never forget Adidas

Where to Get '90s Grails

Getting your vintage wardrobe shouldn't be difficult, and it shouldn't be expensive either. Sure, you can splash on the Adidas site and spend a ton of cash on new stuff that looks old, but there are so many better ways to do it.

One good way to find vintage items, both branded and unbranded, is the thrift. Not only are thrift stores relatively cheap, but the items are mostly all well worn and faded. This helps play into the entire vintage aesthetic. Jeans are cheap, so playing around with DIY bleaching, distressing, and embellishing is inexpensive and pretty fun. However, thrift stores can be hit or miss, and if you live in someplace that isn't a small to large city, you probably won't find much outside of flannel and denim.

With thrift stores being arguably good, there is one consistently good source of vintage clothing. That is the internet. eBay, Mercari, Poshmark, and several vintage clothing sites are extremely good places to find unique vintage pieces for cheapish. While eBay and other sites are generally more expensive than thrift stores, you're guaranteed to find some really good pieces that will help build up your wardrobe. Craigslist, while it can be sketchy, is also good for finding more local spots to buy, and vintage sites that specialize exclusively in thrift clothes are going to have good pieces somewhere. An additional site that can be more expensive is Grailed, where people sell both vintage pieces from Supreme to Bape and old DIY projects that the seller is willing to pass on.

The last option is a flea market, vintage stores, or local swap meet events. These places see tons of antiques, vintage items, and (of course) vintage clothes being traded, bought, and sold. While you may not find those '90s grails, you will be able to find tons of well-loved jackets, band tees, or other such items that have lots of wear and legitimate distressing on them without too much of a price tag. So shop around, you're bound to find something good.

And Your Wardrobe Is Built!

With your newfound knowledge of where to get cool vintage pieces, brands that were big in the '90s, and the trends that defined the '90s, you can make your own outfits! Of course, a final tip is to look at the icons of the era. Micheal Jackson, Kurt Cobain, East and West Coast rappers alike, and subcultures such as B-Boys, Grunge, and Hip-Hop Heads will help you develop your '90s style even further.

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