Remember the ‘80s? Or rather, our once-collective hatred of the ‘80s? Then American Apparel came along and used that washed-out Polaroid aesthetic to sexify Flashdance shirts, and we bought it, along with some leggings and legwarmers. We thought, “okay, so long as mullets don’t come back.” Then the faux-hawk went emo and everything from the Ziggy Stardust to the Farrah got an asymmetrical, jagged-edged revamp. And we thought, “that’s alright, so long as big shoulder pads are gone for good.” Then Lady Gaga…well…Lady Gaga.
I’m not incensed by any of this. What I find odd is that since the ‘80s went retro, the ‘90s have taken a beating. Thing is, I liked the ‘90s. Possibly because that’s when I was a teenager and life seemed simpler, if disproportionately more dramatic. But I really did have fun then. The grunge scene. Mosh pits. Pop psychology. I miss that whole era, and I’d bet if any of you think long and hard on it, you’ll get a bit nostalgic. So before you go treating the ‘90s like your dweeby kid sister, I want to point out which parts of that decade are worthy of a revisit.
p.s. I’m going to follow this up with a list of things that should have stayed in the ‘90s, and things we mercifully kept.
1. The Sixties
The first thing to mark the ‘90s was a ‘60s revival. It started with the big fat headband, made popular by Lady Miss Kier, followed by flower-power t-shirts, babydoll dresses and chunky heels. Hippy trends eventually ensued, from the long hair to the surprising return of bellbottoms and peace signs, which somehow got intermingled with grunge. Still, I’ll romanticize the ‘60s any day, and if Amy Winehouse and Mad Men are any indication, we can look forward to one swinging déjà vu.
2. Beige and burgundy lipstick
In the 2Ks, makeup went the way of the fallacious “let’s look like we’re not wearing any” trend. Not so in the ‘90s. I can even date a ‘90s flick based purely on the shade of lipstick. Back then, wearing makeup meant observing the rite with the dutiful application of noticeable colours. I’m not sure why nobody committed to all-out red, but burgundy was the shade you wore to work, to dinner, or to the club if you wanted your style to say, “I’m a lipstick kind of woman.” For a more “natural” look, women wore beige. A very thick, opaque, heavily lip-lined beige. Resist it if you will, but remember that we long thought blue eye shadow was reserved for theme parties and John Waters drag.
3. Contrasting colours and geometry
When I think of ‘90s fashions, I’m in the early years, when guys tucked silk dress shirts into a pair of baggy Edwins. There were different patterns on the shirts, and I even remember a Mondrian-inspired trend. It was all about very bright colours against white and black. Bold, wacko type came with it too. Before the ‘90s got all grungy, they were really clean-cut. I’m not sure how this could work again, so I’m looking forward to seeing how designers pull it off. And they will, because the revised ‘80s are on the brink of exhaustion.
4. Supermodels who aren’t identical to one another
Gemma Ward isn’t modelling anymore, but who can tell? Today’s models look like porcelain dolls: long, strawberry blond hair with widely set-apart eyes, small, round lips and a heart-shaped face. That’s the mould, and the ‘90s would have had none of it. Supermodels had to have a distinct look that almost suggested a personality. They had real bodies, too, even if they were still impossible thinner than you or I will ever be. They were also asked to speak on occasion, which meant we could associate them with opinions and views (vacuous though they were). You even know who I mean when I refer to them using their nicknames: the Chameleon, the Body and the Heroin Addict. Today, people are still fretting about how skinny models are, but I’m more miffed that they all look the same.
5. Susan Powter
Fad diets are still around, but where’s the entertainment? Where’s the housewife who starved herself to get into her wedding dress, ballooned to over 200 lbs after popping out a couple of kids, then shaved her head and went all nutty when her husband cheated on her. Many moguls tried to sell their new-fangled weightloss technologies on shopping channels and infomercials, but only Susan Powter thrust dieting into the theatrical realm; rants, raves and all. And if you’ve ever been on a diet, your body will confirm that that’s about right. Sue’s still kicking about, but she’s quieted down, and her vlogs are downright boring. Where’s the anger, Powter? The low-carb trend is insanity! Make it stop it.
6. The electric piano riff
You know the one. It was in “Freedom,” “I’m too sexy,” “Good Vibrations,” and even EMF’s “Unbelievable.” I don’t know why recording studios chose this instrument to compel us to dance, but there it is. I’d love for it to replace the god-forsaken vocoder that’s become the conceal-my-terrible-voice device of choice for will.i.am, Kanye and co. In the meantime, here’s a video that combines a few of my favourite ‘90s things.
7. Masculine dance moves
Before grunge, many guys got all preppy. They dressed well, were more or less groomed, and really dug rap and soul. This usually meant they had a few cool dance moves to show off. There was the Running Man, the Hammer Dance, and that thing Kid ‘n’ Play did where they’d kick each others’ feet. But then grunge came, and suddenly your shirt was tied around the waist, your jeans were (sometimes intentionally) ripped, and each sentence expressed some form of disdain. And the dancing? The idea was to sway your body incoherently back and forth, keep your head down, make sure your hair was long enough to cover your face, and whatever else made you look stoned, if you already weren’t. Guys dance now, but only if they wear skinny jeans. Otherwise, they’re a little awkward, and it’s not right! We need decent moves for non-ironic non-hipsters. Now.
In Montreal, every Sunday afternoon means the Tam-Tams. Here, a bunch of people bring their djembes to Mount Royal park and jam it out while Montrealers dance, lie on the grass, have a picnic and/or smoke pot. When I moved to the city in 1997, the tam-tams were split into two parts: the tribal drums, and the drum ‘n’ bass. They’d found a way to work techno into the thing, and it wasn’t altogether inappropriate. I knew a lot of ravers when I came to Montreal, but I didn’t join in the fun. Now I wish I had, at least once. Sure, I’ve been to afterhours clubs since then, but it’s not the same. Lots of raves were about bringing the party out of the club. The spirit of the thing is gone, and so are the cargo pants. But I’d still love for a group of people to decide on a secret location, find a couple of DJs who are willing to spin it out in some abandoned field on the South Shore, and dance until tomorrow afternoon.
9. Movie or TV shows about a bunch of friends just, y’know, hangin’ out, talkin’ and stuff
When Aaron Spelling created 90210, he actually wanted to create another Degrassi, minus the ugly, acne-covered kids, of course. But we liked our people unattractive and riddled with angst. Maybe that’s why we craved entertainment that reflected what we thought our lives were like. Gone was the comedy of errors à la Three’s Company, and in were conversational classics like Seinfeld, Friends and Reality Bites. Today, authenticity comes in the form of reality shows. And the only thing that’s real about them is the writers. A weird shift.
10. The unbranded coffee shop
Remember those smoky, wooden, disorganized cafés with mismatched furniture, vegetarian menus and bohemian staff? Yeah. Neither do I.