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Young Star

Anti-fashion fashion and the vanishing Riot Girl

Bea Ledesma - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It was the ’90s: irony was currency, dark-hued lipliner flew off the shelves faster than Superman homo-erotica and chunky footwear even made it to the red carpet.

Grunge had subverted many of the norms that the consumer-happy ’80s had feted for a decade: frumpy ’50s housecoats in old-fashioned florals were paired with clunky platforms; missish floral sheathes were layered over a modest white tee, its hem hacked to mid-thigh. Combat boots left the army navy store, only to decorate the racks of teen footwear departments in tonier establishments.

Donna Karan discovered her inner feminist — though she referred to herself as more a “female humanist, an equal opportunist, than a feminist” — when the label debuted a campaign in 1992, presenting a female president in the midst of campaigning. The designer who had made her name baring women’s shoulders in sculptural sportswear modeled the images after powerful women in politics (few as they were — and still are).

For readers who lived through the ’90s as sentient individuals (as opposed to many of Young STAR’s readers and, indeed, Young STAR’s staff who were probably still teething when many of these trends reached its zenith), the ’90s offered what today’s post-modern, post-irony can’t: a DIY movement that powered fashion.

Thrift stores, vintage shops and bargain bins offered the same kind of clothes you’d see on major celebs like Drew Barrymore, who had succumbed to sobriety but still hadn’t curbed her wild child ways (see: flashing Letterman on late night television).

“The anti-fashion aesthetic and deconstructed finishes,” stylist Alister Mackie proclaimed, “It was the last really revolutionary period in fashion where things actually changed.” Mackie, who recently participated in a ’90s revival project for Nowness, had styled Chloe Sevigny shortly after the release of 1995’s Kids by Harmony Korine. Sevigny, another party girl turned face of the decade, was part of the underground scene that led to the popularity of acts like Bikini Kill and, later on, the much more well-known Sleater Kinney.

Perhaps the ’90s is singular in its paving the way for the alterna chick to gain enough mainstream cred to open a major movie, influence trend pieces and inspire girls everywhere. Winona Ryder recently admitted in her Interview feature that she wasn’t considered a conventional beauty, and was once gently informed by a producer to stop acting and go back to school. Fellow Reality Bites alum Janeane Garofalo became a style icon for the post-baby boomer generation. Ryder, in her slouchy leather jacket and tees, and Garofalo, in her baby bangs, rounded glasses and platforms, were a breed of women who recognized and wielded their own agency.

Parker Posey — Party Girl, Riot Girl and all-around awesome woman — waxed nostalgic about the ’90s and what she remembered fondly weren’t the rave-induced crop tops and flared jeans that flooded the market or the DIY approach of the MTV House of Fashion kids but the cool Riot Girls who weren’t afraid to be political or skirt the boundaries of convention.

Even Mariah, who divorced her controlling husband, record exec Tommy Mottola, in the late ’90s, shed her girl-next-door image as soon as the signatures on the divorce papers were dry, shaking off the unadventurous shirts and shorts for something more adult.

If the ’90s were known for anything, it was for ladies who weren’t afraid to kick butt and challenge our notions of femininity.

90S

ALISTER MACKIE

BIKINI KILL

CHLOE SEVIGNY

DONNA KARAN

DREW BARRYMORE

EVEN MARIAH

FELLOW REALITY BITES

HARMONY KORINE

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