When a decade of fashion is put on par with the Apocalypse you expect to be met with an article that is an onslaught brimming with intelligent, witty and well researched opinion. An argument that is both sharper and scarier than the four horsemen themselves.
So when Hadley Freeman, wordsmith at the end of the 'Ask Hadley' series on the Guardian, described the recent comeback of the 90s in fashion as an 'apocalypse', I was expecting to me met with exactly this. I was ready to be put in my place about the 90s hype that has been taking back over our wardrobes.
I am not about to call a witch hunt on Freeman for her opinion. Fair enough if you do not like the 90s from a fashion perspective, as it is not a decade hailed for its ground-breaking cuts and platforms of rebellion. Nor, shall I whittle her opinion down to a characterless conclusion of "ugly", "ridiculous" or "meh" (this isn't a word, it's predominantly exhaling); as she so indignantly summed up 3 decades worth of fashion. Sorry to all you designers, photographers, seamstresses.... Thank you for your creative influence and input, but your work was 'meh'.
I was debating writing this post, considering that Freeman regards herself as 'experienced' in the field having lived through both the 80s AND 90s, so I didn't want to appear foolish coming up against such a virtuoso on the subject. I mean, I once spent 3 months of a summer instructing teenagers on how to build 'bridges' out of nothing but sticks and barrels. Having lived through this rigorous and comprehensive training, I now find it my divine right to pass my flimsy judgement onto the life's work of civil engineers and construction workers. I do it in my evenings.
Having lived through both these decades like a true war veteran, what can we learn from this 'experience' on 90s fashion? Well, it was the "worst fashion decade ever", it actually "had no fashion" and "slip dresses were kind of stupid".
Excuse me, while I wipe the sweat away from my forehead after reading those cutting and perceptive statements. The 90s was not extrovert in style and form, sure. There were fewer political statements being made and less shoulder padding. It does not mean, however, that it isn't fashion.
The early 1990s saw an economic recession, combine this with new business philosophies that were slowly taking over, realising the importance of employee welfare (enter the Google philosophy), casual attire became the face of the 1990s. The emphasis on inexpensive and casual established the shapeless form of the slip dress, the comfort of flannel shirts and the slouchy persona of dungarees. Another reason behind the rise in casual and decline in high fashion was the evolvement of ecommerce. The internet opened up a cheaper and more efficient way for inexpensive clothing manufacturers in places such as China and Mexico to get directly to consumers in the western world. Comparing this thrifty mind frame to that of the 'conspicuous consumption' of the 1980s, where people were more erratic with their spending, it makes a more mellow approach to fashion.
As for Freeman's comments on 90s fashion being 'jaded', remarking "I'm too cool to try, and that's why I'm wearing my shapeless slip dress over my bad jeans", well I raise you, Freeman. In 1993 Marc Jacobs based his spring collection on the slacker grunge that raged through the 90s, this incorporated a collection of layering; full length dresses over striped tops, cropped tops over normal tops, and full length skirts unbuttoned to reveal hot pants to help highlight the relaxed and casual nature of the collection. So (as what normally happens with fashion) this was then cottoned onto down the consumer line, hence the emergence of the dress over jeans. It might not make much sense as an ensemble, but there was some method behind the madness. It wasn't just someone getting up believing that 'they were too cool'.
Sadly for Freeman the 90s is making a bigger comeback than the Spice Girls at the moment. The catwalks of the 2014 Men's collections are brimming with it. Seeking to create 'tidier' examples of the 90s trends, Henry Holland produced lace and sheer edged dresses which referenced the 90s deeper than his usual bold look. Philip Lim gave us bare midriffs, distressed denim and tie front skirts (which gave the illusion of a flannel shirt being tied around the waist) and tough sandals that channelled doc martins. Acne designer Jonny Johansson paired sleeveless novelty tees with parachute skirts held together by utility belts, all channelling and enhancing the air of the 90s... you can almost smell the teen spirit Nirvana were singing about.
As for Freeman's proclamation "mainly what we all wore in the 90s was inexcusable crap - not fashion, not statements, just crap" then please shed some light on what you hold to be fashion? Is it because there are no flashing lights or slogans spattered all over it? Fashion is subjective, yes. It is what you make of it, and if you feel it to be crap then that is your opinion, and I respect that. However have at least a morsel of respect for the designers and creators that lined this era by entering in a little research as to why the trends were what they were, before generalising an entire decade as 'meh-ness'.
As Freeman states in her piece, as a response to Alexa Chung's opinion of the 80s being the worst decade for fashion, "youth is not the be-all and end-all". You're right, it's not. However understanding of a subject and validation of an opinion is. Now excuse me, whilst I go pick which floral dress would best suit my favourite jeans...
You can find Freeman's article here, I'd give it a meh out of meh.