Our 90s life, in clothes.

My So Called Life
Angela and Julie circa 1994.
 We re-watched the quintessential 90s movie Mad Love over the weekend for the first time since, well, 1995, and it got us thinking about what it was like to be a teenager back then, compared to today. Obviously the differences are night and day; no cell phones, internet, Snapchat. But there was also no fast-fashion, no online shopping, and very few good chain stores. There were a few cool boutiques in Toronto, but it was slim-pickings compared to today, and that meant we had to get creative with our clothing.

90s Drew Barrymore

Take Mad Love for example. We worshiped Drew, on and off screen. She was the coolest. We plucked our brows to the point of non-existence and wore daises in our hair. We dreamed of running away with our imaginary boyfriends in a "f-you Mom and Dad, no one understands me!" kind of way. We wore unbelievably unflattering oversized men's shirts we bought at Value Village, baggy pants, and at our most feminine, spaghetti-strap babydoll dresses over baby tees. 

Drew Barrymore Mad Love

Drew Barrymore Mad Love

Drew Barrymore in Mad Love

Back then it was actually cool to look unattractive (or at least at least, attractive in a very non-sexual way). It was also cool to wallow in your own angst. What were we so upset about? No idea. We had very nice, comfortable lives. We had a great time in high school and dated cute boys. And yet we still managed to come home at the end of the day, put on some Pearl Jam and have a good wallow. We wore  XXXL Nirvana t-shirts that drowned us. I had a little collection.  

Because "grunge" was everything, it wasn't cool to look like you had any money or shopped at the mall. We wanted more than anything to be this era Courtney Love. Luckily it was very easy to replicate her dirty-grunge look with pieces we found in Kensington Market and our local thrift shops. I would go out with $30 and come back with bags of ill-fitting clothes. Somehow. 

90s grunge Courtney Love

We played this album to DEATH and screamed along to Rock Star at the top of our lungs in our bedrooms, about how everyone else was the same, and we were oh so different. So individual. So much better. HA.

Hole, Live Through This

My So Called Life was a revelation. We idolized free-spirited Rayanne and her amazing ensembles but identified more with insecure Angela and her demented interior monologue. 

My So Called Life


The overalls, the plaid shirts, the obsessive layering, the not-wearing-anything-that-fit-us-properly-ever.  I even had Angela's cut and colour. It was much worse on me. And all the hot guys had long hair like Jordan. If they didn't, they weren't worth our time.

Wearing my cherished Docs, overalls and a peace necklace, summer '93.

Reality Bites

Reality Bites was another favourite. I remember thinking it was so funny and ironic that Vickie worked at the Gap. The Gap was so lame. Brands in general were so uncool. So corporate. We wanted so much to be what we thought was "anti-establishment" that I can actually remember people cutting brand labels out of their shirts so no one would know it came from the mall. No joke. For some reason we were alright with pricey Doc Martens, (I begged my parents for months for my pair) but that was it. And if I did get my jean jacket at the Gap, I sure as hell wasn't going to admit to it. I found it in, like, a dumpster, guys. 

Vicky in Reality Bites

These days we all freely align ourselves with brands, as it's so much easier to do so now because of social media. Branding yourself has become the norm. But it didn't used to be that way. There was a real sense that it was "us against them". Oh how the times have changed. 

The one example of branding that really struck a chord with the grunge generation were those iconic Calvin Klein ads, because we were all so obsessed with the grungy, no-makeup, waif-like Kate Moss. She was the anti-supermodel, and a brilliant example of the CK marketing team capturing the zeitgeist of the youth at that time and selling it right back to us. Maybe that was the beginning of it. At some point in the mid-nineties I remember everyone suddenly lusting after those classic Club Monaco label sweatshirts. Were we outgrowing grunge?

Kate Moss  90s Calvin Klein ads

Or maybe Sex and The City and Clueless just came along and changed everything. Maybe we all just grew up.

Sex and The City Season One

Cher in Clueless shopping scene

We're not saying one era was better than the other, just that things were very different. You never had to worry about what you looked like at school, because no one was going to put your picture on the internet. You weren't going to be tagged on Facebook or Instagram.  There were no such things as selfies or Snapchat. The worst that could happen was a bad photo of you in the yearbook. And that was once a year, so really, who cares? 

Part of me is kind of sad that teens these days will never experience the kind of anonymity that we took for granted. But they seem quite content to incessantly post their fabulous lives all over social media, so I'm not gonna feel too sorry for them. I'm just so happy there was no Instagram in the 90s, because my life was anything but fabulous. 

Drew Barrymore 90s YM cover

Back-to-school babe I was NOT. My look was more "homeless-runaway-chic". But that was fine with me.


  1. Love this post!! I remember all of those feelings growing up in the 90's!!

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