Although the grunge look pervaded the 1990s street fashion, 90s TV and culture, and seeped into haute couture, the decade's amazing films provided fabulous alternatives that managed to draw people away from grunge back to more refined, fashionable attire. As the COVID-19 pandemic sequestered most individuals and has caused a casualization of our wardrobes (50% of managers interviewed in a survey said their workers wear less formal clothing than they did five years ago), we can look back to these fabulous 1990s films for inspiration to rebuild our wardrobes for the re-opening of society now that we have a vaccine.
These films provide inspiring looks for both men and women. Some you might know right off the bat; some you may need to rent on Amazon or Hulu to see the clothes in action.
Men's Fashion from 1990s Films
The guys almost always get left out of fashion articles, but why? How about a few films with tough, sexy, well-dressed guys? Let's start with the classics everyone knows and work our way into the cult favorites.
The quintessential mob flick didn't spawn from the imagination of a Hollywood writer. It's based on the life of Irish-Italian mobster Henry Hill. In the film, Henry's played by the iconic actor Ray Liotta in one of his sexiest roles ever. The wardrobe ranges through multiple decades, but whether it's “the kid, Henry” as Paul Sorvino's character refers teen Henry, or 30s-something Henry in khakis and a dress shirt pulling a heist with Jimmy the Gent played by fellow iconic actor Robert DeNiro, the fashions are hot. Don't tell Joe Pesci's character he's “a funny guy,” but do compliment his cuff links and suits. Regardless of the scene chosen in this film, the men wear fabulous fashions and always look perfectly coifed. Even Henry looks amazing with two buttons undone on his dress shirt.
Everyone remembers this film for those glam dresses she buys on Rodeo Drive. But how about those suits that wardrobe put Richard Gere in? Silk suits and linen in beiges and grays never looked so good. Robert's character, Vivian, finds him an artsy tie on Rodeo, too. Let's not forget the flowing trench coat Gere's character offers Vivian to cover her oh-so-tiny mini-dress to enter the hotel.
A must-see for those already fans of Quentin Tarantino and those not yet a fan. The story of a botched heist places some of the finest character actors to ever work a film into the same flick. It also provided men the black suit look. Those skinny ties look a little MTV-ish now (the channel started out playing music videos), but those suits remain de rigueur for a man's man.
The Usual Suspects
Everyone mentions the character Keiser Soze, but can we please give props to the awesome suit worn by Chazz Palminteri? The styling, the poses. Oh hey, every guy needs this suit. Also, cop his hairdo in this role. Man buns are so out, but short hair with just that one lock of hair that falls onto a guy's forehead now and then — oh yes.
Women's Fashion from 1990s Films
Women's fashions had their recent film heyday in the 1990s, too. We'll repeat a couple of the above films and mention a few others because the 1990s provided so much to inspire today's looks. Let's put our personal shoppers to work!
When you watch this film (and you should), join in the multitude of women who drooled over the fashions on Rodeo Drive. Plus, Vivian does not have to pay for any of it. It's all on her employer's bill. How perfect. Kudos to the hotel manager who helps her find that first fabulous cocktail dress. The Rodeo duds might seem a little beige at first, but they come in pastels, too. The color wheel may have been invented in 1706, but the 1990s brought every color to the fashion forefront. How about that chocolate tea-length number with white polka dots that Robert's character wears to the polo match? There's also the sophisticated little black dress she chooses for dinner out. Every outfit is gorgeous, and you even get to see how to wear shorts and still appear perfectly attired.
The high schoolers in Clueless dressed nothing like high schoolers, but they produced some of the most prolific ready-to-wear of the decade. Who can forget the mad-for-plaid dress suits worn by the two lead characters, Cher and Dionne, in the opening scenes? Clueless provided designers ideas for the fun looks that moved us out of the dreary grunge era and into the sunshine of our lives again.
Although she less screen time than the boys, and she could never be made because she's a woman, Lorraine Bracco's gorgeous character did work in her husband Henry's side gig as a drug dealer. She also wore some of the most fabulous fashions of the 1960s to the 1980s in this film. Whether resort wear in the country club scenes or formal attire in their evenings out, Bracco shines in every look. She can even cry pretty as she does, wearing a fluffy, snowy fur coat in one scene. The wedding scene probably says it all for every woman because can we all look this beautiful at our wedding?
So many people remember this film for DeNiro and Pesci and James Woods. They turn out tour de force roles that span decades. (That was a 1990s film thing.) You should watch it for Sharon Stone though and not just her fabulous wardrobe of more than 30 fashionable looks from lounge wear to evening wear. Her fabulous acting has to compete with her beauty and ability to wear any outfit smashingly.
The Silence of the Lambs
You might not realize it, but women's fashions still feel this film today. Actress Jodie Foster had just returned to acting after time off for college when she rocked this role of female strength. Her FBI “uniform” consists of tweedy houndstooth and slim dress pants. She favors designer bags and linen or silk blouses. Her bob haircut always looks fabulous. Decades later, we still wear Claire's look, and you can buy this online today to blow away your office.
There you have it. If you want to see how to revamp your wardrobe for going out into the world again, just watch some now-classic films. Three decades later, the stories hold up, the plots still enthrall, and the fashions remain fabulous. If you've never seen them before, just do a quick Google search to find out how to stream them online. Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day, so we're sure you'll be able to find these films online.