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’90s Irony: Ten ’90s Fashion Throwbacks Gen Z Gets Wrong

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’90s Irony: Ten ’90s Fashion Throwbacks Gen Z Gets Wrong

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Is it a ’90s comeback? Or is it just ’90s irony? Jesse Valencia lists 10 ’90s fashion throwbacks that Gen Z is getting completely wrong. 


Having been a kid throughout the entirety of the 1990s (I was 5 in 1990, 15 in 2000), I feel that I have a special card when it comes to having an opinion on ’90s fashion throwbacks as far as Gen Z is concerned.

I hear a lot from Gen Z that “the ’90s are back” but not so much from Gen X, who ruled the ’90s. Why is that? My theory is that the ’90s aren’t actually back. What would be more accurate would be to say that “’90s irony is in.”

So, what is ’90s irony? That’s ripped jeans, that’s mullets, that’s fanny packs, that’s socks and sandals. It’s taking the things that were not cool in the ’90s, saying they are cool now, and calling it a ’90s throwback.

The true fashion moment, therefore, is not “’90s” but “’90s irony.”

Say it with me. ’90s irony.

So, because we are in the moment of ’90s irony, and not ’90s throwback, here are ten ’90s throwbacks that Gen Z gets wrong.

Want to argue with me? Follow me on Twitter.


  1. You need baggier jeans and more flannel.

Excessive rips: not cute in any decade

I feel like this is the number one thing Gen Z gets wrong about ’90s throwback. I’m seeing lots of jeans with rips in them, but the thing about ’90s rips is they were earned, not strategically placed to look like a bear has attacked you. Also, clothes were generally baggier and flannel/plaid was highly favored as an accent, whether worn as normal around the shoulders and the arms or behind the waist or tied around the waist, so, less obviously fake rips, more baggy for baggy’s sake, and more flannel.


  1. Bowl cuts, not mullets.

No matter how much you think this is cool …


… it will always look like this.

There are easily far more mullets now than there were in the ’90s. They were found more in the country-fried redneck fringe of society, like Billy Ray Cyrus and Joe Dirt, rather than the mainstream. Bowl cuts, on the other hand, were commonplace. Why not bring them back now, during the “’90s moment”?


  1. Doc Martens, not Birkenstocks.

Try Docs … not ’Stocks!

With a lot of the mom-jeans-wearers, with young women in particular I am noticing a trend of Birkenstocks and sandals which were most definitely not a popular thing in the 90’s. Doc Martens? Yes. Platform sandals? Yes. Things like Birkenstocks were reserved for hippie-types who enjoyed hiking, which was uncool in the 90’s. “Borderline art-nerd chic” was defined by either Doc Martens or Converse.


  1. Fanny Packs were/are not cool.

Fanny Packs are useful and convenient, but they were never meant to be something young people wore as something cool. Everyone always felt they were uncool and wore them ironically. If you wore a fanny pack, more than likely you would get made fun of, or beat up, and so the only people who wore them were usually parents and grown-ups on vacation. Ditch the pack.


  1. Socks and sandals were/are not cool.

Never cool. Perhaps the trademark of Gen Z?

This has been faux pas and the nerdiest of bad fashion blunders over the past 30 years. My theory is that Gen Z has made this “cool” on purpose, much like fanny packs and mullets, in order to be deliberately in opposition to Millenials and Gen X. You will be embarrassed later by your socks in sandals pics, but we tried to warn you.


  1. Overalls must be used sparingly.

The overalls were a brief moment in time.

Again, overalls, especially with the one strap, were cool maybe briefly, and that’s a big maybe. After all, they are something that farmers wear. No offense to farmers, but probably not cool for city kids, right? Wrong. It was likely only cool for the brief spell that it was because of Pauly Shore’s movie Son in Law, and I would be surprised if any Gen Z-ers even knew who Pauly Shore is. It’s a lot like how everyone wears Crocs now, but it was really nurses who started out wearing Crocs.


  1. Crop tops go with low-rise jeans, not mom jeans.

Low-rise jeans are for midriffs, not mom jeans.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a couple of years now. You can’t wear a crop top and high-rise mom jeans and call it a “’90s throwback,” because these fashion trends are diametrically opposed to each other and belong to different generations. In the ’90s, moms wore mom jeans, and teenagers wore crop tops and low-rise jeans. The idea behind low-rise jeans and crop tops was to show as much of your midriff as possible. Wearing mom jeans defeats the entire purpose of the crop-top because what you’re doing is leaving a tiny space for just a slit of uninteresting midriff to peek through. Unacceptable and incorrect.


  1. Bell bottoms/flared jeans were a ’70s thing brought back in the ’90s, so you bringing back this style is a copy of a copy.

High-waisted non-baggy flared jeans with strategic rips is peak 2020.

Don’t follow up mom-jeans with ’70s-esque bell bottoms as if they are themselves a ’90s throwback. This seems to be a repeat of the same mistake as the previous offense of crop-tops and mom jeans. If you’re going to wear bell bottoms, at least make them low-rise with your crop-tops, and for God’s sake don’t wear your Birkenstocks with them.


  1. Where are the JNCOs? Chokers? Windbreakers? Scrunchies?

These kids look more ’90s than most Gen Z-ers.

You Gen-Z-ers have a literal treasure of ’90s fashion to mine, and you’re dropping the ball. If this is truly the ’90s moment, let’s see the whole thing. Ditch the mullets for bowl cuts. Ditch the mom jeans for low-risers. Bring back JNCOs, wallet chains, chokers (but only if you’re “goth”), windbreakers, scrunchies, and everything else. If you are unironically making socks with sandals a trend, there is no reason why you can’t bring back some of these other trends.


  1. Do not bring back platform sandals.

Please … just don’t.

These were godawful, still are, and they look trashy and gross on anyone. Whatever you do, please do not bring these back.

That is all.


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Jesse Valencia

Jesse Valencia is an actor, musician, writer, and filmmaker from Northern Arizona whose writing has appeared in Phoenix New Times, Flagstaff Live!, and The Big Smoke. He first appeared onscreen opposite Tom Sizemore in the indie crime drama Durant’s Never Closes, and is currently studying screenwriting at the David Lynch Graduate School for Cinematic Arts at the Maharishi University of Management. He plays music with the band, Gorky, who've put out the records The Gork…And How To Get It!, More Electric Music, and Mathemagician. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Literature from Northern Arizona University, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and is currently at work on his first feature film.

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