Fashion

Who Decided 90’s Fashions Are Back?

Have we forgotten how terrible 90’s fashion was?

There has been a lot of progress when it comes to women’s fashion. I guess I’ll start there. I’m seeing a lot more pockets in dresses and this is a major upgrade.

I came up in the 90s and early 2000s. I was born in the mid-80s, and I’m keenly aware that 40 isn’t that far away. A little closer than I’d like to say, but whatever. Aging just means I’m not dead. But, I digress.

Growing up in the age of Kate Moss being the symbol of beauty was never easy on this Italian girl with a huge ass and thick thighs. I have the quintessential curvy Coke bottle shape. When buying jeans I always have the same problem, the legs and bum are too snug, but the waist is too loose. Thankfully, my mother was a gifted seamstress and tailored my pants so that my underwear didn’t always show, especially when those super-low rise jeans were in fashion. You know the pants that required a bikini wax and had a two-inch inseam.

Before I go on, let me also say I’m not trying to flex by saying I’m curvy. Being curvy has always been something of a sore spot for me. I am the thickest of my sisters. My younger sisters are long and lean. They look good in any style. They dress impeccably. My entire life I was compared to my sisters — but this isn’t that essay. What I’m saying is curvy as beautiful is a recent development.

Jennifer Lopez came to prominence in my high school and college days. She and Beyonce were curvy and gorgeous and then Kim Kardashian showed up and suddenly my big ass wasn’t an issue anymore. At least it didn’t seem like a stigma anymore. Only, it was too late. My idea of beautiful was waif-like thinness. It was cemented in.

For decades upon decades, women were held to the standard that thin was beautiful. Look at the clothes from the 1920s — I love a drop waist as much as the next person, but my big ass (I don’t mean this in the derogatory “I’m fat” way, I literally mean big ass) doesn't look good in a dropped waist dress. Why? Because I have curves! The dropped waist dress literally hides one of my best features.

Clothes in the Forties and Fifties and early Sixties were generous to curvy women. When I see pictures of beautiful a-line and pencil skirts and halter-tops that highlight all the ways a woman has curves, I think about how I was born in the wrong era — for clothes. However, the late 60s through the early 2000s were about thinness. Twiggy showed up and that was it for curvy women. Since then the rise of Weight Watchers and Jane Fonda cardio workouts was what our mothers were thinking about when they started raising us 90s kids.

I have so many vivid and painful memories of being in middle and high school going shopping with my mother and crying in the dressing room because everything felt tight, and my legs wouldn’t fit into pants properly, and I had boobs and my butt looked so round in everything. Skirts would be significantly shorter in the back because my butt literally lifted the fabric up. It was — and I’m not trying to be dramatic — traumatic.

Trying to find clothes in my high school days, at the age when you’re just starting to find your sense of style, was always a nightmare because 90’s fashions were not designed to look good on curvy shapes. They were designed for long and thin. For women who were svelte and straight.

For a while, my sister did window modeling at 5–7–9 in our local mall (hi, I’m old!), and I remember feeling so much envy because she could actually fit in those clothes. She wore a double zero — a size that actually exists, which is a rhetorical nightmare and sends such a warped message. Why have we let clothing manufacturers do this to us?

My sister also had a slew of clothes from Wet Seal and Express. Meanwhile, my mother had to buy me pants and skirts in the women’s section because older women had curves and she could find longer a-line skirts for me there. The juniors section at Macy’s was a special place of torment for me.

Fast forward to now, a year of being in isolation and wearing a uniform of leggings and a baggy sweater — hold the shoes. Shoes are for outings. I thought it high time to get some new clothes for when I could finally emerge and eat at a restaurant. Clothes that are stylish and maybe even have buttons.

You can imagine my surprise — my shock — my rage when I started looking at clothes online to find the 90s are back. Those loose, floral potato sack dresses that hide everything that indicates I’m a woman are everywhere. Baggy pants that I will have to size up because even though they are “wide-legged” are still cut straight and straight and curvy don’t go together. These wide-legged pants will be tight on my thighs and loose around my calves. They won’t be loose all the way down. They will bunch at the crotch. They will look frumpy, but as we learned a few months ago thanks to TikTok, skinny cut pants are o-u-t.

Had I stepped into a time capsule? What had I done to deserve returning to those years of pre-teen pain? Haven’t we suffered enough in this pandemic?

Before I get called out on how much progress there has been, I will acknowledge that I deeply appreciate that while these dresses have dropped waists and frills in all the wrong places, they do have pockets. So, I guess, thank you?

And sure, more and more retailers like Target are using models that aren’t super-skinny to showcase their clothes. It’s refreshing to see women who look like me modeling clothes. Still, I can’t be the only person who is both grateful to see how their clothes will look on me and also be disappointed because I don’t think those clothes look good on the women who share the same shape as I do. I see the plus-size versions of the clothes and all I think about is how seeing these 90’s-style clothes on women shaped like me confirms that I, too, will look frumpy in them. This is not to say these women aren’t beautiful. They are! It’s the clothes!

If I want to look good in these clothes, I’ll have to do what a lot of us did in the ’90s: not eat and over-exercise. No thanks.

I think the rage I’m feeling about these clothes is directly linked to the extreme damage that was done to my self-esteem in the ’90s and early 2000s. I remember leafing through magazines (remember magazines?) and never seeing anyone who looked like me, until suddenly women like Jennifer Lopez who is an actual goddess amongst us and who I do not look like, but who isn’t a stick with boobs, suddenly started to grace the pages of magazines.

What would it have been like to see more women who looked like me with curvaceous hips and round bums, thick legs, back fat, women who experienced chub rub on magazines when I was coming of age and needed to learn to love myself? Honestly, I can’t even imagine how liberating it would feel because I’m in my late 30s and I still think in a disordered way about my body and how I look.

Seeing these styles back, only now on women who look more like, doesn’t make it better. These looks aren’t designed to be flattering for thick and curvy women. They are designed to look good on women who don’t have a big round booty and thick legs. They are designed for women with bodies that are straight. Just because they are being modeled by women who aren’t doesn’t change the intentions behind the designs.

It’s easy to feel left out and angry in the same way I did when I was ten and then twelve and then fifteen and then twenty and now thirty-plus. It’s this illusion of progress. Pockets or not.

Writer, wife, mother, amateur movie critic, wannabe foodie, lover of coffee, wine and books. Check out my work at gloriapanzera.com and twitter @gloriapanzera.

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