Daffodil patterned overall cuts offs. Bold lipstick and mega brows.
Nose and lip rings. Slayer t-shirts. Molly (AKA Ecstasy).
I was an awkward, shitty age in the mid nineties. I wasn’t old enough to see live music and anyways grunge had gone commercial. I didn’t get to experience the amazing underground garage bands, festivals, cheap drugs and alcohol those a few years older would have. Still, with a musical older sibling, I listened to awesome bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and pretended to hate Mariah Carey. I idolized the 80s and talked about how shit the 90’s were and how the future was bleak, while wearing docs and black lipstick and getting ostracized by my peers.
As I witness the nineties revival in popular culture today, I approach you gentle reader, with the knowledge that you may not have been old enough to remember the nineties. You may never have even eaten a focaccia.
I thought rather than write a weird, pissed off 33-year-old lit-crit rant about Miley Cyrus, I’d make a list for you, to guide you through this, your first and my second nineties, both politically weird and aesthetically rather ugly in lots of ways.
This is the original setting: Perth, Australia, 1994-2000. I look around at some of the good, bad and ugly things that if you were my age or older, you may well nod or smile with recognition. Younger readers may gasp in fright.
This is a real account.This is a world where café culture was in its infancy. Soy coconut milk café latte? I think not.
Cappuccinos were the only option.
Brioche anyone? Avocado smash? I don’t think so.
The only cakes available were carrot cake, black forest or ‘death by chocolate’. Actually, chocolate and ice cream were all rich, overindulgent and eroticised. Like sex scenes in Hollywood movies (Think Sliver. Sex scenes in 90s film are nothing short of spectacular).
Magnum ice creams dominated the market. Women had orgasms and ate them in baths, because they realized they had vaginas and also had vibrators. Lipsticks were named after the seven deadly sins. Being wicked and indulgent was in. Cupcakes were served at kiddies’ parties and people ate muffins on the go.
Vampires were cool. Before Twighlight, A woman called Anne Rice made us all hot under the collar about homoerotic vampires who lived in New Orleans and looked like Brad Pitt.
Bisexuality was in. It still wasn’t very okay to be gay or bisexual, unless you were Angela Jolie, however. Who then went on to marry Brad Pitt.
Thrillers and female obsession films were huge. If you haven’t seen Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Fatal Attraction you’re seriously missing out. Women were taking positions of power and there was a lot of anxiety about the domestic and political sphere. Plus the sex scenes in these flicks are pretty ace.
Bad melodrama from the US consumed us. Once upon a time, there was an unfunny TV show called Friends. It was the very, very, very worst part about the 90s. I saw a youthful hipster wearing a Friends t-shirt ironically the other day. NO. 90210. Dawson’s Creek. No one did anything except smirk, fuck each other and play with their hair and so laugh tracks were invented. Melrose Place was the only winner in this genre in a ‘guilty pleasure’ kinda way.
That said the X-files were on telly. Procedural crime, forensics and FBI shows also exploded in the aftermath Silence of the Lambs. The 90s were a crime renaissance in my humble opinion.
We were in the third wave of feminism. As a 16-year-old, I devoured books like The Beauty Myth and Body Jamming and listened as lipstick wearing feminists’ joust with old school rad fems. I realized I had a choice to shave my legs and wear make up.I listened to Tori Amos, not knowing how much she had ripped off Kate Bush.
Bootscooting and country went mainstream. Before Miley Cyrus was even an ovum, her dad Billy Ray had a hit called Achy Breaky Heart, popularizing shit country music and making white people bootscoot all over the world. Thelma and Louise also helped to romanticise country, but that was a pretty rad movie and had aforementioned Brad Pitt in it and you guessed it: a really memorable sex scene.
Like Twin Peaks, I don’t want to talk about garage and indie 90s music I love, but from the Sundays to the Happy Mondays all over the world, great music was being made and David Lynch was cooking away weird plots. I want to move to the ghastly, embarrassing stuff. The commercialised rave like N Trance and Black Box, Right Said Fred and The Prodigy. Oh and you can thank the 90s for white rappers. Vanilla Ice spawned shit like Snow.
Then there was this thing called the Macarena. It was, I dunno, sort of like zumba as got impregnated by Julio Iglesias on a cruise ship disco dance floor and villains recorded their love making and everyone had to dance to it.
Scrunchies. Some mums might still own or even wear one. Don’t you do it, please.
Coronas and Crownies. Boutique beers and imported beer had just come on the market. Could we afford them? No, only wankers could. In Perth, we drank VB and EB. Carlton Cold was also popular. Cider? Boutique cider? Fuck off. We drank Strongbow and our bowels paid the price.
High waisted, wide legged, arse-flattening jeans were worn regularly. With great fear I note they are back in fashion now. WHY?
Anorexia was big. Eating disorders are serious business and are obviously not limited to a generation/era, but it seemed that anorexia was much more prevalent and the waif look dominated.
Supermodels (See Anorexia).
Snap bracelets were on trend. They were sort of like those ugly rubber charity bands, but without the charity angle. They were made of metal and covered with cheap, decorative fabric. They were mass market, painful fashion accessories. See hypercolour; for another another weird, fucked up fad.
Ditto Hypercolour. Like tie dye, but heat and liquid sensitive. Commercialised Psychedelica. Like the Grateful Dead became.
Wayne’s World, Pauly Shore, MTV shows like Beavis and Butt Head and idiotic catch phrases from all of the above dominated popular culture. People were stoned and apathetic, I guess. I was 14 and I thought Encino Man was Citizen Cane. Oops.
Heroin. Well, it was everywhere.
Grunge went mainstream. Flannos, docs, beanies, ripped jeans. Goes well with heroin and Nirvana.
Everyone was on the dole! We called it the rock and roll. You’d meet your bandmates in Centrelink, spend your dole on booze, ciggies and drugs and still have heaps for rent and then write a song or a book about it. Oh and alongside unemployment, workplace agreements, conservatism, work for the dole and the GST.
New Age art and jewelry worn/displayed in an un-ironic fashion was dejour. Mull leaf jewelry, dream catchers and Ankhs. Anything Native American especially if it had wolves on it. Angels.
As far as design goes, moon and sun motifs were on EVERYTHING. Often these were blue and gold.
I just recalled decoupage and now need therapy. Often done with sun and moon motifs and angels.
Peace signs were prevalent too. Peace, I hate the word…
Anything Italian was in: think Fiorelli, risotto, antipasto (especially sun dried tomatoes), Vespa’s.
And then there was Turkish bread and trios of dips.
In my mind there are loads of parallels between the 1990s, 1960s and 1970s and the 1980s, 1950s and 1940s. Which means the 2010s are like The 1990s, 1960s and 1970s: except we now have the Internet. Fast speed, not dial up. And mobile phones.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to off to write a feminist deconstruction of Wrecking Ball.