August 08, 2018
The problem with 90s nostalgia is that the decade was already backward-looking. It’s dress-up and it won’t last
From Rihannas eyebrows to slip dresses: should we embrace the 90s revival?
Now that Rihanna has super-thin eyebrows and slip dresses are in fashion, does this mean the 90s are back? And, as I can remember it the first time round, am I too old to carry this off? Mary, by email
The question is not whether you are too old, Mary, but whether you would want to. Some of us lived our formative years in the 90s and the only reason we wore dresses over jeans, superfluously pocketed trousers from Carhartt, bizarrely patterned Doctor Martens and so on is because there was literally nothing else in the shops. We were sartorially deprived, damn it! And, perhaps more importantly, we just didn’t know better. Now we do. So let the youngsters enjoy their 90s dressing-up box: all those eyebrow pencils and lip pencils, those shapeless slip dresses that looked good on no one but Winona Ryder and Courtney Love, that bad denim and even worse shoes. You and me, Mary, we can stand to the side in our actually flattering jeans and enjoy it from our porch constructed from decaying Britpop dreams.
I have been thinking a lot about nostalgia of late. I recently went to a festival aimed at parents of young children and while the big hitters were on the main stage (Peppa Pig! Mr Tumble! DICK AND FLIPPING DOM!!!), the music for the parents was entirely from yesteryear, scheduled in the not entirely incorrect belief that, as soon as they have kids, people stop bothering with the zeitgeist. So there were some 80s headliners (who most of the parents were surely too young to remember by now, but no matter) and some truly extraordinary relics from the 90s. Jesus Jones were there. So were Stereo MCs. And so were Shed Seven. I’m afraid I had a mini nervous breakdown on the Saturday afternoon, somewhere between Peppa and Connected: was this what my youth had been reduced to? Shed flipping Seven? Oh, the meaninglessness of it all! Fortunately, at that point, one of my kids spotted the bouncy castle and my existential despair had to be cut short.
I don’t mind nostalgia. Obviously, I don’t: I wrote a book about 80s movies, for heaven’s sake, so sentimentalising the past is a state with which I’m very comfortable. And while it’s the 90s we’re now revisiting, that decade was itself a very sentimental time. The music, for a start, was hugely backward-looking, with British guitar bands dividing themselves into weirdly factionalised groups, some obsessing over the Beatles, some imitating the Small Faces and others wanging on about Ray Davies. But with the inevitable exceptions of Blur and Oasis, no one listens to those copycat bands any more. The British music from the 90s that has endured beyond nostalgia is the stuff that was genuinely new: Roni Size, Goldie, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Primal Scream, the Prodigy and, oh yes, Craig David. Because people always want the original, not the lame-ass rehashed version.
Similarly, the reason I love 80s movies is because no one before had made teen movies like John Hughes did, and no one before had made action movies like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, and no one before had ever seen anyone like Eddie Murphy on screen. And that is why I’m rather charmed by Universal/Paramount Pictures’ re-releases of these movies and selected others as DVDs but in their original 80s VHS packaging: these films are great partly because they were so original but it’s perfectly right to acknowledge that their appeal now is decidedly retro. No one is kidding anyone that these movies are new.
Which brings me back to fashion. I just don’t see the point in aping past decades and pretending this is the current look. It’s not: it’s dress-up and, ultimately, it won’t last. When people look back on fashion of the 2010s in 20 or 30 years, they will not think about the 90s rehashes: they will think about yoga clothes and contouring and tracksuits and the Kardashians. That might not be the list you love now, but it is the list of this era. And to quote a certain movie we’re all nostalgic for now but that was, itself, about nostalgia, I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet … but your kids are going to love it.
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