6 sartorial rules we learnt from ’90s TV shows

Illustration by Twylamae
Words by Maeve Kerr-Crowley

Bust out your butterfly clips.

Everybody’s guilty of a little harmless outfit thievery now and then. Show me someone who says they never tried to rip off looks from TV ‘cool girls’ as a preteen, and I’ll show you a liar.

Mixed feelings about the world’s current throwback mania aside, TV style was just better back in the day. Hair was bigger, the colours were brighter and the trends were more daring.

The good news is that those copycat looks you’d rock at school discos are back and cooler than ever. That’s right, looking like the plucky protagonist from a ’90s teen drama is, like, so totally in.

To make sure you get it right, here are some of the cardinal rules of dressing pulled straight from the shows of yesteryear.

1. Layer up or give up

’90s teen sweetheart Blossom Russo from Blossom could teach us all a thing or two about creative dressing. Rule number one is that everything – and I do mean everything – should be layered. T-shirts under singlets, skirts under other skirts, velvet pants under matching velvet dresses. For extra flair, try layering prints. The most Blossom-worthy way to wear florals is layering an oversized dress under equally huge outerwear and accessorising with sneakers or chunky boots.

Look at yourself in the mirror and think, is there any part of my body covered in just one piece of fabric? If the answer is yes, return to your wardrobe.

2. Your best weapon is the right accessory

Buffy Summers, of Vampire-Slaying fame, was a poster child for late ’90s and early ’00s high school fashion. As a heroine, her style was less ruthless warrior and more femme fatale, with an emphasis on tiny silhouettes, thoughtful accessories and pops of bright, ultra-feminine colours.

That very era-appropriate combination of miniskirts, spaghetti straps and knee-high boots has undeservedly lost some of its relevance. The look is worth reviving as is, but accessorised with a choker, oversized sunglasses and a leather jacket à la Miss Summers, it makes for the perfect throwback.

3. Don’t be scared of your clothes

If there’s one thing to take away from six seasons of The Nanny, it’s Fran Fine’s dedication to courageous style. The flashy girl from Flushing wasn’t afraid of colour, glamour or overdressing. Whether wearing Dolce & Gabbana to do laundry or a full-length sequin gown to a retirement party, Fran took every possible opportunity to pull off a show-stopping look.

While she did know how to be casual – which for Fran meant waist-hugging mom jeans paired with a patterned vest or tiny crop top – infinitely more inspiring was her work with two-piece co-ord sets. Don a miniskirt and tailored jacket in neon yellow, checkerboard or leopard print and complete the look with a turtleneck and boots so you can pretend you’re seasonally appropriate.

4. The basis of any good look is a killer silhouette

The number one reason to watch Sex and the City was always the fashion. The only thing better than watching Carrie and Mr Big break up again and again was seeing what she wore each time it happened. Not only were the gang fashion savvy (well, most of the time), their true expertise lay in coming up with unique, signature silhouettes.

For Carrie, the key was in an accentuated waistline. While there are a million ways she achieved this, one of the most memorable was her penchant for tutus and princess dresses. A high, tight waistband gave her a cinched silhouette, while the drama of a tulle skirt maintained her eclectic, fashion forward spirit. To channel Miss Bradshaw today, consider ditching the very ’90s fit of her singlets and pair your tutu with a straight neckline or cropped tee instead.

5. It’s all in the hair

Like most living through the turn of the millennia, the sisters from Charmed weren’t fashionably infallible. But questionable choices aside (I’m looking at you, Phoebe Halliwell), the Charmed Ones were a beacon of inspiration for the young, professional, magically-destined woman of the day. Their loyalty to braless and strapless attire while saving the world was admirable, not to mention completely transferrable to a busy, 21st-century lifestyle.

Of course, the make or break of the Halliwell family’s innovative looks was always the hair. Highs include Phoebe’s blonde, bouncy season three waves and Paige’s clip-heavy half updos circa season five. Fringes, however, were always a danger zone. Go too short or too wispy and no amount of bare midriff can save you. Tread with caution.

6. Forget the hero

Sure, the hero usually ends up with the brooding heartthrob, but it’s the sidekick who gets the best looks. After all, it was Buffy’s other half, Willow, who provided BTVS’s best fashion moments. Whether drawing from her well-stocked arsenal of corduroy overalls and printed tees, or pairing long skirts with sporty sneakers, Willow basically invented arty, influential weird girl fashion.

The best friend figure in My So Called Life, Rayanne Graff, had a more rebellious approach to both life and fashion. With a love of oversized menswear, one blonde streak in her hair and a distaste for doing up buttons, Rayanne was inspiring in her disregard for rules. She even managed to rub off on sheltered and love-struck Angela, introducing a touch of grunge to her look with just some flannel and hair dye.

Next time you’re seeking some style to steal, look a little further than your favourite protagonists to the underrated hype-girls standing beside them.

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