…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is! (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)
Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project. The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s. This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here). Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era. Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager. Ah, what am I turning into!? This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.
Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s. My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length. Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress. I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck. Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways!
However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”. A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style! Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality. (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too). They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise. They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds. Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental. Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”. This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.
Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology. In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny. I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara. Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno. Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno. That not all, however! At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld. After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.
I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did. Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand? It always feels so remarkably serendipitous. She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together. Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)! Good things happen when sewists unite!
FABRIC: a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets
PATTERN: New Look #6306, year 1994
NOTIONS NEEDED: I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.
THE INSIDES: The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.
TOTAL COST: practically free!!! Read on…
How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story. Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale. The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets. Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house. I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free! At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away. The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.
It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static. The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling. Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me. I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it. 1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child. My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion. I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime. I am not the only one, though.
Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York. Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”. I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content. It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.” (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.) What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”.
“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says. Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls. The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.” So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way? The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.” Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects? This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era. “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly. Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past? It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp.
No wonder I appreciate the 90’s! It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love. I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make. Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so. I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion. Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage. This might not be your view and that is fine. After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation. If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog. I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.
That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge. I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it. Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces. I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s. My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles. I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years. My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.
Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend. Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater. The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era. The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though. My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion. The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion. Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with. The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.
After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew. It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required. Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction. I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper.
Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie. I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper. Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back. Yes, I feel terrible about this. There were tears involved.
Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress. I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all. The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular. My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy. I garner so many compliments when I wear this! I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer. Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too.
The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers, the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song! There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus. The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period. This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series. Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!