*** boys clothing styles : 1990s

Boys Clothing Styles: 1990s

Figure 1.--American styles like long knee-length shorts and denim jackets were alsowidely worn in Europe during the late 1990s.

The trend toward comfortable casual children's clothing which began in the early 20th Century with rompers and short pants has seemed to reach a climax in the late 20th Century. At least it is difficult to see how boys' clothes could become any more casual. Boys rarely wore dressy clothing. Mums often found it a major undertaking to get their sons to dress up for special occassions. Part of the casual style appears to be to look casual, if not sloppy.

Popular Culture

Popular sportswear for boys in the 1990s are plastered with the manufacturers name, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, the Gap, and others. The trend began in the 1980s and continues unabated in the 1990s. The meaning of the desire of boys and girls to serve as living billboards is difficult to assess. It is almost as if the proliferation of shifting public signage, slogans, logos, and the deluge of print advertising, means that the words on your clothes are now what certify your physical existence. Or at least demonstrate that you are in the swing of popular culture. The media is so important to modern children that it appears to be critical to proclaim your knowledge and accectance of the latest trends. As one fashion comentator writes:

They seem to put you in harmony with the rest of the material world, as well as with the electronically written universe on the Internet. Words are now rarely carved in stone; printed books are quickly pulped; but endless messages flicker momentarily on screens or on this month's T-shirt. The exhibition tells us that as a vessel of lasting sense or sacred truth, the written word may be losing ground, but that as a source of inarticulate comfort, it has gained much.

Figure 2.--Little boys now wear tuxes to wedding just like their fathers rather than ring bearer costumes as in the past.

Fashion Trends

Boys clothing in America has gone from bad to worse in the 1990s. Little boys dress as little men when they dress up. Older boys strenuously avoid dressing up, usually with considerable success. A popular style for teenagers has become rediculously oversized jeans. Often jeans or hideous long, baggy trousers are the order of the day. Both girls and especially mothers are apauled at the fashion.


And as society entered the 1990s, a new manufactured cellulosic fiber, Tencel lyocell, was being promoted by Courtaulds. With a manufacturing process that was self-contained, it did not add to pollution. In fact, the environment was having a big impact on all consumer textiles in this new decade. On March 25, 1990, the connection between environmentalism and the textile and apparel industries was noted on the front page of the New York Times with the headline "The Green Movement in the Fashion World."10 Consumers could now buy naturally colored cottons, natural cotton (i.e., processed without chemicals), fabrics dyed with natural dyes, and polyester products made from recycled soda bottles. Of course the environmental movement did not begin in 1990, and it may be that the strong interest in the 1980s in garments made from natural fibers had been at least partly stimulated by environmental concerns. But even with expanded consumer interest in natural fibers, polyester claimed 55 percent of the domestic market in 1990. With the microfibers of the 1990s, the manufactured fiber industry also had a new product which fit in very well with a strong interest in activewear. Activewear was a new term applied to apparel worn for active sports and working out, popular activities growing out of a new awareness of the importance to health of keeping fit. For many years Hawaii has had the tradition of Friday being aloha shirt day, a day on which men can wear the traditional and informal aloha shirt to work. By 1994, the notion of "casual Friday" had taken root on the mainland to such an extent that on July 15 the front page of the New York Times announced, "Nowadays, Workers Enjoy Dressing Down for the Job." McCall's magazine noted that based on a recent poll, 64% of their readers worked in an office with a day policy. The old notion of one predominant fashion was gone; instead the apparel industry was serving a far more diverse public with products aimed not at general, but at specific audiences. On the other hand, the household textile industry had become much more fashion oriented. Constantly expanding information sources, including news, entertainment media, and the internet, help to spread information about these stylistic changes more rapidly to ever larger audiences.

Dressing Up

For nearly two hundred years now, men in prominent positions have been going to work wearing proper business suits. Over the years, there have been occasional rebellions against this custom, and, in fact, a mere twenty years ago the future of business suits in this country looked bleak, as dire predictions of men appearing at work wearing jump suits and the like abounded. Yet today, perhaps more then ever before, the business suit is the accepted uniform of the successful entrepreneur.

Naturally, this brings to mind the following questions: Why has the business suit enjoyed this longevity? What purpose does it serve? Why should a man even bother wearing one when it seems to limit self-expression and stifle individuality? Perhaps a starting point in responding to these questions appears in an advertisement placed by the pre-eminent men's clothing store, Paul Stuart, which states that "a proper function of the business suit is to offer a man a decent privacy so that irrelevant reactions are not called into play to prejudice what should be purely business transactions."

While this is certainly true, there is no reason why a man in a business suit has to look bland. Even in a business situation, it is possible to dress within certain professional parameters while still managing to avoid the trap of looking as if one just walked off the assembly line. The business suit can and should at least offer the suggestion of character and a sense of individuality. If, for instance, one works in advertising as opposed to banking, one can get away with a bit more verve in a suit rather than adhering to [text lost].

Tommy Hilfinger

Tommy Hilfinger (b. 1952- ) has had a major impact on boys' clothing in the 1990s. Hilfinger began in 1969 as a vendor of hippie fashions and later became a denizen of New York glam-rock mecca Max's Kansas City. Hilfiger designed for disco-era couturier Jordache before launching his eponymous line of straight-arrow preppy gear in 1985. The following year the relatively unknown designer launched a hubristic $3 million ad campaign which declared "The 4 Great American Designers for Men Are: R-- L--, P-- E--, C-- K--, T-- H--." (Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, and, of course, Hilfiger himself.) By decade's end Hilfiger's sales were at $25 million a year. "Tommy got the "Tommy got the colors," conceded one young African-American aficionado of Ralph Lauren in Britain's The Face in 1992, referring to Hilfiger's penchant for Regatta-bright designs. Hilfiger's street popularity was confirmed when Snoop Doggy Dogg wore a red, white, and blue Hilfiger rugby shirt on Saturday Night Live in March 1994; this, in turn, boosted his popularity among hip-hop wannabes in the suburbs. In 1995, Hilfiger was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and by 1996, the Tommy Hilfiger company--including a new women's line, and both men's and women's fragrances, was notching up a cool $500 million in sales, with record profits--some of which will go towards launching a children's range and a home furnishings venture.

Figure 3.--Jeans and "T" shirts were the most popular dress for American boys in the 1990s. Many boys in the late 1990s also began wearing cargo pants as an alternative to jeans.

National Trends


The fashions of the 1990s, like over-sized jeans and "T"shirts , may seem strange. Modern boys looking back at other decades nay have trouble understanding their fashion. One father who dislikes modern styles say his boy keeps bringup bell-bottoms. One group of American middle school children described their preferences in 1998. The children, especially the girls love to shop. They enjoy wearing brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Blue Asphalt, Nautica, Quicksilver, Calvin Klien, Ralph Lauren, and more. Out of all these brands, Blue Asphalt seems to be the most popular for girls. For boys, the most popular name brand is Quicksilver. The shoes that everyone wears at La Jolla Country Day are Nike, Fila, Adidas, and Duffs. Also, the students like to wear corduroy pants and sweaters.

Figure 4.--English and other European boys now wear the same kind of casual clothes as American boys. Large shirts and jeans are popular every where.


Combat trousers and jeans are some of the most popular trousers with boys. Baggy "T" shirts are worn with bright long sleeved shirts over the top. Sneakers were popular in the early and mid-1990s, but some boys in the late 1990s reported that Kickers shoes, bit like deck shoes were popular.

Boys during the summer often wear sports kit. Clothes with football team logos are particularly popular.

Early in the decade jog bottoms with elastic on the cuffs were popular, but many boys in the late 1990s report that they really dislike themm. One boy reports, "they look awful and ride up your legs and give you a cramp."

Most elementary schools no longer require short trousers. Many, but not all, boys disliked wearing them--especially during the winter. Boys have various opinions. Younger boys often dodn't mind, presumably because dressing for school is a lot less hassle. Most of the older boys dislike the idea.

Scouts were a green scout shirt, but many boys dislike the fawn Scout trousers and don't wear them. One boy reports wearing all black combat trousers. When he goes to Scout Church parades, he wears black school trousers.

Figure 5.--Most English schools still require uniforms, but most schools no longer require traditional short trousers.


European countries, especially the France, introduced new longer short pants in the 1990s. Previously European boys have worn shorter style shorts. By the 1990s while only younger boys now wore dressy shorts, the began wearing longer knee length shorts. This new longer length style gradually spread to Britain and America.

Other Views

Teenage girl's view: Some American girls are not impressed with baggy jeans

Mother's view: An American mother buying baggy jeans while remembering the sailor suit dresses and pinafores her mother bought

Growing up in the 1990s: An interesting American newspaper article

An English boy's view: Andy

Pants styles: Global trends

Milinium trends: American boys clothing styles in 1999

The 1990s: Buying a coat in America

The 1990s: Another minority view

The 2000s: A minority view


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Created: March 12, 1999
Last updated: November 12, 2003