Thursday, December 17, 2009

90s Hair Trends

It's always tough to judge a trend outside the context of its time. When it's current, it seems the hippest, most innovative idea any of us have ever seen. In retrospect, though, we've just got to wonder what exactly was going through (or in this case, on top of) our heads when we bought into these fads.

In the case of these hairstyles, hindsight really is 20/20. What seemed so stylish at the time inevitably ends up looking dated and at times, ridiculous. When your grandkids are mocking you in your yearbook photos forty years down the road, gently remind them that these looks were the height of style in our day. Just don't be surprised if they still make fun of you for your rat tail. You kind of deserve it.

For the Ladies:

The Rachel

Was there a female alive in the 90s who didn't want this haircut? Jennifer Aniston's hair quickly became an iconic 90s hairstyle, prompting women everywhere to ask their stylists to recreate her famous shaggy layers. It looked great on 20-and-30-somethings, but it was certainly an odd look for anyone outside that age range, especially children. It's just sort of unsettling to see this adult on a kid, though it didn't stop me from coveting my classmates' mature-looking Rachel cuts.

Mall Bangs or Leveled Bangs

A carryover from the 80s, mall bangs were a staple for anyone possessing a hair dryer, a round brush, and a gallon-sized jug of hairspray. These babies were poufed to the max and often featured strangely separated strands. Some bang-wearers took the look to the next level (literally) by establishing a bi-level bang that required not one but two rounds of styling to give each level a different layer of volume.

These ponytail accessories were everywhere in the 90s. Retailers even sold matching scrunchies with their outfits so we could put together a coordinated look. Isn't that thoughtful of them? I distinctly remember owning a Limited Too outfit that included a matching scrunchie, and it was unacceptable to wear one without the other. Scrunchies were composed of oversized tubular pieces of fabric "scrunched" around an elastic band. The boldest among us even attempted multiple scrunchies in a single hairstyle by segmenting their ponytail into a number of elastic-separated bunches. Extra credit for wearing it with a velvet headband.


This one's been around for awhile, but young girls in the 90s were especially prone to its wrath. It seemed like a good idea at the time: your mom wouldn't let you dye your hair, so why not just spray a few hazardous chemicals in and do it the natural way? Sounds harmless enough. Girls seeking sun-bleached locks turned to Sun-In only to have their blond ambition crushed by the appearance of a splotchy orange tone. You could always pick out the girls who'd experienced unfortunate Sun-In "incidents"--they were the ones with the glowing hair.


You'd think hair dye had was a recent innovation given the way it caught on in the 90s. There were two parent-shocking routes you could pick: a flat goth black (with matching inch-thick eyeliner) or a rainbow of colors usually only found in a Lucky Charms box. In middle school, I longed to dye my hair pink. I was certain that was my ticket to hair nivana. My parents only let me get the comb-in kind supplemented by generous wandings of hair mascara, but it just wasn't the same.

Butterfly Clips
For some reason in the 90s, we just couldn't leave well enough alone. We simply weren't ready to go out unless our hair was jam packed with, well, stuff. All sorts of strange hair gems and metal fittings popped up at Claire's and The Icing, but none were quite so ubiquitous as the colorful butterfly clip. The tactic with these usually involved a semi-circular face-framing configuration that ultimately required a virtuous level of patience. The key was to get just the right amount of hair twisted under each butterfly. The whole ordeal made you look like you coated your hair in honey and were attacked in a butterfly garden enclosure, but dammit, it was popular.

Bra-Strap Headbands

Why, oh why would anyone think it acceptable to wear a discarded part of lingerie on your head? We wouldn't show up to junior high with panties in our hair, so why were bra straps an acceptable hair ornament? These caught on in a big way for reasons we may never understand. We have the salon at Bumble and Bumble to blame for this trend catching on in a big way.

For the Guys:

Hi-Top Fade

There must have been a memo sent out one day informing black men everywhere that Jheri curl was out, geometric hair was in. How else to explain the sudden switcharoo? The look entailed shaving the sides of the head and leaving all of the volume up top. It was a style some people carried better than others. If you were a rapper, you could certainly pull it off, you could even throw in some shaved zig zags for good measure. My personal favorite variation was "the gumby" which gave your head the illusion of being shaped like our favorite claymation friend.


When we run out of new hairstyles to premiere, apparently we go pretty far into the back-catalogues. In this case, all the way to ancient Rome, mimicking the style of Caesar himself. George Clooney on ER helped to pioneer the trend by looking dreamy even with the straight short horizontal fringe. It was also a good look for those who had thinning hair, because the pushed-down front helped mask that effect.

Rat Tail

This one always came off looking like a horrible mistake on the part of the hairdresser, which wasn't always a fair assessment. It was actually a horrible mistake on the part of the person sporting the look. Whoever thought it was a good idea to leave a single lock of long hair in the back of a closely cropped 'do has some serious explaining to do. In every school, there was that kid with the rat tail. It was something of a mystery. Had the boy requested it? Had the parents suggested this? Did they just watch too much professional wrestling? We may never know.

Okay, this may be a pretty exaggerated example, but it is pretty awesome

In the 80s and 90s, a group of misguided beauty school dropouts joined forces to unleash the ultimate trashy haircut: the mullet. It had popped up a few decades before, but it didn't have bonafide widespread appeal until the 80s and early 90s. The idea was short ("business") in the front, long ("party!") in the back. This, of course, flattered no one. The mullet wasn't just for men, either: some ladies jumped in on the action as well. There are still some diehard mullet throwbacks out there. You can usually see them on the Maury show.


Grunge, unfortunately, was just what it sounded like. Yes, we got some good music out of it, but as the name implied, it was dirty. Grungy hair was greasy, stringy long locks meant to convey your angst and apathy. Why do you think they wore so much flannel? It wasn't just an unwavering love of plaid, it was for its superior absorbency.

Bowl Cut

Also known as a Mushroom Cut, the bowl cut was very popular among young males in the 80s and 90s. It looked like the stylist had overturned a bowl on your head and shaved everything that stuck out underneath. Younger boys tended to wear them Beatles'/Moe from Three Stooges' style with a straight across cut, while teens often parted theirs into two distinct hair curtains.


It seemed half the guys I knew transitioned straight from the bowl cut into the spikes. The style required a staggering amount of hair gel to pull off the gravity-defying height favored by boys and young men. The popularity of this look ebbs and flows, but it's certainly not dead: just catch an episode of MTV's Jersey Shore. It's not just a situation, it's the Situation.

Bleach/ "Tips"

Sometime around Eminem's rise to fame, guys everywhere thought it would be a good idea to knock off his signature style. Not everyone's cut out to be a blond, and it showed. The bright blond hair definitely stood out in a crowd, but probably not the way the bleacher had intended. If you weren't quite ready to commit to the full-on bleach job, you could also isolate the tips of your hair and give them a little boost. It was hideous, yes, but at least you could just chop off your unfortunately-hued spikes.

These may not have evolved into classic looks, but it was the hairstyle hand we were dealt. Not every era can be full of timeless style. It's tough to imagine future historians waxing poetic about our choice to wear bra straps on our heads, but dammit, we're standing behind it.


Maggi said...

Yup, I did most of these looks. LOL

Cee said...

My boyfriend actually had a mushroom cut when I met 2004. I guess some habits die hard.

daisychain said...

omg haha, this post brings back memories. I had the most epic scrunchie collection!

M said...

These are cracking me up! I forgot all about those butterfly clips and bra-strap headbands. And don't even get me started on Sun-In... my hair was orange for weeks.

Ice Queen said...

I wanted the Aniston cut but I knew I could never make it look right.

p.s. I totally forgot about bra strap headbands until now. I think I still have one. Haha

Amber said...

I think that the haircut that Jonathan Jackson had in Camp Nowhere was frequently imitated.

Sadako said...

Don't forget--Pacey also made the Caesar do cool!

Molly said...

Scrunchies are still useful, goddammit. And, yeah, velvet headband, I had about two dozen fabric headbands that I rotated daily. For something like five years. Yeah, I know, I know, but it wasn't a fashion statement; it kept my ridiculously long hair out of my face and that was all I was after. Regular headbands either slipped off or bit my scalp with their horrible little teeth. Then one day I didn't wear one. And never wore one again. I actually remember that day - specifically, I remember thinking "these things are really stupid. I'll just deal with hair in my eyes."

...why am I telling you all this? Not a damn clue.

ali said...

Oy, I think I still have my scrunchies and butterfly clips. Not that I ever wear them. Ever! (Really, but now I'd sort of like to. Ironically.)

Kristin said...

I totes had the Rachel!!

Kris said...

I so got the Rachel, and I wore the bra strap headbands!!!!

dragonzflame said...

Heh, yep, butterfly clips, the Rachel and the headband were all very special to me. The only one you forgot was the glitter hair gel - which finally allowed every girl to pretend she was an Olympic gymnast.

Heather Taylor said...

I had the following during the '90's:
The Rachel (I distinctly remember taking a picture of Jennifer Aniston to the hairdresser and saying "I want that)
Butterfly hair clips (I put so many in my hair, they hurt! 8 hour school day left many, painful spots on my head.)
Scrunchies (Yeah.)

And I also wanted pink hair. I blame Gwen Stefani's No Doubt "Return to Saturn" album for that.

OceanDreams said...

You totally just brought back so many memories, lol! Especially the scrunchies! I am so glad we are past this era even though many of these trends will always remain! :) Blog giveaway at my blog land if you want to check it out. :)

The Girl Least Likely To said...

What the hell were we thinking in the 90's?! I did the black/hot pink hair with the black eyeliner and dark red lipstick and I thought I was sooo cool.

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

Oh the mullet!

Thank heavens I never succumbed to that Trend From Hell!

Kelly @ Dare to be Domestic said...

I had the worst experience with sun-in. I didn't read the directions sprayed it on my hair and didn't comb it through... ugh, HORRIBLE SPOTS! My mom wanted to kill me. I'm guilty of the mall bangs, the rachel, grunge and even the horrible rat tail. (Thankfully the rat tail lasted one full day I hated it and I cried for chopping off all my hair).

Matie said...

LOL at this great post!

I did a special feature article since the mullet haircut is coming back reinvented (believe it or not!):


Anonymous said...

You forgot the topsy tail (the pony tail that you looped back through the hair in front of the tie). I'm not sure what this look was supposed to accomplish but it was on many an infomercial and there was even a doll tie-in.

Mock-Turtle said...

You briefly mention 'hair mascara', but I think you could dedicate a whole section to the stuff. It was a huge trend in my school, particularly as every magazine from 'smash hits' to 'girl talk' seemed to give it away free, with the statement 'Collect every colour' like you would buy more than one of the same magazine so you could drag the gloopy disgusting mixture through your hair.

Really loving your blog!

Richard Feynman said...

Aniston Hair is a classic short hairstyle where the ends are cut just around chin length, xenical search and aligned close to the facial area. This style is most common among women.

Kari said...

Did anyone else wear banana clips?

Sammy Preston said...

I have tried tips and spike wahahaha. The hair trend of the nineties is epic.

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