United States Boys' Clothes: The 1990s

Figure 1.--



Early part of the decade

Later part of the decade

One HBC contributor reports that over the past year, I've worked at a shopping mall in the Southern United States, and have seen the latest trends in boys fashions evolve in it's myriad ways. Not one style seems dominant anymore, taking a more eccletic approach. Hilfiger's fashion is still going strong, the urban preppy look as I like to call it, consisting of khakis, button down pattern shirt, boots and cap. Strangely enough, this style brings to mind the image of a school uniform; as the weather changes, only the shirts change to knit, collarless sweaters. Over the summer, it was nice to see boys in shorts and the button down shirts (although the shirts are never tucked into the pants, for that would be too formal). During summer, leather sandals have taken hold, moving away from the sport sandal craze of last year.

Other styles of interest, are still the skater look for the younger boys, of extremely clownish looking jeans, cut-offs, skater tennis shoes and crew/jogger socks. The jogger socks, which hug the ankle, appeared as if overnight and even the adults wore them, destroying the hold of the crew socks of years before. Only a very few boys were seen in knee socks, but the individualists are there. Incidentally, more girls were wearing knee socks (white) this summer, with short-short jeans shorts or soccer shorts. Could the boy's be far behind?
Wide legged cord pants in nuetral colors came into their own this past year; in fact, the most popular colors wear olive and khakis, browns and golds. Baseball caps gave way to cloth school-style caps, someimes, but not always, with a manufacturer's logo embroidered on it. There is a slight push to re-introduce the slimmer, more traditional cuts back into fashion. Also, sweats and wind-pants/warm-up suits became everyday wear, ofttimes the entire family would be seen all in the same style of clothes.

School Uniform

One day when walking into the mall's food court, I saw a yonger, probably first grade boy, in his Catholic school uniform at one of the stands. The basic Catholic elementary school uniform of blue walk shorts and sky blue polo shirt, but this boy had white knee socks on, and not the crew socks as per typical. Also, I did happen to notice that a few boys stood out amongst the crowd by wearing black Nike sweat socks with their jean shorts this last year. Dark socks with shorts are very atypical in the U.S. for some obscure, sub-concious cultural reason, except when required by soccer uniform (most of the boys I saw kept their soccer socks pulled up, not caring I assume due to it being a sports uniform). I only saw one Scout; he was in full uniform which is atypical for Americans, shorts pants and sock knee socks, though the socks were pushed down.

The gangster look seems to have adopted the preppy style, a strange malange indeed. More black boys have gone preppy while the white boys have gone hip-hop/gansta. Also, with teenage boys, the white athletic (or wife-beater shirts as they are called in the South), have made a comeback, usually with knee length jeans shorts.

A wave of retro fashion, namely the 1970's, has flared, mostly with the girls, though with several television shows set during the 1970's are going strong. Interestingly, even though it is winter, I have seen a larger number of boys this winter still wearing shorts at mid-30 temperatures. Could shorts actually be going year round? The casual styles are predominant, even if it only means not tucking in the tails of one's shirt. All formality in the U.S. is dead; even churches allow the casual look when once it was "Sunday's best." Several school have tried to clamp down on "appropriate attire" through dress codes, basically outlawing the color black and prohibiting t-shirts with profanity and music group icons.


Some trends in popular garments included:
The fashions of the 1990s, like overaized jeans and "T"shirts , may seem strange. Modern boys looking back at other decades nay have trouble understanding their fashion. This is not to say, however, that older fashions always made more sence. 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.
For girls: the most common brand name is Blue Asphalt and Roxy. "I like Blue Asphalt because they are high quality clothes, and fashionable." said eight grader Leigh Chapman. Blue Asphalt is very affordable and it is not one of the expensive brand names like Tommy Hilfiger. You can buy Blue Asphalt clothes at Contempo Casuals, or Wet Seal in California. You can get Tommy and Nautica brands at Macys.
Most of the boys: like to shop at stores where Rusty and Quicksilver are sold. "I get my pants from my older brother," said eight grader Grant Clark. The boys like to wear baggy jeans. "I like jeans because they are comfortable," said seventh grader Mark Silldorf.

Most students like to go to malls, such as UTC, Parkway Plaza, Fashion Valley and Horton Plaza to buy their clothes. Most of the students shop at those malls because they have the best stores. Overall, the Middle School kids have a very good wardrobe. The children like to express our fashion instead of having a dress code because each student has their own unique style. Everyone wants to wear the clothes they like.


Short pants

It's interesting that the fashion industry started hyping longer calf-length shorts to girls and young women starting last year, and they still haven't settled on a name. They are advertised variously as Capri pants, clam diggers and pedal pushers. The baggier version being marketed to boys are now being called "flood shorts". One HBC contrinbutor comments, And they still look stupid. Boys' shorts couldn't be any longer than they are now, so I take heart in the fact that there's nowhere to go but up. By my observation, the longest shorts are worn by boys in elementary school and not by high schoolers. This creates an instability that should drive shorts to a more rational length. But countering this tendency is the fact that shorter shorts are now worn only by girls, which gives boys the idea that there's something unmasculine about shorter shorts." The style of shorts changed dramatically in the 1990s to longer, baggier styles to match the oversized hiphop jeans that had become popular. Increasingly fashion in America was being set by the black getto rather than the elite 5th Avenue elite. Not only did boys wear baggy shorts, but they wanted pants several sizes too large. Many wanted their underwear band to show.

Short overalls

short overalls. They were popular with boys for a few years ins the early 90s. Some boyus rolled up the pant legs a bit and others would have one strap unfastened so that one side hung down. Some kids worls wear long turtle-neck shirts with them. This was a fad that didn't last too long.

Ear rings

Earings were everywhere. Even elementary boys wanted them, esecially after seeing Michael Jordon wearing them.

Gender Trends

It is interesting to note that in the late 1990s and 2000s, bell-bottoms, plaid pants, and platform shoes all came back in style, but only for girls. Both boys and girls wore them in the 60s and 70s.

Social Trends

In the late 80s children came into their own, the so-called "latch-key" children who had to take responsibility to survive, and in so doing took more control over their own lives at an earlier age (and sometimes had to raise younger siblings). By this time, it was more acceptable for children to start spending money, earning money, and making their own choices. By the 1990s, the parents seemed to be subservient to their offspring and allowed the kids to make their own choices. Simultaneously, the gangs took to the urban streets and a new subculture arose. The designers of clothing began to look towards these urban youth and skaterboarders for THE new fashion trend. More and more children had credit cards, cellular phones, etc, hence shifting the power to them (adolescents, of course). Culture and not parents made choices for their children (this began in the 60s, but now has reached to the youngest child). As the world grew smaller due to the media in all its facets, the bubble of reality (traditional family unit/household/neighborhood which determined one's reality by proximity) burst, undermining the parents authority.

Grunge Look

A HBC reader reports, "I have some memories I had in Northern California, in the San Francisco Bay area during a very short period of time, during the fall and winter of 1991-2, where many boys generally in their early to mid teens wore the 'grunge' look. In particular, long black cotton thermal underwear such as the J.E. Morgan brand, or black (silk?) leggings with denim shorts that were cut off at or just above the knee, usually with Doc Marten boots, and pullover sweatshirts or flannel shirts worn open with a t-shirt or thermal top underneath. It was an interesting, but somewhat short lived look. I have seen only a little discussion of early 90s grunge in the United States."

Personal Accounts and Articles

The 1970s: Jeans-A Minority View
The 1970s: The Disco Era
The 1980s: Smart Clothes/Mother's efforts
The 1990s: A Girl's view
The 1990s: Milennium trends--A Girl's view
The 2000s: Boys' styles-A minority view


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main U.S. late 20th century page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: December 30, 1999
Last updated: August 4, 2003