There are two types of people in this world—people who lived through the 90s and people who didn’t.
Luckily for all of us, 90s style is back in full force. You can see more people wearing slip dresses, bucket hats, Mary Jane, platform sneakers, strappy sandals, high-waist jeans, and other key trends. Even the shoe industry can’t get enough of the nostalgia. In this article, we’ll break down the 90s aesthetic to help you find 90s shoes that work perfectly with your current style.
The 90s Aesthetic: A Blast from the Past
If you were alive in the 90s, you probably remember some of the quintessential visual motifs sustained throughout the decade. And, if you weren’t totally hip to the trends in the 90s, you’ve at least had a basic primer if you’ve seen “Clueless,” listened to Nirvana, gossiped about Princess Diana, imagined being a Spice Girl, or watched “Friends.”
Let’s explore some key style elements that proliferated throughout this vibrant decade:1
- Bold, bright, flashy – Likely a result of leftover 80s influences, 90s color palettes remained vibrant, vivid, and flashy. Between brightly color-blocked windbreakers and radiant runway looks, the 90s were a welcome environment for daring shades. These 90s bold fashion colors for spring are making a comeback in 2022.
- Streetwear – Inspired by youth subcultures surrounding rap, skateboarding, and surfing, streetwear embodied comfort but became a revered place for exclusive products.2
- Volume – While most of us left our big hair behind in the 80s, it took a while for our clothes to catch up. Bulky, textured fabrics persisted well into the 90s, and shoulder pads continued to dominate mainstream fashion for the better part of the decade.
- Clashing patterns and textures – As grunge began to influence mainstream 90s fashion, color, pattern, and texture clashing became commonplace, perhaps due to the integration of newer grunge styles into existing colorful wardrobes.
90s Inspired Shoes that Match Your Style
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the primary aesthetic elements of the decade, let’s jump into the 90s inspired shoes. We’ve detailed five general style types, and we’ll explore a shoe type that could correspond to each one.
Get with the Grunge
Even high fashion fully embraced this 90s trend. Even if you weren’t alive in the 90s, you can probably still recognize grunge-style elements. In fact, many of them persist in today’s edgier wardrobes, like:3
- Baggy, high-waisted denim
- Mostly black ensembles
- Utility wear, like postal jackets and coveralls
- Bowler shirts
- Graphic tees
However, that list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most well-known 90s shoes styles—the combat boot.
You would think the combat boot would only be relevant during winter, but it is also one of the shoe trends for spring. Equal parts utilitarian and stylish, the combat boot took many forms. From patent leather to buttery suede, lace-up to slip-on, black to neon, and everything in between, combat boots were versatile and worked with almost any outfit.
Combat boots might be your ideal 90s-inspired shoes if your wardrobe has grunge influences, or if any of the following are true:
- Walking sandals are a little too delicate for your style
- You want more foot protection at work or in the outdoors
- You’re seeking a pair of shoes that will coordinate with most everyday outfits
That said, if you’re going all-in on the combat boot, remember one of the most important lessons of grunge—it’s cooler to be yourself than to try to fit a mold. If you prefer red lace-up boots to knee-high patent leather, choose the style that you like the best: Vionic has comfortable women’s boots in every silhouette so you can find the right style for your wardrobe.
Put Prep in Your Step
If you would describe your style as less grunge and more prep, then combat boots are likely not your 90s-inspired shoe of choice.
Luckily, there’s still a nostalgic shoe out there for you if your wardrobe contains any of the following:
- Khaki slacks
- Zip-up or pullover vests
- Quarter-zip sweatshirts
- Polo and Oxford shirts
If any of the above are in your closet, you might have a more refined, sophisticated look—perhaps you even have a pair of women’s flat sandals.
Three 90s-inspired shoes could easily fit into a modern-day, preppy aesthetic:
- Slides – Perfect for casual wear, slides coordinate with shorts or long pants. They’re some of the most versatile slip-on shoes on the market.
- Platform sandals for women – Platform sandals fit into a more refined 90s wardrobe for two reasons—they provide added height (a quintessential mark of a feminine shoe), and they put your fresh pedicure at center stage.
- Low-top sneakers – As opposed to their high-top counterparts (more on those in the next section), low-top sneakers are more understated, not drawing significant attention away from the rest of the ensemble.
For the prepsters in all of us, a trusty pair of slides, platform sandals, or low-top sneakers would make an excellent addition to a 90s-inspired wardrobe.
Take to the Streets
Streetwear was in its infancy in the 90s, but the streetwear aesthetic has grown substantially since its inception and is one of the most accessible spring fashion trends. While streetwear came from humble beginnings, the following elements define the current culture:2
- Expensive goods (particularly sneakers)
- Niche brands outside of the mainstream
- Nostalgic nods to skateboarding and surfing cultures
If you were a skater or surfer in the 90s, and your style hasn’t changed much since then, you’ve come to the right place—there’s a 90s-inspired shoe that’s perfect for your personal style.
High-top sneakers remain a staple in the streetwear community. A crucial currency and status symbol, sneakers grew to hold significant value to street culture adherents, especially so after the rise of sneaker-collecting.
The ideal high-top sneaker for the 90s nostalgia seeker has two main characteristics:
- It’s lace-up, preferably with monochrome cotton laces
- It has a wide, tall tongue, which wearers can “pop” to accentuate their shoes
The high-top streetwear sneaker and the low-top preppy sneaker couldn’t be more different—while the low-top is a subtle choice, the high-top immediately draws attention to itself in a typical streetwear ensemble.
They’re present in every generation—people who seek comfort above all else when curating their personal style.
Combining the coziest parts of all three major 90s styles, comfort aficionados donned versatile outfits that often borrowed flannel button-ups from the grunge aesthetic, comfortable shoes from the preppy style, and unique vibrancy of streetwear culture.
If this describes your personal style now—borrowing what you like from a variety of subcultures in the name of comfort and ease—you have more choices than any of the style niches above:
- If you’re seeking a comfortable, functional shoe that can work with most outfits and protect your feet from hazards, look no further than the combat boot.
- If you need a pair of shoes for dressier outfits, or you’re seeking the easiest shoe to take on and off, consider platform sandals or slides.
- If you love bright colors and take pride in your wardrobe, high-top sneakers can send a strong message while supporting your feet during long periods of standing and walking.
If you’re a versatile dresser, any of the choices above would make an excellent addition to your wardrobe.
Amp Up Androgyny
If you ascribe to any of the general aesthetic categories above (or none of them), you might embody another unique element of 90s fashion that still permeates today’s culture—androgyny and experimentation with gendered clothing.
The 90s witnessed significant “genderbending.” Kurt Cobain famously wore dresses for photoshoots and performances, and grunge women wore button-up shirts and oversized utility clothing typically reserved for men.4 Throughout the 90s, people pushed the boundaries of gender roles and defied expectations of what each gender could and couldn’t do—or wear.
Experimenting with androgyny wasn’t a new concept then, and it’s certainly not new now. But, if you wish to embody 90s nostalgia, follow the style that feels most comfortable for you, and dash worries about a certain style of shoe being too masculine or feminine.
The shoe that you choose to pair with your wardrobe should meet the following criteria at minimum:
- They should be comfortable and fit correctly
- They should function appropriately
- They should—in your opinion—match your outfit
When choosing a 90s-inspired shoe, it ultimately doesn’t matter what your personal style or gender is—if you like it, wear it.
90s Looks: The Bottom Line
Even if you don’t opt for a specific style of shoe—slides, platform sandals, or high-top sneakers, for example—you can still choose a pair that’s reminiscent of the general aesthetic of the era.
If you’re not sure what style of shoe you’re looking for, but you still want to embody the spirit of the decade, prioritize the following in your search:
- Vivid, bold color palettes
- Clashing or semi-clashing colors, patterns, and fabric textures
- Nostalgic imagery such as redesigned or discontinued logos
- General maximalism
Perhaps you weren’t alive in the 90s, but you like the idea of embodying something from another era. If that‘s the case:
- Ask someone who was alive in the 90s for help. They’d probably be excited to regale you with stories of life pre-smartphone and help you choose an excellent, 90s-inspired pair of shoes.
For those of us who fondly remember the 90s, but are having trouble reconnecting with our roots:
- Sift through some photos of you and your friends at the height of the decade for inspiration.
When you’re looking for a modern pair of shoes that embody the 90s—or your vision of it—all it takes is a little research and determination to find the shoes that will satisfy your nostalgic itch.
Embrace Your 90s-Inspired Style with Vionic Shoes
90s style inspiration is back in full swing, and even the most contemporary retailers can’t deny the influence of the bygone decade on today’s fashion.
If you’re looking for shoes that are reminiscent of a certain era—or any comfortable, durable, and stylish kicks—look no further than Vionic. When browsing our collection, you’ll discover some 90s-adjacent designs. Most importantly, however, you’ll find shoes that are impressively supportive and stylish.
If you’re ready to find your next pair of shoes, the experts at Vionic are here to help.
- CNN. 1990s Fashion: A Brief History of What We Wore. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/1990s-fashion-history/index.html
- Masterclass. Guide to Streetwear Fashion: 4 Tips for Styling Streetwear. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-streetwear-fashion
- Harper’s Bazaar. Mastering the Art of Grunge Style Now. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/g35399640/grunge-aesthetic-fashion/
- The Atlantic. A Brief History of Unisex Fashion. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/04/when-unisex-was-the-new-black/390168/