July 16, 2020

1999: The year in personal style > Individual expression reigned supreme, and consumers valued choice

The overall style of the final year of this century can be summed up in two words: cheap chic. This year saw the emergence of smarter consumers who, out of of frugality and a desire for individuality, developed a mix-and-match style.

Shoppers, weary of outfitting themselves in one designer head to toe or interior to exterior, combined expensive, designer pieces with cheaper, more easily found ones. The result is a highly individual look, rather than bought entirely from one catalog. Consumers also continued to discover that a fashionable, modern style can be achieved without spending a lot of money.

Conservatism and simplicity were salient characteristics of 1999 style. Most designers chose to use more muted colors mixed with cool grays and metallics to end the century. Solid colors were favored over patterns and prints, for the most part, though the animal print of choice this year was pony.

Nordic and British design swept the country, resulting in clean, modern lines and solid, complimentary colors, from clothing to interior design and furnishings.

In 1999, personal expression reigned supreme, and consumers valued choice and individuality over designer uniforms. Buyers weren’t afraid to mix the high and low ends, valuing function and comfort as well as style and price. This also meant that ’99 was easier on the wallet for shoppers.

Forgoing designer outfits for a combination of high and lower end meant buying one expensive piece and combining it with other pieces from discount stores like Target or T.J. Maxx. Shoppers realized that there was little point in buying an $85 designer T-shirt when a quality one could be found just as easily for $15 somewhere else.

In fashion, the biggest step this year was toward casual luxury. More refined, comfortable fabrics, clean lines and simple, sleek, modern design gained widespread approval. Khakis, cashmere, denim and leather were the favorites, achieving a relaxed, elegance with a luxurious, indulgent feel. Mixing cashmere and leather was the ultimate in casual luxury, creating an upscale look with an edge.

As business casual continues to gain acceptance in the office environment, we see button-down shirts, ties and suits disappearing in favor of more comfortable, stylish merino wool and sueded cotton. Major corporations continued to relax dress codes, realizing that a comfortable worker is a productive and happy worker.

Runways this year saw a retrospective melange of styles, rather than a look toward futurist fashion, as the industry had anticipated. One large movement this year came to be known as “hippie chic.” Legitimized by Tom Ford of Gucci, this style was characterized by beads, animal prints, rocker fabrics and bright colors, much in the style of Versace.

Miuccia Prada, meanwhile, redefined techno-sport, using high-tech synthetics in easy pieces such as T-shirts and turtlenecks in a chic but wearable style. Recognizing the shift toward function, Prada lent a touch of glamour to wardrobe basics. Following suit, stores like the Gap and Old Navy quickly promoted their techno-sport components, with a large emphasis on fleece this year.

The surge in popularity of “lifestyle” stores, such as Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters, showed that some consumers were still interested in buying into one store’s particular image, letting one company set many facets of their style, from fashion to furnishings. Home accents and cosmetics were sold alongside clothes to establish not only a consistent look, but feel as well.

Texture became a focus for many consumers, rivaling color, in home furnishings. The idea of home as sanctuary and a place to “retreat and renew” suggested that buyers were searching for more than fashionable furnishings and sought things that spoke to their “soul.”

During 1999, Americans’ lifestyles showed a continued growing acceptance of “alternative” and non-Western faiths. Led by celebrities ranging from Madonna and Courtney Love to Roseanne and Sandra Bernhardt, many seekers found fulfillment in the ancient mystical system of the Qabalah. Students found the Qabalah flexible and nonjudgmental and a way to incorporate spirituality in the new age.

Also gaining popularity and a more positive portrayal in the media was paganism, in its many forms. Movies, music and even prime-time television depicted pagans in a more sophisticated and multidimensional manner, casting away the “wicked” witches of yesteryear. Many different religions and spiritualities merged in the media, indicating a greater tolerance of differing lifestyles and a melting pot of cultures.

Following the rise in nontraditional spirituality, the biggest trend in personal fitness this year was the practice of yoga. Americans adopted this Eastern system of poses, movement and breathing to tone mind, body and spirit. Yoga classes, video cassettes and accessories enjoyed new heights in sales. Many believe the discipline of yoga has benefited their body more than the typical gym workout, resulting in a stronger, leaner and overall more healthy body.

Those looking for a more aerobic fitness regime heartily embraced tae-bo, the late-night infomercial exercise phenomenon. A high-energy, high-impact fitness routine, tae-bo classes were offered first at gyms on the West Coast before dominating all major cities, and reaching into surburbia.

The music industry also showed signs of the melting-pot phenomenon. Consumers were more willing to branch into many different styles of music, expanding their musical vocabulary across once-sacred borders among rock, rap, country, blues and even classical music. Many pop artists experimented more daringly with exotic instrumentation, arrangement and structure. The result was a more global sound, a blurring of genre lines. Where artists went to draw on other genres, audiences followed.

Crossovers, once the exception, became the rule when artists like Shania Twain dominated both the country and pop charts. Country sensation Garth Brooks tried a similar manuever, although less boldly, by releasing a pop CD under the guise of his Chris Gaines character, though much less successfully than Twain.

Genres were further broken down when Kid Rock, Korn and Limp Bizkit mixed rock with rap, almost creating a new genre in itself. And what exactly is “alternative” music these days, anyway?

From fashion to spirituality, 1999 was a year of mixing and matching. Consumers no longer confined themselves to any one style, preferring instead to express their individuality by choosing elements from many different sources. If this is any indication of what’s to come, a global society may be closer than we think.

Editor’s Note: Brent Murray is a graphic artist at the NEWS and musician.

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