10 reasons Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes was the original ’90s trendsetter

Elaine Benes Denim
Elaine Benes Denim

On July 5, we celebrate an event more important than Canada Day and Independence Day put together: the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld, the show about nothing (that meant everything) and the inspiration for anyone who wears running shoes with jeans. But between the Kramer’s briefcase, the bisque, and the withholding of soup, Seinfeld delivered something even more important. Enter: Elaine Benes. The series’ true hero and fashion icon.

Elaine Benes established nineties style as we know it, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. From mini backpacks to oversized outerwear to blazers (sweet, sweet blazers), the forever-underrated/often-imitated Seinfeld character cultivated a look we spend serious dollars and (even more) serious hours in thrift stores trying to re-create.

And yet, she gets no respect. In an era in which we boast about how much stars and/or characters are just like us, we still bypass the original everywoman. Elaine represented (and represents still) both the eclecticism and the “I’ve given up” vibe that defined the early-to-mid ‘90s by challenging gender norms, the idea of glamour and unapologetically wearing a scrunchie.

So with that being said, here’s a round up of 10 Benes looks we’re still trying to emulate today. All of which work perfectly with the big salad—here’s your Christmas card.

1. Blazers

But we’re not talking lady-blazers of the Liz Lemon sort: Elaine Benes took a cue from the men and boss-women around her and ran with shoulder pads, large silhouettes, and length. And she didn’t care about creating a “flattering” silhouette, either. Whether paired with an oversize floral dress or slacks from the closet of Angela from Who’s the Boss?, Elaine’s blazers were just like she was: functional, necessary, and adaptable to almost every social situation. (Which explains why she never wore one dancing.)

2. Normcore

Elaine Benes Normcore

Not only did Seinfeld arguably lay the groundwork for normcore today, it was Elaine’s one-episode metamorphosis into George that delivered normcore as we know it. Denim jackets, hoodies, and jeans are the foundations of the year’s most controversial (and wearable) trend—despite our willingness to ignore that Elaine adopted it only during an obvious mental and emotional breakdown. Fortunately, normcore is more of a winter thing, and as far as I know, it’s the summer of George.

3. Oversize button-ups

It’s true. Every human being you know wears oversize button ups. But when the ‘90s revived our penchant for layering, it was Elaine Benes who proved that you could adopt the slacker aesthetic while still looking sleek and powerful. (True power, of course, is determining who is and who is not sponge-worthy.)

4. Aztec print

Elaine Benes Aztec

It may have been only a fleece zip-up, but Elaine tastefully mastered Aztec print, especially since she didn’t overuse it and kept it casual by pairing it with jeans. This is what makes Ms. Benes even more important: even when being “trendy,” she always opted for pieces that any other person could wear. She was New York in the living, breathing person sense (this wasn’t Carrie Bradshaw’s make-believe world.)

5. Mini backpacks

Elaine Benes Backpack

It wouldn’t be a true homage to ‘90s style without paying respect to the most important type of bag in the world and the woman who embraced it proudly. Elaine Benes loved a mini backpack and wore hers throughout the series run, which officially proved its functionality. Whether dressed up with a floral print or worn with one of her traditional blazers, this bag not only gave Elaine a sense of realness (because let’s be real: we all use the same bags regularly), but also proved the mini backpack wasn’t just a trend for mall teens. So Mom, if you’re reading this, I told you so.

6. Oversize outwear

For the upcoming fall season, the likes of Michael Kors and Pink Tartan celebrated the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld with Benes-inspired cuts. Since Elaine was obviously the layering aficionado, she needed coats that kept her warm but gave her space—especially since it was only in the last few seasons when she moved towards more fitted styles. Get out.

7. Denim on denim

Elaine Benes Denim

A character that wears denim on denim so enthusiastically is a character that deserves their own clothing line. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed for Elaine Benes, but we can still respect her zest for the Canadian tuxedo. Or more specifically, we can respect the rise of denim enthusiasts in her wake; all cut from the same denim-loving cloth, which I think is actually just Elaine’s oversize jacket.

8. Floral print

Elaine Benes Floral Dress

Blazers and floral print: the Elaine Benes story. However, despite the consistency of floral print throughout the series, Elaine never got stuck in a style rut: while the early ‘90s saw her wear smaller, more condensed prints, the late ‘90s delivered larger, ‘70s-like styles that most of us wore in 1998. 25 years later, and we’re floral obsessed all over again, with collections by MSGM proving that regardless of season, we want flowers on our clothes.

9. Black

Elaine Benes Black

Black is the new black, always (unless we’re talking about a specific TV show). And in the height of late ‘90s goth boom, Elaine managed to make her affinity for dark colours seem both on-point and interesting. Thanks to everything from her jackets, to her slacks, to the outfit she wore during her ill-fated dance, Elaine helped prove that black wasn’t only for Korn-lovers or Audrey Hepburn fanatics; it was easy, accessible, and a major player in our wardrobes for a reason.

10. Leather

Elaine Benes Leather

While Jerry had suede (RIP, that coat) and his puffy shirt, Elaine had a shiny leather jacket that embodied the kitsch of the late 1990s. While the ‘80s and early part of the decade saw distressed, more genuine-looking leather, 1996 and beyond delivered vinyl and plastic-like textures (which explains so much of The Matrix) that went hand in hand with the short-lived ‘70s revival and all our inflatable furniture. However, Elaine showed how to do that trend right: pairing her shiny leather coat with a button-up blouse and business jeans, she perfected the art of mixing and matching. Also, the art of being cooler than any of us, which she is, and will always be. NEXT.