The People Vs. OJ Simpson makes the ’90s look legit hideous

Like you, I’ve given myself over completely to over-romanticizing the nineties. I bask in the return of desert boots and the everlasting quality of Doc Martens. I celebrated the 20th anniversary of Clueless last year by re-investing in plaid and a mini backpack, at one point even considering whether I should re-introduce knee socks back into my life (as though they weren’t forever ruined by being part of my ninth and tenth grade school uniforms).

And all of you are as guilty as I am. We’re seeing a return of brown lipstick, matte makeup, and a flurry of glitter. Feathers are a reasonable accessory, and nouveau goth has us all dressing like a character in The Craft. We wax poetic over plaids and florals, and cite middle school trends as the ultimate looks. Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites are the epitome of style, and Practical Magic has me arguing the merit of crop tops.

But then The People Vs. OJ Simpson came along. And in that moment, I swore the nineties were ugly.

Set in 1994, American Crime Story’s first instalment should’ve celebrated the majesty of mid-nineties glory; it should’ve offered a thorough re-telling of why we all still celebrate the wardrobe department of Singles, or why I still consider The Gap circa Reality Bites to have been peak normcore. But no: it’s polo shirts and pleated khakis. It’s powersuits and . . . more power suits. It’s David Schwimmer’s bracelet. It’s Sarah Paulson’s fantastic (albeit unwearable for 99% of us) perm. It’s these hats:

Heaven help us all.

So did we imagine it? Because I’ll be honest: when you think about the nineties — when you really think about the nineties — it really wasn’t all that. In fact, ACS isn’t wrong: for the most part, it was a decade rich in dads wearing polo shirts tucked into ill-fitting jeans. It was a decade of gaudy embellishments but bland colour schemes. And even the Kardashians — the young, yet-to-be super-famous Kourtney, Rob, Kim, and Khloe — couldn’t escape the era’s underlying drabness, thus furthering my point:

That’s because what we remember about the nineties isn’t what we actually lived through. I’m 30 (hi), and while I can recall my floral overalls and Northern Getaway printed sweatshirts as personal style victories, I was (and still am) concerned with the trends that applied to me only: youth-centric pieces that made me feel more like Sabrina the Teenage Witch as opposed to Celine Dion.

But if you were a grown-up in 1994, the nineties were arguably a decade of “meh.” If you weren’t using your clothes to rebel against existing aesthetic norms or to make a social and/or political statement, you were stuck in a style reaction to the OTT nature of the 1980s. You represented the original normcore, while actors, models, and musicians appealed to youth culture by reacting to the boring fashion landscape. After all, grunge was not for adults in Brentwood—it was for kids like Chloe Sevigny and Kurt Cobain and Rosario Dawson (who most certainly didn’t roll in the same circles as Nicole, Faye, Kris, and The Juice). Brentwood was safe and secure and two-piece suits with pearl accessories. It was mock turtlenecks worn under blazers. It was PTA meetings and your mom’s’ friends at work. It wasn’t interesting. In fact, the nineties weren’t interesting. It was the reaction to the nineties that makes us pine for them.

And the majority of us consumed media that reflected youth culture, not family dinner with Mom and Dad at East Side Mario’s. We aspired to be like Gia in Full House, not Danny Tanner’s girlfriend, Vicki. We wanted to look grown-up like the teens on TGIF, not grown-up like our sixth grade teacher. So what we remember is a keyhole glimpse into the nineties’ fashion landscape unlike The People Vs. OJ Simpson which offers the full view. And yes, it is bleak. And yes, it is boring. And yes, double-breasted suits should be outlawed, even if historically accurate. But at least we know why we’re obsessed with such a small section of the decade: because it reminds us that rebellion is important. Especially when in response to everything worn by David Schwimmer while saying, “The Juice.”

More Celebrity