What We Can Learn About the Rise of ’90s Fashion From Cardi B

The increasing popularity of ’90s-era style in mainstream fashion today is somewhat like a case study on Cardi B, hip-hop’s own Cinderella story.

Whereas flashy branding, grungy boots and oversized everything had dissolved into a black hole of long-lost fashion trends nearly two decades ago, those once-unspeakable ideas have become not just acceptable but again the mark of cool. Matching denim, lug-soled boots, fanny packs, baggy pants and chokers are all back with a vengeance. Perhaps one of the moment’s “it” girls can sell it best.

Bella Hadid’s Poppy Lissiman micro-sunnies, tartan Burberry trench and heavy-duty Doc Martens x Lazy Oaf boots in January were unabashedly of the era.

Or  take it from a design veteran like Donatella Versace, who kicked the movement into overdrive with an ode to iconic ’90s supermodels at her spring ’18 show, followed by explosive branding and “Clueless”-like plaids for fall ’18. At the very least, Rihanna in logo-ed out Gucci sweats just two weeks ago should quell any doubts about the trend’s lasting power.

It all mirrors the “Bodak Yellow” singer in a way, whose humble beginnings as a stripper-turned-“Love & Hip-Hop: New York” mainstay have catapulted her into worldwide stardom. The rapper has crossed a threshold generally unbreachable by reality TV stars, who are often seen simply as caricatures. But Cardi B’s musical dreams, which some once laughed at and disregarded like the forsaken trends of the ’90s, have not only become her reality but the world’s fixation.

versace, fall 2018, 90s fashion supermodels
(L-R): Versace spring ‘18 fashion show; Kate Moss, Donatella Versace and Naomi Campbell, 1999.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

As outlets swarm to profile her and document her every look and move, there is no shortage of Cardi B news in the media. Her performance in $10,000 Saint Laurent boots at the MTV VMAs, her record-breaking single, her engagement to fiance Offset and even down to what she comments on Instagram lead a healthy percentage of headlines weekly. But just like those wonky platforms (Steve Madden flatform slides, anyone?) and “dad sneakers” that it seemed would never be taken seriously again, the Bronx native has transcended her satirical persona to become a new-age phenomenon.

A ’90s baby herself (born in 1992), the former television star was distinctive on the show for her brazen commentary and in-your-face personality. And to top it off, she was hilarious. But when she left “Love & Hip-Hop,” there was little fanfare around the pursuit of her rapping career. It’s somewhat metaphorical to those baggy Fila and Tommy Hilfiger puffer coats from back in the day. They were, purposefully, impossible to miss in all their billowy glory until walking around like the Michelin Man suddenly left the cultural cool zone and became a laughing matter. There was little hope that they’d return.

clueless, versace, plaid, fall, 2018, 90s, fashion
(L-R): “Clueless,” 1995; Versace fall ‘18 runway show.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

But just as bold, padded jackets came back to dominate this fall/winter season, Cardi B proved that she was more than just jokes when “Bodak Yellow” became the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in September. It marked the first time a female rapper (with no featured artists) had claimed the title since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” 19 years ago.

The record has since gone five times platinum, reminiscent of the current blow-up with decades-old fashions. She has only continued to elevate her stature since. Her recent feature in the ’90s-laden “Finesse” alongside Bruno Mars marked her first Grammy’s performance, and with arguably the biggest entertainer this generation has seen, no less — as of last week, Mars claimed the most Billboard No. 1 hits ever by a solo man (on the Pop Songs chart). Let that sink in. Cardi B, a woman once known to a niche fanbase just last year, has become a household name who can be seen stomping across the Grammys stage in a custom Moschino color-blocked ensemble, bucket hat, Dr. Martens and oversized gold chains.

Is it ironic that her celebrity status began to skyrocket around the same time as the resurgence of ’90s fashion? Or is it serendipitous? What is it exactly that her rise teaches us about the surge of ’90s fashion? To take a line from one of her most famous quotes, it seems to be a style era whose essence just may last “foreva.”

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