The Shoe Trends That Defined the ’90s

What’s with our culture and its fascination with the ’90s? Reboots of beloved television shows and revivals of some fashion trends of the era have been all the rage as of late. Shoes, too, have been hit with the nostalgia craze as pre-Y2K styles continue to pop up on the market.

From platform sandals to chunky trainers, check out FN’s breakdown of the shoes that defined the ’90s.

Square Toes

Sean Andrews and Milla Jovovich, 1992, shoes that defined the 90s, square toes.
Sean Andrews and Milla Jovovich, 1992.
CREDIT: Dave Lewis/REX/Shutterstock

In the ’90s, shoe silhouettes were extreme (think tall platform shoes but also demure kitten heels). This sentiment surely holds true to the polarizing square toe. While some may cringe at the style, the trend is expected to be one of fall’s biggest hits thanks to young designers such as Daniel Lee the new creative director of Bottega Veneta, By Far and Staud. Our style director, Shannon Adducci, even dubbed the trend the “It” style for women this fall.

Dr. Martens

Model Naomi Campbell seated backstage at the Perry Ellis Spring/Summer 1993 show in New York designer by Marc Jacobs
Naomi Campbell seated backstage at the Perry Ellis spring 1993 show.

Seattle-based bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam defined rock ‘n roll of the ’90s, and so did their style. Known for utilitarian style such as flannel T-shirts and work boots, the care-free grunge look became a major trend in the computer-age era. The style quickly got picked up on the fashion radar thanks to young designers who were inspired by the scene, including Marc Jacobs. However, the trend did not fare well with the fashion crowd at the time. Marc Jacobs’ was fired as the designer of Perry Ellis in 1993 for his grunge-inspired show.

Mary Janes

Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless," 1995, 90s shoe trends, mary janes
Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in “Clueless,” 1995.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The sweet Mary Jane looks like it won’t be making a comeback this season, but it still ranks as one major style that defined the ’90s. The shoe was put on the map thanks to the movie “Clueless,” which was released in 1995. Both teens and women fell for Cher Horowitz’s funky schoolgirl style.

Chunky Trainers

Princess Diana, 1996, 90s shoe trends, chunky trainers
Princess Diana, 1996.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Famously worn by Princess Diana while she was out and about, the chunky trainer or the “dad shoe” continues to be a hot style in footwear.  Designed for comfort, the athletic trainers gained popularity across the spectrum, from A-listers to dads worldwide. The shoes continue to trend thanks to luxury brands such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton making renditions, as well as revivals from the original labels that tapped into the trend, including from New Balance and Nike.

Strappy Sandals

Victoria Beckham, 1997, 90s shoe trends, strappy sandals
Victoria Beckham, 1997.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Back in the day, the classic strappy sandal was spotted on women everywhere, from movie premieres to proms. This formal shoe has been renamed the “Naked Sandal” in 2019 due to its barely-there appearance. The revived style was notably pushed to the front this year by Australian shoe brand By Far and picked up by luxury designers such as The Row and Yves Saint Laurent, which debuted such shoes in their spring ’19 collections.

Platform Sandals

Gwen Stefani at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, 90s trends, shoes that defined the 90s
Gwen Stefani at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Although the platform shoe would make its ’90s debut at the Vivienne Westwood show in 1993, and the Spice Girls would carry on the trend into pop culture, the platform sandal has a special place. Thanks to Steve Madden’s slinky platform slide, “nearly every American girl, tween and teen of the mid-to-late ‘90s wore a rendition” of the shoe, writes our style director, Shannon Adducci, who admittedly owned a pair herself. The shoe was one of the summer’s hottest shoes this season and rebranded the “flatform.”

See more celebrities wearing shoe trends that defined the ’90s.

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