When you hear the word “retro” in 2021, the imagery most people associate with it is quite similar. Neon colors and artwork, Depeche Mode-style intense synth-heavy beats, and ruggedly aesthetic denim. If you really need us to point out the obvious, then yes. Retro refers to the colorful and intensely vibrant time overlapping the late eighties to the late nineties. Politics and economics aside, from a fashion standpoint, the era that we know as retro is not just an aesthetic. It has formed a cult-like niche all on its own.
Retro Fashion in 2021 – Keep or Kill?
The retro following is not a small cult either if social media can be used as a measure. From influencers to celebrities to the general public, nearly everyone who is not a Boomer loves retro fashion. That includes the millennials that actually lived through the period, as well as the later Gen Z fascination with all things the 90s. However, just because you’re seeing retro clothes, sneakers, eyewear, and even hairstyles regaining popularity, don’t think your khakis seem out of place. In fact, while certain retro trends are certainly hip, many others should have died with the 90s. Read on to learn more.
Keep – Organic, Authentic Denim
Denim is as retro as it gets. It is right up there with the Ferrari Testarossa and Pablo Escobar, but much less likely to kill you. Denim jeans and denim jackets defined the era, and the retro resurgence has capitalized on it. Denim retains an aesthetic that is both rugged and refined at the same time. It is a no-nonsense fabric that was originally designed as workwear that would withstand rough use and frequent stains. As a cornerstone of American culture, denimwear still pays homage to the original railroad workers and ranchers who made it popular. Modern-day denim is pretty much the same in appearance but now contains ethically sourced and usually organic components. This is one retro article that needs to stay.
Kill – Saggy Jeans with Big Cuffs
While denim is indeed a timeless fabric appropriate for every era, certain styles may not be as flattering today as they were in the 90s. In fact, certain styles didn’t even make sense back then. You have to understand that people were just beginning to push fashion boundaries on an individual level. Pop culture as we know it today is very different from back then. Even so, a failed experiment like those ugly saggy jeans hanging halfway down your behind doesn’t have to be resurrected. Let’s leave this particular fashion monster to the 90s.
Keep – Oversized Graphic Tees
There are people with carefully crafted outfits designed around their personalities. And then there are people who broadcast their personality in a much simpler way: with a graphic tee shirt. Oversized graphic tees were big in the 90s. With everything from political slogans to anti-drug lines to Nirvana to your local fishing club, the range of graphics in the era was extensive. This helped people identify with their individual ideologies and build around them. You could immediately tell a lot about a person based on their choice of graphic tee. In 2021, oversized graphic tees are back. But this time, it is far easier to generate more complex graphics and even customize them as needed. In other words, this is the perfect article of clothing when everyone is exercising their individuality in the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram era.
Kill – Cutoff Shorts
These are just ugly. There is no better way to describe the cutoff denim shorts for males in the 90s. People likely had lower dating standards back then, which explains why your dad, uncle, or older brother probably didn’t mind wearing them on the first date. But look at them now, and you wonder who in their right minds would make and sell one, let alone the multitudes who bought and rocked them. Do yourself and everyone who knows you a favor. Leave these in the rearview.
Keep – Bomber Jackets
Bomber jackets are a close second to the popularity that denim jackets still enjoy. Bomber jackets in the 90s were themselves a retro homage to the actual ones worn in the United States Air Force or the Royal Air Force during the first half of the 20th Century. While you may not be dive-bombing enemy entrenchments, or dodging anti-aircraft barrages, the bomber jacket is still every bit as tough, rugged, and adventurous as the pilots who wore the original ones. Borrow from the pedigree it pays tribute to, and invest in a great bomber jacket for yourself in 2021.
Kill – Oversized Jackets
Oversized jackets are another matter altogether. Watching reruns of shows like Friends, you may be struck by how weird oversized jackets look on the male cast. The oversized jacket, instead of accentuating your body type, will conceal it. Even if you’re the consummate gym-bro, an oversized jacket is going to negate your gains. If you’re leaner, they’re going to make you look unhealthily underweight. While oversized jackets deliver a much better aesthetic for women, for males they remain as useless as they did in the 90s.
Keep – Chunky Sneakers
Chunky retro sneakers are walking all over modern footwear styles in the 21st Century. So much so, that companies like Nike, Adidas, Vans, and Converse are relaunching many of their most iconic sneakers from the retro era. From Air Jordans to Rockstars to All-Stars, sneakers are back in a huge way. To the point where high-street fashion brands like Dior are now collaborating with Nike on limited-edition versions of the iconic Jordan 1s. In fact, the prices have shot up incredibly, so if you get your hands on a great pair of retro kicks, hold on to them. They may turn out to be a far better investment than Enron ever was.
Kill – Frosted Hair Tips
These are best left in the 90s. We won’t dignify this fashion disaster with too many words. Save that many icons of the era, such as Justin Timberlake, fell victim to this trend. And you can pretty sure many of them wish they could delete those pictures off the face of the world. Frosted hair tips involved coloring only the tips of your hair differently from the rest. Adventurous? Maybe. But a successful adventure they certainly weren’t. Let the Ghost of Bad Hair Past remain in the past.