Last Monday I went to the barber shop to get my hair cut and the televisions in the shop were showing an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It happened to be an episode featuring Will in a suit. When I got home I watched several episodes of Saved By the Bell for an upcoming video essay for the website and one of them was “The Bayside Triangle,” the episode in which Lisa shows off her fashion designs by putting on a fashion show. I hate pretty much all things SBTB these days, but one thing I noticed in the episode was the suit that Zack was wearing when he and Lisa kissed.
I’ve written before about the fashion of my childhood on this website but I realized that I haven’t really gotten into the suits and shirts that were popular with younger people in the 90s. I took the Fresh Prince and SBTB viewings as a sign I needed to remedy that right away.
The location of the cool clothing store in Midway Mall when I was in middle school is seared into my brain forever. Oddly the actual name of the store isn’t in there. I am nearly positive it was a Merry-Go-Round but there is a very small chance it was something else. Since Merry-Go-Round was the only place near me where you could buy IOU sweatshirts I feel like that was it. Whether Merry-Go-Round, Chess King, Gadzooks, or some other dead franchise, the store carried the hottest teen fashions in 1992 and I was excited and intimidated every time I got to go inside.
Apart from IOU, Skidz, and other popular brands, the cool mall store carried a lot of dress clothes, and had an extensive suit selection. Suits of the early 90s had two distinct features: bright, non-standard suit colors were very popular and these suits were baggy as hell. Teens in the 90s wore suits in the sort of colors that Steve Harvey wears now. Given that the 90s was the decade of shapeless clothing it should come as no surprise that they were baggy. As the decade progressed everything continued to get baggier, until in 1999 kids were wearing JNCOs for two.
The popularity of the suit styles came from several sources, but some of the ones that stick out for me are Beverly Hills 90210, R&B groups like All-4-One and Color Me Badd, and Fresh Prince and Saved By the Bell. A few years later Swingers and swing revival would keep this trend going.
I should mention at this point that I was never a suit person. Even though in my current profession a suit is basically the uniform I still wear one as infrequently as possible. IN the time period between my First Communion and Confirmation suits I don’t think I even owned one. Despite all this I desperately wanted these suits. These weren’t your father’s suits (unless your dad is a Gen X-er), these were poorly made bolts of rayon that doubled as parachutes. My parents never bought me one though, and that’s probably for the best. I would not have gotten much use out of a turquoise or purple suit unless I was starring in Angus.
There’s more to the outfit than the suit, though. You couldn’t complete the look without pairing it with a rayon or silk shirt in another garish color, and then adding a busy tie. Perhaps a Looney Tunes tie, which is 100% something I paired with a black silk shirt in either 7th or 8th grade. Even though I didn’t own the suits I did wear the dress shirts and ties, and there was plenty of opportunity to look ridiculous even without topping it off with a mustard colored suit.
There is a unfortunate dearth of images on the Internet documenting this time period in fashion so I’m having trouble adequately representing how pervasive this look actually was. If you aren’t well acquainted with it I urge you to look to the cool teen shows of the era. By watching Fresh Prince or 90210 you can get the full experience, or just watch a Lonely Island sketch like “Dick in the Box.” If you lived it I imagine you have a memory of a purple silk shirt that was ruined when you tried to wash it, because I certainly do.
Did you own a brightly colored rayon suit in 1993? If so, let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
If you’re enjoying 80s Baby consider signing up for the Patreon!