Fashion and music seem to coexist on a 20-year cycle. That is, 20 years after something comes into fashion, it seems to come back again for a revival. The ’60s were really big in the ’80s, and since I was in middle and high school in the ’80s, my musical self-education was more about the Beatles and the Stones and Jimi Hendrix than U2 or Bon Jovi or Duran Duran. Likewise, tie-dye made a big comeback in the late ’80s, although I had the uncharacteristic good sense to stay away from it. Similarly, bell-bottoms made a bit of a return in the ’90s even as George Clinton and P-Funk suddenly found itself filling midsize concert venues again. And, bafflingly, ’80s music made a monster comeback in the 2000s, as did Members Only jackets and Wayfarers and neon t-shirts and skinny pants.
In the ’90s, as the ’70s were getting dusted off just the same as the ’60s had in the ’80s (despite the fact during the ’80s, people looked on the music and fashion of the ’70s with undiluted revulsion), I remember thinking, well, there will never be a fashion revival for the ’90s, because the fashion of the ’90s is no fashion at all.
It certainly seemed that way at the time. Everyone seemed to be in jeans, plain T-shirts, and unbuttoned flannel, and after a decade of leg warmers, shoulder pads, miniskirts, ugly sweaters, designer jeans, parachute pants, and FRANKIE SAY RELAX, it seemed like everyone had recovered their sanity, or at least their bedroom mirrors, and toned things down for a less frivolous decade. This was also reflected in the music; out with Warrant and Poison, in with Nirvana and Alice in Chains.
The only fashion I really remember from the ’90s was hip-hop guys wearing big pants, and that is not going to be getting a revival anytime soon because it never went away.
Anyway, I recently stumbled across a music video from 1993 that drove this point home like Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy: the 4 Non Blondes (awesome band name, guys!) classic “What’s Up,” which should have been titled “What’s Going On” but couldn’t be because of Marvin Gaye. It had been a long, long time since I saw this video and I’m guessing I’m not alone in that, but in 1993 it was in constant rotation on Ye Olde Music Video Channel. Let’s have a look, shall we?
0:03 — Starting things off strong with a ripped purple dress, work boots, and high white socks. She (I’m assuming it’s a she) just threw this look together and she doesn’t care at all — you can tell because she left the boots untied. We’re about more than what we wear in the ’90s!
0:11 — Wait, is that a dress, or a housecoat? It’s open in front, so maybe the latter. So it’s like a “I just rolled out of bed, pulled my biggest boots on, and went to band practice” kind of thing, but the huge hat tends to break the spell. And what is that guitar? I thought we had pretty much settled on a form factor for acoustic guitars. I guess I forgot that in the ’90s, we challenged authority! Even if it meant we had to stand awkwardly and miss half our chord changes! Suck it, Reagan!
0:20 — It’s definitely a housecoat, or at least, definitely not a dress. She’s wearing white boxer shorts with some kind of jaunty design on them, sooo fetching. I would bet $5,000 that those legs aren’t shaved, but pre-HDTV it’s hard to tell. And let not another moment pass without addressing the oversized, wobbly-brimmed leather top hat with the desert goggles on it. Yes, the ’90s were very restrained. Here we also get our first look at the other two guys, both of whom are also wearing big boots (one with his pants tucked into them, the other with his pants rolled up to the knee) and flannel shirts. Uniform nonconformity!
0:28 — Not even half a minute in, we come to possibly the worst bit of styling zeitgeist ever to make it out of the Grateful Dead parking lot: the white-girl dreadlock. This seems to have gone the way of the mullet for the most part, and let’s hope it stays that way. Never mind how ridiculous it looks: have you ever been close enough to smell white dreadlocks? They’re like a litter box full of Camembert with a spritz of Patchouli.
0:40 — I remember hearing somewhere that this woman, whose name I don’t feel like Googling — oh, all right! Linda Perry! — had a lucrative career as a songwriter after this band had its moment in the sun. Yes, Wikipedia confirms that she’s the author of Pink’s “Get This Party Started” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” among others, which is strange, because it looks like she has never held, much less played, a guitar before this video shoot. She looks like she’d be more comfortable handling a greased baby alligator.
0:42 — Same boots with an even ’90sier accessory: the horizontal striped socks. The oversized yellow yo-yo is a nice touch.
1:11 — I would love to know what the meaning behind the gumballs and the crystal ball are, but I have a feeling it’s the same as the meaning of the big yo-yo: nothing at all. Music video: the only form of filmmaking where you can get away with just throwing a bunch of crap that means nothing together!
1:20 — Another awful ’90s fashion: high-contrast makeup. That is, powdering your face pale and then using the reddest lipstick available. That’s a great look if you want to attract a necrophiliac, but I like my ladies with a little more blood in their body. Maybe the choker is part of the problem.
1:39 — Oh sweet, she’s got ANOTHER ugly hat with ANOTHER ridiculous pair of goggles on it! Nothing, and I mean nothing, from the ’80s can compare in terms of obvious affectation like a big ugly hat with goggles on it, and no I am not forgetting Hammer Pants. It’s in black and white (another very ’90s flourish) so we’ll never know, but I’d bet my house that hat is purple.
1:45 — Holy crap! I think the bass player is a woman! It is a testament to her early ’90s coffeehouse styling that it took me this long to notice. Given the cornrows, it is probably not an accident that we’ve had no closeups to confirm.
1:48 — I don’t know who Ms. Perry is trying to appeal to looking into the camera with crazy eyes and grimacing like the Joker while she sings, but as a heterosexual male I am definitely not interested. I hesitate to speak for the lesbian community, but my hunch is that they are also not buying what she’s selling, unless they happen to be on shore leave from a traveling circus. And with the smelly dreadlocks, ugh. Who knows, though? There’s a lid for every pot.
2:25 — Why does everyone in ’90s videos look damp? I want to wrap them in a big blanket and give them soup.
3:00 — What, I wonder, is all this playground imagery about? They’re on the merry-go-round, they’re on a carousel, they’re on a swingset, they’re in the sandbox… something about arrested development? (Ooooh! Arrested Development! There’s a video we could mine for some bad ’90s fashion. What was it? “Tennessee”?)
3:05 — Quite the art collection in the 4 Non Blondes rehearsal space.
4:20 — This song is way too long.
No matter what you do over the next few days, I hope you enjoy having this song in your head, and if you don’t I hope you’ll take some small comfort in knowing that I am suffering right along with you. And let’s all hope that the next generation of hipsters doesn’t try to revive ’90s fashion, because the ’70s and ’80s might have been a little silly but these people looked fucking ridiculous.