When you ask someone who their “‘90s fashion icon” is, you are bound to get different answers. Many cite waifish supermodels like Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell. Some might talk about television characters like Jordan Catalano from My So-Called Life, the cast of Friends or someone out of the box like perennial cool-girl favorite Carrie Bradshaw. No matter who people identify as their ‘90s fashion icon, the question remains: what makes an icon? Or more accurately: what made an icon?
Icons today truly have not changed much from the ‘90s. Supermodels like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner are adored by millions of people online and are cited in online and print magazines as icons to imitate. Even their stylish outfits usually consist of ‘90s-inspired mini dresses, strappy sandals and bold graphic sportswear. It is not hard to imagine that these icons will be remembered in a decade for their embodiment of late 2010s fashion. The difference between the ‘90s and the current digital age is that it is easier than ever to keep up with today’s cultural icons, as well as their belief systems.
Selena Gomez, who at one point was the most followed woman on Instagram, is not only beloved for her style and music, but for her transparency about her kidney transplant, mental health struggles and outspokenness for the March for our Lives. With an ever growing pool of stylish and beautiful Instagram icons, her candidness sticks out above the others. A star’s openness allows for consumers to find someone who truly aligns with not only their aesthetic sensibilities, but their social and political ones.
In stark contrast, icons of the ‘90s were not thought of as human beings, but as beautiful, stylish deities. Britney Spears grew up in the public eye and was highly sexualized from an inappropriately young age. Fans of Spears were not interested in her for her personality, but her sensual and fashionable appearance. During her very public meltdown in 2007, she was judged harshly despite her status as an enviable ‘90s icon. If social media existed in the way it does now in 2007, she might have been able to explain her meltdown, or have a platform to express her feelings beforehand.
While we remember ‘90s icons like Justin Timberlake for his hair or Alicia Silverstone for her role as Cher in Clueless, we don’t particularly remember them for their contributions to the world. Endless lists exist about what celebrities wore in the ‘90s, but not quite as many about who they were or what they believed it. In this candid digital age, it seems like stars will have to be remembered for the opinions they brought to the table.
While icons, whether it be Britney or Bella Hadid, will always be revered for what they were wearing, not all stars will be remembered for what they brought to the table. 20 years after the ‘90s, the true icons who have lasted and the ones who continue to rise to fame are the ones whose personalities and opinions cannot be forgotten.
In a time when icons and celebrities have the biggest global platform of all time, it is important for those with a platform to use it for good. With the past two elections and political issues such as the Me Too movement, even the most iconic celebrities have had to come out publicly and state their beliefs. While some celebrities’ answers have been disappointing, it is important that consumers are clear on who icons are and what they stand for. If we as a society are going to emulate people like Kylie Jenner, we should know what she believes in and not just who made her checkered mini skirt.
With our icons being just an easy click away, it is not hard to humanize and imitate today’s icons. As we examine who we as a society wish to imitate, it is important to focus on influencers who add to the public sphere and who truly inspire us.
While models now may still be rocking cargo pants and tiny sunglasses, their dedication to social issues and ability to be transparent online is a refreshing departure from the ‘90s where icons were not humanized or intimately understood. If the icons of today have taught us anything it is that they can publicly state their opinions, share their intimate emotions and still look cute while doing it.