The 1990s. What a time to be alive. Goths on one side, grunge kids on the other, preps here, new age hippies other there – all getting along, with some mixing elements from all trends to discover their own 90s self. Let’s look at the jewellery trends that were huge in the 90s based on the aesthetics that reigned supreme thanks to the exploding music scene.
“I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”– Kurt Cobain
Dark and angry, grunge had become a musical movement that to many defined the 90s in its entirety. So what was grunge music? Giving punk a slower pace, adding melodic metal, and sprinkling it with rebellious and gloomy lyrics created the perfect atmosphere to a movement that was against everything that was considered normal or linear. Grunge was a pessimistic protest. The style that came out of it was championing the unkempt look, leaning towards androgynous, donning flannel loved by lumberjacks that was preferably thrifted and loose fitting. 90s grunge glamorised looking tortured and tormented to the point where looking pretty was simply not a priority. It even branched into aesthetics within it – think Courtney Love’s “kinderwhore” look or “heroic chic” that a lot of 90s models were sporting, namely Kate Moss.
90s jewellery for those in to grunge
90s grunge jewellery went from one extreme to the next. From no jewellery at all, to a statement choker, heavily layered silver rings or dainty gold necklaces. Common elements in jewellery were safety pins, metal wires, simple hoops and ensuring that you showcase carelessness by chaotically using these elements. The irony in the end was that this carelessness was curated to achieve the grunge aesthetic. We now can spot it a mile away.
Seek Inspiration: Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) – Music Video
90s hip hop
If you thought grunge was baggy, you had not seen anything yet. The 90s hip hop movement was huge, and some of the biggest music hits of the 90s were hip hop power tunes. The music dictated the style, and oversized jewellery was layered on top of oversized clothing, putting the spotlight on gold in particular. It’s worth saying that this movement was a diversity powerhouse, and brought fashions from different cultures to the forefront, and in many cases made these mainstream.
90s jewellery for lovers of hip hop
A great example of 90s hip hop jewellery is the oversized hoop earring that was popular mainly within the Latino community until it became one of 90s biggest jewellery trends. Celebrities wore it, influencing everyone to search for the biggest hoop earrings they could find. Another huge trend within 90s hip hop was the chunky gold chain with a meaningful pendant. This could be a memory of a person – the murder of Tupac made many mourn the loss of one of hip hop’s biggest talents – or an event, an item, or a cause to spread awareness about, or to simply showcase that you made it in the hip hop music industry despite all the odds.
Seek Inspiration: Snoop Dogg – Gin And Juice (1993) – Music Video
The goth trend may have roots in the 70s, but became better known in the 90s. As goths crept from the darkness into the light, they brought their fashion with them. While grunge promoted apathy and genderless style, goths embraced a dark sexuality without conforming to mainstream beauty standards. Think fishnets and corsets, black makeup, black hair, black leather, black lace – and of course, the most iconic jewellery piece of the 90s that went from goth to mainstream.
90s jewellery for true goths
The biggest 90s goth jewellery item that everyone in the world embraced was of course the huge gothic cross. Worn as a statement pendant or literally on a rosary, the bigger and more intricate the cross, the better. While the trend originated from the goths, the preppy crew sported it too, from Jennifer Anniston, Madonna (who actually started wearing statement crosses in the 80s) to the Spice Girls.
Meanwhile, goths also appreciated a good choker, pretty much like anyone else in the 90s. Either full silver, leather or a velvet choker with a juicy dark cameo pendant or cross, a goth would be happy with it. Especially if it formed part of a necklace layering ensemble. Goths loved the contrast of silver on black. Who can blame them?
Seek Inspiration: The Craft (1996) – Film
90s new age
Just like the goth trend, new age also has its roots in the 70s, but the 90s gave it wings through a mainstream embrace. The new age trend is characterised by taking inspiration from the east, peppered with beliefs in the healing power of alternative medicine, herbs, sounds and gemstones. So what would a 90s new age trend follower wear to a session with a Reiki master? Loose knits, printed long skirts as well as borrowed elements from traditional attire from countries in the East, including India, China and Japan.
90s jewellery for new age fans
As well as wearing jewellery from Eastern countries, either bought while on a trip or bought a look-alike, new age also likes to experiment with layering. Layering beaded gemstone bracelets, necklaces with colourful gems and matching these with mood rings was the look du jour.
Sometimes these layered bracelets would be used as friendship bracelets – a key 90s term – where you’d buy one for you and one for your bestie.
Meanwhile mood rings carried a gemstone that changed colour depending on your mood. It also came in a band with the gem wrapped around. How was that even possible? The stone itself was usually made up of thermotropic liquid crystals, which meant that they reacted to changes in temperature. This in turn made the colour of the ring change too. Mood rings came with charts of what each colour meant in terms of your emotional state. For example, black stood for stress while blue meant you were in a relaxed mood. Here’s an example of a mood ring chart, and some testing by Refinery29 to see if they actually worked.
Seek Inspiration: Engima – Return To Innocence (1993) – Music Video
Short skirts, but also conservative blazers, cardigans but also short shorts, preppy style evolved from a status symbol – it originated from clothing wealthy men wore when going to preparatory and Ivy League schools – to a simple but distinct fashion trend by the time the 90s hit. This look took all the jewellery trends that reigned in the 90s, but in a muted way. Clothes made the statement more than the jewellery.
90s jewellery for preppy queens
Fans of preppy style still opted for chokers, and loved classic pearl or small hoop earrings. They liked a brand statement too, hello Tiffany’s heart T-bar chain necklace, a true 90s icon.
Meanwhile dainty chains with pendants competed with delicate gem beaded necklaces for neck space. You had to pick one. You didn’t want any distractions from your epic preppy outfit, which may or may not contained a big first generation mobile phone, now known as a brick.
Seek Inspiration: Clueless (1995) – Film
90s pop star style is the general aesthetic of the decade. It took bits from each of the trends above and propelled it to new heights. Be it the goth cross, the new age mood ring, the preppy T-bar heart, or hip hop hoops – 90s pop stars, who in a way dictated fashion, wore it all… And more.
90s jewellery in the pop scene
Chokers, especially plastic tattoo style chokers, became an icon. If you did not have one, you probably weren’t born yet, or you were already dead. Everyone had one. Other inexpensive plastic or jelly jewellery gained in popularity. Looking at all 90s trends generally, none of them glorified fine jewellery. Inexpensive and expensive pieces were both treated as equally great.
Sticky face gems, shell jewellery, plastic rings, anklets, beaded stretchy bracelets, forehead headbands, heart pendants (made popular by the film Titanic, and the fictional Heart of the Ocean pendant), arm bands, bangles – 90s pop culture had it all. Whoever you were, whatever you liked – you fitted right in.
Do you feel nostalgic about 90s jewellery and fashion? Do you have any 90s pieces in your jewellery collection?
In the images I am wearing a whole bunch of 90s gothic crosses and a faux mood ring.