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Frank Asks: Why Is It the '90s All Over Again?

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


This is what "Soft Grunge" looks like on Tumblr.

Dear Befuddled 30-Somethings, Give or Take a Year or Five,

This whole '90s rehash isn't brand new. It's been bubbling under for a year or two or more. I mean: Alexander Wang. But the past couple of months have seen a '90s 2.0 explosion. Some might even say '90s 2.0 jumped the shark.

We're not just talking about combat boots and Liberty florals anymore; or indie darlings like Liz Phair and Sonic Youth touring theaters to perform complete, seminal albums. We're even a few steps beyond Rihanna, the hippest of the pop tarts—so it's sort of still cool, being used to spoof Nirvana via tee shirt.

To wit, the New York Daily News recently published a feature on a '90s pop culture resurgence, citing some of the most un-hip, un-'90s television and music imaginable as proof that the '90s are the here and the now. Seriously, Boyz II Men's current tour, a Baywatch reboot, the alleged mad rush for Beanie Babies on eBay, and the dreadful Boy Meets World being dreadfully reprised are all examples writer Nicole Lyn Pesce uses to illustrate this new '90s renaissance.

Yuck.

(Also, Swatch watches were more of an '80s thing, no?)

Pesce makes a great point though—as does Carl Swanson in his great review of the New Museum's "NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star" exhibition—that pop culture nostalgia generally looks back 20 years, give or take a few.

Think of what people were gushing over when the '90s were actually happening: The '70s. Lady Miss Kier in sky high platforms and a bell-bottomed body suit. Abba redux via Muriel's Wedding and that monster greatest hits album. Alt-pop covers of cartoon theme songs and School House Rock anthems. And that impossibly cool girl everyone wished they knew in polyester thrift shop jumpers who carried a lunchbox as a purse and listened to Saturday Night Fever (see Janeane Garofalo's character in Reality Bites).

As the '90s came to a close and we entered the new millennium we collectively left unbranded clothing and guitars in the dirt and became utterly '80s-obsessed. Prep was a thing again, as were Wayfarers, leg warmers, neon colors, and leggings. Electro—music that referenced '80s sounds as disparate as New Order and the Mary Jane Girls—became the soundtrack to hip. And Janeane Garofalo traded the lunchbox for Joan Jett leather and safety pins or discovered logo-monogrammed handbags and Frappucino, mirroring the decadence of Dallas and Bret Easton Ellis.

So, now that it's 2013, we're obviously all pining for 1993.

This is why Toad the Wet Sprocket is touring and Lisa Loeb's new album features a tongue-in-cheek, messily charming song entitled "the 90s," while Moby and Blur headline huge concert festivals. This is why DKNY is reissuing some of their '90s greatest hits for Opening Ceremony—some of which are straight out of Absolutely Fabulous (a classic '90s show that, incidentally, just wrapped a reunion mini-season and may be resurrected as a feature film). This is why we're all re-obsessed with Clueless. This is why Moschino matters again.

This is why early-adopters in their early '20s—who were barely alive for the Lemonheads—were already dressing like extras from Singles last summer (I seriously saw a bunch of kids at a Sony event with flannels wrapped around their waists wearing shorts with Dr. Marten's and tee shirts photo-printed with Kurt Cobain giving us all the finger). It's also why Tumblr is being overtaken by "Soft Grunge." A notion—that to someone like me, who might maybe sort of be just slightly older than many of those tagging things #softgrunge—seems to evoke grunge but as commoditized by chain stores and available in softer, sweeter colors as captured by Instagram.

Basically, it's boots. Soft Grunge is boots.

(Also, there's already a Tumblr devoted solely to snarking Soft Grunge—it's a thing.)

Which brings me back to something Swanson brings up in that art review that declares 1993 as the seemingly mundane nothing year that changed everything (Toni Morrison! The internet! Gap! Clerks! Wired!): That Marc Jacobs' super-seminal grunge collection for Perry Ellis is now 20 years old. This collection, lauded by critics and loathed by the bigwigs at Perry—who canned Jacobs soon thereafter—remains one of the most shocking and brilliant fashion moments in semi-recent history.

Whether it bastardized grunge by making it fashion; or insulted fashion by presuming well-heeled customers might spend big bucks on flannel—it was a game changer. And it ultimately landed Marc Jacobs the Brand at LVMH and Marc Jacobs the Designer at Louis Vuitton. Making Marc Jacobs the Brand the international monster powerhouse it is today while morphing Marc Jacobs the Designer from charming schlub to muscle-bound, tattoo-encrusted international playboy.


Video of that Marc for Perry collection (as followed by Anna Sui straight-up co-opting the '70s in 1993. Twenty year cycles, people!)

So, you're not crazy. It's all happening. The '90s are right now. You're 17. And I hope you held on to those boots.

· Love, Frank [Racked]