First, my 13-year-old niece asked me to buy her a pair of white-on-white Filas.
Last week, the iconic ’90s brand Steve Madden rereleased its “slinky” platform sandal in collaboration with another retailer that saw its rise in the ’90s, Urban Outfitters. The cushiony bottom. The standard black on black along with the electrifying lime-green and hot-pink hues. The chunky black sole. The toeless, Spandex-like arch. It’s all there, to both my chagrin and utter delight.
Fashion bellwethers predicted around five years ago that the decade of minimalist pantsuits and polka dots would soon be in total effect. Whether it’s grunge-as-glamour on the high-fashion runways — think Versace’s fall 2019 Milan show — or the steady stream of Dr. Martens and Tumi bags sashaying along Center City streets, the ’90s are back with a stylish vengeance.
It’s not just the fashion. Each Twitter notification announces how my youth is making a comeback. Last week the better part of the boy band NSYNC surprised fans when they reunited for a Coachella performance with Ariana Grande (sans Justin Timberlake). And RBRM, formally known as the New Edition, are on tour (Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill). MC Hammer, Kid 'N Play, and Sir Mix-a-Lot are performing at the Mann Center in August. And there has been talk of a Beverly Hills 90210 reboot.
Oooh, I’m excited.
But then again, not so much.
Sure, the ’90s remind me of a simpler era before coffee cups were status symbols, yoga was an everyday activity, and my social life was driven by swipes. But this return to the days of my early adulthood are daily reminders of how much of a grown woman I am, and how I’m closer to being an elder than I am an influencer. Although these days, perhaps I can be both?
The problem is I’m tempted to let these young’uns know that, chile, I’ve been there, done that. In other words, Morphe is just a revamped MAC right down to the all-black packaging. Cardi B is frankly no more than Lil’ Kim 2.0 — my niece just gasped when I said that. And that deep-voiced Ariana Grande is simply a millennial Mariah Carey. But that would just make me sound like a jerk. Worse, the old-fart kind.
Why? Because discounting someone else’s experience is wrong. I remember when I felt as if the generation before mine cynically scoffed at my sense of discovery. I had the voice, but not the platform, to defend the validity of that discovery.
Just because I experienced the black-and-white version, doesn’t mean the Technicolor version doesn’t have value. The worst thing we can do to young people is stamp out their creativity with the tired excuse that because it’s not new to us, it’s not a creative outlet for them. Self-expression is always relevant. The difference is that I’ve already learned to express myself.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forget the past — no, we can’t credit the Kardashians with cornrows. Nor should we act as if the ’90s were an idyllic slice of yesteryear.
The good thing, however, is this sudden ’90s onslaught makes me see how much progress we have made. It’s a small thing, but every time I see Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart together on their VH1 show, Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, I’m reminded how back when these stars were in their pre-2000s prime, this partnership would have been unthinkable. I felt almost satisfied when Tommy Hilfiger’s fall 2019 show for his new TommyNow collection featured an all-black lineup of more than 50 models. The black women are there, but how long do they last?