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Why Outdoor Gear from the 1990s Is Coming Back into Style 
Why Outdoor Gear from the 1990s Is Coming Back into Style 
Jul 24, 2024 2:52 AM

  Today, I’m a 42-year-old dad with four kids. I work a 9-5 job, ski on the weekends, camp in the summer, drive a Tacoma…you get the picture. I’m essentially a cliched version of the middle-class outdoorsy American who’s floating along with the bunch.

  But I promise I was much cooler when I was in my teens in the 1990s. I was a skater kid at school, a fearless ski bum on the weekends, knew about and listened to all the “best” music (hip hop, punk, techno), and thought of myself as someone who hadn’t bought in but instead was helping to drive culture forward.

  Clothing was also a big part of my identity. I was the 16-year-old who wore oversized pants (I once got sent home from school l for the day because my history teacher thought my pants were too baggy). My friends and I sported outdoor brands as everyday gear (Columbia, The North Face, etc.), and we loved thrifting vintage t-shirts and shoes.

  I’m telling you all this, because if you look around—at the kids in your local high school, on the streets of any big city, across social media—you’ll see that many of these trends are now back in, especially with Gen Z. Skinny jeans are dead and baggy pants are in. Throwback outdoor gear is on-trend, even for those who’ve never skied or camped a day in their life. And the shoes many people are wearing, and paying a lot for, first launched three decades ago.

  Why are the 1990s, and sometimes even the 1980s, having a moment? Luckily it’s easy to find a wide variety of essays by smart style writers who’ve tried to answer that question.

  My favorite theory is from Hillary Hoffower who writes for Business Insider. She argues that Gen Z is looking back to the 1990s—a time before the internet was so ubiquitous—because a pre-internet-obsessed world feels comforting. Gen Zers live so much of their lives online that they end up automatically feeling alienated from the real world, and fashion from the 1990s gives them something solid, not digital, to hold onto.

  She also argues that a post-COVID world ripe with inflation and more expensive than ever is contributing to this alienation and making Gen Zers, along with the rest of us, feel especially afloat and vulnerable. Reviving old clothing styles creates a sense of nostalgia Hoffower argues. “The common thread in youth nostalgia is that it fosters a sense of belonging. Nostalgia helps us strengthen relationships through shared experiences,” she writes. In a world where the internet is great at making them feel alone, belonging is what they want most.

  I’m barely a Millennial (more of a Xennial), much less a Gen Zer, but I can relate. I came out of graduate school in 2007, just as the Great Recession hit, and my entire career as a writer has been thanks to the internet. I’ve watched as journalism tried to evolve in ugly fits and starts alongside the digital world, and I feel like I’m very much on the rolling and crashing wave that is the digital economy. I have a family and plenty of friendships, but like the rest of you, feel a strong sense of alienation and am constantly looking for a nostalgic rail to hold onto.

  So of course (as the Instagram trend goes) I’m glad to be a Xennial who is now trying to imitate the Gen Zers and bring back ‘90s gear. My pre-teen kids have already picked up on my style switch and pointed out that it’s uncharacteristic, or weird, to see me in baggier jeans—making me feel uncomfortable, for a heartbeat. But I got over it pretty quickly and focused on the fact that, weird or not, I like the feel of baggier clothing and, thanks to my new wardrobe, I get to relive happy memories of my childhood and celebrate a time when I wasn’t so digitally dependent.

  Over the past couple weeks I’ve gone thrifting more times than I’ve thrifted in the past decade, coming home with slightly baggier jeans and old solid-color cotton shirts because it’s fun to find older stuff that I used to wear that’s not expensive. I’ve spent way too much time on the internet sifting through jackets that I remember wearing, or coveting, in the 90s. By no means am I dressing like a high school student, especially in the office, but at home and with friends I’m airing it out a bit, and enjoying every minute.

  Find yourself missing the ‘90s? I recommend a visit to your local thrift shop and see what you can find. Spend a little time searching Instagram and I guarantee you’ll come across people wearing clothes that undoubtedly spark a little nostalgia and inspire you to revisit that era. Here are some of my favorite ‘80s and ‘90s products that are now widely available at stores, and of course, where else, but on the internet.

  Classic New Balance Running Shoes

  First launched in the 1980s as high-end running shoes, the now-famous gray New Balance 990s exploded in the 1990s and early 2000s as they were adopted by the hip hop world, turned into street fashion, and even became standard wear for Steve Jobs (alongside his black turtleneck). Thanks to quality manufacturing, a lot of which still happens in the United States, this line of shoes has never gone out of fashion but is once again en vogue. Walk into any mall in the United States and the shoe stores will have an entire display of classic New Balance running shoes that now come in a variety of models and colors. I’m a big fan of the gray 990v6 and the blue 991v1.

  Puffy Down Coats and Vests

  I recently walked by The North Face store on Fifth Avenue in New York City and the top windows were lined with Nuptse jackets. As I walked the streets it seemed like everyone, tourists and New Yorkers alike, were bundled in these jackets. First launched in 1992 as part of a premium expedition series designed for extreme cold weather, the Nuptse caught on pretty quickly with the street wear scene in the 2000s but is obviously seeing a strong resurgence as a fashion piece in cold places—and Los Angeles.

  Not as popular, but equally iconic is L.L.Beans Trail Model Down Jacket 82. Launched in ‘82 as the name suggests, this jacket is a popular seller for the company today because it’s full of nostalgia. The big baffles and button down front scream “wood cabin in Vermont” and give me the feeling that sporting this coat will automatically make my life simpler.

  Down vests were popular before the 1990s, but thanks to the rise of hip hop in the middle of that decade, they became a staple fashion piece. The type of down puffy that would fit in on the streets of New York City in 1995 is still sold by The North Face and many other companies. If you look around, you’ll see these throwback insulation pieces all over the streets of urban cities and ski towns alike.

  Baggy Pants

  Back in the 90s my baggy pants were from the thrift store and I made them baggier by buying pants that were WAY too big and then synching them down with a belt. I also, I’m ashamed to say, wore the absolutely too baggy JNCO jeans (and once pissed on myself because I didn’t realize part of the voluminous fabric of the jeans was in the way). Today the trend is a bit more muted, and, while the thrift store option still attracts me, Carharrt makes some of the most durable and nicely tailored jeans that verge on baggy.

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