TOP 10: Shoes of the 90s

Here’s a bit of pop-culture trivia: April 12 marked the 18th anniversary of Hole’s legendary album Live Through This and July 25 will bring the 17th anniversary of Clueless. Do you feel old yet? OK, this June, Sex and the City will have premiered on HBO 14 years ago, and come August, it will have been 18 years since that first, like, groundbreaking episode of My So-Called Life aired. So here’s a question: why are we still talking about Cher Horowitz and Angela Chase like Clueless and MSCL came out yesterday? Why can’t we let Courtney Love burn out in a blaze of wacky, paranoid Tweets?

Well, it’s partly because the majority of people controlling the blogosphere came of age in the 90s, but also because those characters—and the clothes and shoes they wore—are so darn memorable.  And this Spring, we’re seeing a resurgence of telltale styles—platforms, flatforms, Doc Martens, creepers, Mary Janes and clogs—that say that 90s aren’t tucked away in our pasts at all, but in fact, they’re nipping at our heels. In honor of grunge’s return and for warm weather accessory inspiration, we’ve picked out these ten pairs of fantastic 90s shoes. They’re dear to our hearts not only for the way they look, but for the loveable characters who wore them. —RACHELLE BERGSTEIN

10. Vickie Miner’s Platform Sandals

Reality might bite, but these strappy 70s-inspired slingbacks sure don’t.  Played by Janeane Garofalo, Vickie was the sardonic, no-nonsense voice of reason to moody Lelaina (Wynona Rider), folding t-shirts at The Gap to make ends meet.  Rocking blunt bangs, red lips and splashy patterned mini-dresses, Vickie is the girl who will dance with you at the 711, let you film her HIV test for your “video project” and tell you when you’re acting like a total baby. In other words, she’s the rockabilly BFF of our dreams.




9. Daria Morgendorffer’s Combat Boots

Daria didn’t change her outfit very often, but with a uniform of a green, wide-lapelled blazer, a black pleated skirt, and knee-high black combat boots, why should she?  No matter how bad things got for MTV’s preeminent outcast, Daria never lost her sense of irony (a lesson to all of us who get too caught up in our own drama to recognize the sheer absurdity of everyday life).  She wasn’t the most popular girl in Lawndale, but her lasting appeal proves that those who peak in high school are not the ones worth watching.



8. Gina’s Clogs

How many times have YOU seen Empire Records?  It might just be a perfect movie: a young, attractive cast, great clothes, great tunes, and an outrageously satisfying catchphrase in damn the man.  At the center of it all is Gina, played by Renee Zellwegger (at her most awesome)—the free spirited yin to Corey’s (Liv Tyler) tightly wound yang. Gina was looking for attention when she popped out of the bathroom wearing nothing but an itty-bitty Music Town apron but honestly, we’re more interested in the black lace-up clogs she has on in the movie poster.  Do those come in a size 9?



7. Geri Halliwell’s Platform Boots

She wasn’t the most fashionable Spice Girl—that honor goes to Posh—or even the most outrageous—hello, Scary—but somehow, Geri Halliwell aka Ginger Spice always felt like the star. Her signature look was a skintight Union Jack minidress with her black brief underwear poking out (umm, girl power?) worn with outrageously high red vinyl platform boots. Ginger’s bodacious bod and bubbly personality made her a favorite of girls and boys alike, and we can’t think of the Spice Girls without picturing Geri’s delightfully tacky ensembles.



6. Angela Chase’s Georgia Boots

Ahh, Angela Chase: she of the Kool-Aid red hair, the oversized flannels and that heartbreaking lower-lip quiver. Shoes played a central role in My So-Called Life; in the pilot episode, Angela and Rayanne swap pairs outside of the club they’re trying to sneak into. Later, after the night’s gone awry and she’s driven home in a police car, Angela trips in the street, confessing that she’s wearing someone else’s shoes. But this wasn’t the only time MSCL’s writers reached for this admittedly ham-fisted metaphor. In a Very Special Christmas episode, Angela gives her new maroon Georgia boots to a homeless teenager played by Juliana Hatfield: oh the 90s humanity!



5. Gwen Stefani’s Doc Martens

If you’re going to be walking into Spiderwebs, it’s probably best to do it in Doc Martens. Platinum blond Orange County native Gwen Stefani appeared on the scene with her band No Doubt, and instantly, audiences fell in love with this spunky lead singer, who sported a style all her own. Mid-90s Gwen loved to show off her abs in midriff-bearing tops and low slung bondage pants, and stomped around the stage in various pairs of Doc Martens boots and shoes. She liked them so much that she wore a pair of Cherry Red 1460s on the album cover for Tragic Kingdom, proving that while combat boots kick-ass, they can be feminine, too.

4. Courtney Love’s Mary Janes

Speaking of Docs, grunge goddess Courtney’s name often comes up in reference to them, but more often than not, she wore something much girlier: patent leather Mary Janes.  Early in her music career, she made a habit of challenging sexual mores—consider the bandname “Hole” for a sec—and that attitude extended to her dress. Courtney often performed in babydoll slips and dresses, knee-socks, with tiny bows knotted in her hair. The style was dubbed “Kinderwhore” for its provocative mix of childlike innocence and grown-up sensuality and the Mary Jane, as the ultimate little girl shoe, was just part of the package.



3. Kurt Cobain’s Chuck Taylors

OK, Kurt was most definitely a dude, but he makes it onto the list for the way he inspired a whole generation of girls, who couldn’t decide if they wanted to be with him or just plain be him. Case in point: the homegrown Seattle look that became his signature—knit caps, flannel shirts, long johns and Converse sneakers—was imitated by teenage boys and girls alike. Kurt wasn’t the first rock legend to wear Chucks, but Nirvana gave them a visual shout-out in the opening of their video for Smells Like Teen Spirit, immortalizing them for the MTV era. 




2. Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks

She once referred to a pair of Manolos in a store window as “lover”; she almost got shot by a mugger defending a pair she bought at a sample sale; when Aiden’s dog chewed a beloved heel from her closet it nearly ended the relationship. Carrie is the ultimate on-screen shoe lover, and her addiction enabled countless real women who, it turned out, were patiently awaiting the day they felt free to spend all the money they wanted on shoes. Thanks to Sex and the City, Manolo Blahnik became a household name, paving the way for other celebrity designers like Christian Louboutin. Like it or not, Carrie’s impact can’t be overstated: if today, shoes have become a religion of sorts, then she is its patron saint.



1. Cher Horowitz’s Mary Janes

Wear ugly shoes? As if! In 1995 at the tail-end of the grunge era, a Los Angeles princess with a heart of gold appeared onscreen wearing ultra-stylized school girl outfits. Alicia Silverstone—before Clueless, known to most viewers simply as “The Aerosmith Girl”—played Cher with the perfect mix of aspirational good looks and relatable charm, and somehow, her entitlement wasn’t alienating. Cher’s carefully composed ensembles (remember her “most responsible-looking outfit”?) inspired real girls to toss off the flannels in favor of chic little skirts and sweet, strappy shoes. Clueless altered the sartorial flavor of the 90s—if there wasn’t a kooky clotheshorse like Cher to set the precedent, would there have been a Carrie Bradshaw?



Rachelle Bergstein is the author of Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, which publishes with HarperCollins this June.  You can find her on Twitter @RaBergstein or post pictures of your favorite shoes on her Facebook page.  She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her cat and her shoes.


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