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Lately, ’90s shoe trends continue to be a source of inspiration for fashion and footwear brands both seasoned and new.
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In 2018, Steve Madden brought back its Slinky Sandal, a comfortable, chunky slide that won the hearts of tweens and teens of the ’90s. The cushy slip-on and other renditions of the totally ’90s shoe trend continue to be spotted on Instagram feeds today.
Additionally, several designers such as Prada, Staud and Tibi featured ’90s shoe trends on the runway for spring and fall 2020. The nostalgic craze has inevitably blossomed in the age of Instagram thanks to the era’s extreme silhouettes. Revivals and anniversaries of television shows, movies and songs have also bolstered the prominence of ’90s shoe trends.
In 2019, K Swiss released a series of sneakers inspired by “Clueless”. The ’90s cult film celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020.
The era’s plethora of minimal but bold design has allowed several brands to create contemporary shoe styles that are embedded in the ’90s tradition. From platform sandals to combat boots, check out FN’s breakdown of the most popular ’90s shoe trends that have made a comeback.
90s Shoe Trends: Platform Sandals
Although the platform shoe was around well before the ’90s, platforms brought women’s footwear to new heights at the end of the 20th century. The outrageous shoes not only made a statement but allowed women to take up space.
In 1993, Vivienne Westwood cast models down the runway in sky-high platforms and heels for her Anglomania collection. The collection was unforgettable not only for the shoes but the way the models walked in them. One of fashion’s biggest faux-pas moment was handled with grace when Naomi Campbell tripped on the runway during the London show.
The platform was also an integral element of Spice Girls’ appearance. The UK girl group carried on the trend of wearing sky-high shoes while performing and during fan appearances.
The elevated shoe also extended its reach thanks to Steve Madden’s slinky platform slide, “nearly every American girl, tween and teen of the mid-to-late 90s wore a rendition” of the shoe, writes our style director, Shannon Adducci, who owned a pair herself back then.
Shoppers can still enjoy the classic chunky shoe thanks to Steve Madden re-releasing its Slinky Slide last year. The comfortable slide adds extra height with its two-and-a-half-inch heel and has a cushy footbed for extra comfort.
Today, platforms aka flatform sandals, continue to be popular, especially in warmer seasons. Several brands now feature a flatform sandal or flip-flop in recent collections. The shoe is perfect for those looking to boost their height without the discomfort of stilettos and pumps.
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90s Shoe Trends: Square Toes
During the 1990s, shoe trends played on exaggerated elements. The trend was evident in chunky platform shoes, demure kitten heels and the polarizing square toe. While some may cringe at the style, the trend continues to be chic.
Young designers such as Daniel Lee, the creative director of Bottega Veneta, brought the style back into the spotlight by incorporating the ’90s shoe trend into seasonal collections in 2019. Although the style has been around for a round of seasons, there’s no sign of square toes going out of style anytime soon.
Today the square toe sandal can add some edge to your everyday look. The ’90s shoe trend has become a contemporary staple today with brands such as Rag & Bone putting their own spin on the officially “vintage” style.
90s Shoe Trends: Combat Boots
Seattle-based bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam defined the rock ‘n roll of the ’90s, and so did their style. Known for utilitarian style such as flannel T-shirts and work boots, the care-free grunge look became a major trend in the computer-age era. The style quickly got picked up on the fashion radar thanks to young designers who were inspired by the scene, including Marc Jacobs.
However, the trend did not fare well with the fashion crowd at the time. Marc Jacobs was fired as the designer of Perry Ellis in 1993 for his grunge-inspired show.
Today, combat boots continue to be a favorite for both men and women thanks to their rugged lug soles and lace-up uppers. FN awarded Dr. Martens 1460 boot the 2019 Shoe of the Year at its annual award show, the Footwear News Achievement Awards.
This ’90s shoe trend is expected to emerge as a key style in the fall thanks to its practical yet edgy style. While Dr. Martens put combat boots on the map, there are several brands that have incorporated the style into collections, further proving the power of this iconic shoe style.
90s Shoe Trends: Mary Janes
The Mary Jane is one shoe style that spans decades in remaining a popular footwear choice for girls and women. Even in the 1920s, the Mary Jane shoe was a favorite. The shoe was considered an everyday footwear option for young girls in particular. When “Clueless” debuted in 1995, both teens and women fell for Cher Horowitz’s funky schoolgirl style.
Now the shoe is making a comeback as designers such as Prada featured models in the strappy shoe in their spring ‘20 shows The closed-toe shoe can double up as a casual slip-on or as a dressier footwear option.
90s Shoe Trends: Strappy Sandals
Back in the day, the classic strappy sandal was spotted on women everywhere, from movie premieres to proms. This formal shoe has been renamed the “Naked Sandal” in 2019 due to its barely-there appearance.
The revived style was notably pushed to the forefront last year by Australian shoe brand By Far. The trend was also picked up by luxury designers such as The Row and Yves Saint Laurent, which debuted such shoes in their spring ’19 collections.
With shoppers favoring more comfort-based styles, the naked sandal may not be as popular as it was back in 2019. However, the simple shoe is a closet staple that’s convenient for special occasions or a night on the town.
90s Shoe Trends: Chunky Trainers
Chunky trainers or dad shoes are the original “off-duty” shoe, as a pair provides comfort and versatility. Famously worn by Princess Diana while she was out and about, the ’90s shoe trend continues to be a hot style in footwear.
Designed for comfort, the athletic trainers gained popularity across the spectrum, from A-listers to dads worldwide. The shoes continue to trend thanks to luxury brands such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton making renditions, as well as revivals from the original labels that tapped into the trend, including New Balance and Nike.
Despite the classic style, emerging brands such as Veja are putting a new spin on chunky trainers by adding a sustainability element to them.
Veja’s trainers feature natural rubber soles and a cotton-coated upper complete with faux leather and corn resin. The environmentally conscious shoes are one example of how footwear brands can take on trends in an even more meaningful way in years to come.
New Balance is also another brand capitalizing off of the chunky 90s shoe trend. The brand has a myriad of sporty and chunky sneaker styles to choose from including the 9060, 2002RD, 530 and 610T among others. Each style is cast in retro colorways accompanied by oversized silhouettes that harken back to the 90s and early 2000s.
This makes sense, given New Balance became very popular around that time. Today, New Balance sneakers have become one of the most in-demand styles of 2023, specifically the brand’s 550 style. According to according to Google Trends, search interest in the footwear brand reached an all-time high in April 2023. The brand’s sneakers were also top-of-list in the Runner’s World Shoe Awards in 2023. The chunky athletic footwear can often be filed under the category of “dad” shoes, a popular trend that swept 2022 and 2023 and was heavily influenced by the sneaker silhouettes born during the 90s.
Available in a range of colorways, New Balance’s chunky sneakers are often comprised of synthetic mesh and leather uppers accompanied by non-slip rubber soles and plush midsoles. A key player in the 90s shoe trend was the bulky nature of the New Balance sneaker, a factor of the silhouette that hasn’t really changed.
In the 90s the company released its 1500 model which went on to see high sales thanks in part to former U.S President Bill Clinton, who regularly wore a pair of 1500 shoes on his runs. Additionally, the brand released the M1400 shoes, which were originally designed to be released straight after the M1300 in 1985.
Despite the delay, the M1400 was and is a hit, boasting longevity thanks in part to its retro and athletic silhouette. In 1998, New Balance reissued the 576 sneaker and the footwear was subsequently featured on the cover of Elle Magazine, helping the sneaker to gain popularity in the fashion world. Even the late Princess Diana was a fan of the 90s shoe trend, lacing up plenty of New Balance styles including 550 low-top sneakers, 990 V Core sneakers and 530 sneakers. Top stars who often gravitate towards chunky New Balance styles include Fergie, Rihanna, Heidi Klum, Taylor Swift, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kaia Gerber and Jennifer Garner among others.
90s Shoe Trends: Clear Heels
This illusive 90s shoe trend likely stemmed from a booming nightlife scene, born from club kids and sex workers. Made from PVC, acrylic or lucite, the footwear trend manifested mostly in wedged, pump or mule styles, often in a strap-heavy construction.
Pleaser has made the 90s shoe trend its trademark, popularizing the style of shoe among other brands. The footwear company still creates a range of clear footwear, often in platform form, often bought by sex workers or exotic dancers although their customer base is much more diverse these days given the 90s shoe trend’s popularity.
Pleaser was born in the 1993s, capitalizing on the clear shoe trend, and eventually became one of the biggest destinations for specialty “sexy” footwear. To this day, some of Pleaser’s best-selling styles are fitted a clear platforms or straps. Take their Sky-308 shoe for example. Retailing for $53.95, the shoe is equipped with a 7-inch clear heel and 2 3/4-inch see-through platforms to match. The platform style, and many like it, are still extremely popular.
The nostalgic footwear gives the wearer the appearance of walking on air, offering any ensemble a playful appearance with little to no effort at all. Additionally, the footwear style is extremely versatile, given its neutral see-through nature, pairing with just about anything. A bonus feature the clear footwear provides is it naturally lengthens the leg.
Since the style hit the scene, many designer brands have come to interpret it, incorporating the 90s shoe trend into many of their runway shows. Prada interpreted the clear heel during its spring 2010 show dressed up with crystalized detailing, while Valentino hopped on the trend in the spring of 2013 in the form of a sleek and neutral mule.
Likely inspired by Cinderella, Dolce and Gabbana tackled the trend during its fall 2016 collection in a pump dotted with high-shine rhinestones. Again, the 90s shoe trend was replicated during Dsquared2’s spring 2010 runway show in boot form, the uppers of the footwear dappled with spikes.
Beyond the likes of Cinderella, who arguably wore it best, the style has been spotted on major stars today including Margot Robbie, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Kirsten Dunst and Drew Barrymore among others.
90s Shoe Trends: Chunky Loafers
Chunky and heeled, leather and suede, loafers were extremely popular in the 90s. The style can be associated with some of the greats of the time including Julia Roberts, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman and Sharon Stone among others. Often fitted with stacked block heels, the footwear offers the wearer a lofty boost in height all encapsulated in a preppy package. A staple of fall wardrobes everywhere, the style is usually paired alongside socks or tights.
Chunky loafers were popularized thanks in part to brands like Gucci and Prada. During Prada’s spring 1991 show under the direction of Muccia Prada, models waltzed down the runway, their feet adorned with loafers featuring contrasting stitching and not much else. The footwear was without logos, unlike Prada’s popular loafer styles today, and played into the “Ugly Chic” aesthetic Muccia had famously cultivated for the brand.
In 2020, the chunky loafer enjoyed a resurgence, thanks once again to Prada. This time, Prada’s loafer offerings were fitted with logos but still featured a rather subdued silhouette much like the 90s loafers that came before it. The Prada loafers that took over mid-pandemic were still chunky, fitted with platform-esque soles and sleek patent leather uppers. The style, namely the Monolith loafers, is still extremely popular amongst fans of the brand.
Speaking of longevity, Gucci’s loafers have stood the test of time. The Italian brand’s Horsebit loafers became their unofficial trademark, becoming the standard uniform in offices everywhere in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The brand has gone on to adapt and interoperate the loafer in many ways. Tom Ford, who famously worked for Gucci from 1990 to 2005, included a fan-favorite red loafer-inspired pump in Gucci’s fall 1995 collection.
Mudd, Tods, Keen, Coach, Hush Puppy, Eastland and, of course, Dr. Martens are just a few brands that dominated the loafer game back in the day. Today, loafers can be found in a range of styles from a myriad of brands, some of which were around when the 90s shoe trend kicked off.
These brands, both low and high-end, include Coach, Ralph Lauren, Sam Edelman, Aldo, Clarks and Ralph Lauren just to name a few. With so many brands still stocking the nostalgic silhouette, this 90s shoe trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
All products featured have been independently selected and curated by our editorial team. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn commission and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.
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