10 Fashion Icons of the ’80s and ’90s Who Defined an Era

Stephanie A. Torres, Staff Writer

By now,  we all know that retro has made a comeback, and to be honest, when is retro fashion never making a comeback? A big influence for Gen Z has been the ‘80s and ‘90s. Fashion from this era has paved the way we’ve dressed for years.  But does Gen Z  know how to dress like the 80s/90s? Fashion icons from this era are one of the biggest reasons why vintage fashion has become so iconic. As we continue to base our wardrobes on this era, we should consider taking inspiration from the icons who helped popularize it. 


Nowadays, we know her from her hit song “Material Girl,”  but back in the ’80s, a 20-something-year-old Madonna was making headlines for wearing cross necklaces, ripped jeans, gloves, a lot of metal jewelry, giant earrings, giant hair bows and tulle skirts over jeans. Her outfits were deemed too sexy by the boomer generation, but that didn’t stop her from inspiring many teen girls to break social norms.  So if you want to bring back the ‘’edgy look’’ of the ’80s, use Madonna as your inspiration.

Kate Moss

 If instead,  you want to bring back a ‘90s  ‘’edgy look’ that’s more glamorous, take inspiration from supermodel Kate Moss. CBC’s ‘’Fashion File’’ has described her as  “A rockstar trapped in a supermodel body” thanks to her party girl reputation. She made slip dresses iconic one day and leather jackets cool another day. Sometimes Moss would make both leather and a slip dress look cool together.

Robert Smith

If you’re trying to revive vintage goth fashion, Robert Smith from ‘’The Cure’’ is a great place to start.  Unlike Madonna, he was less mainstream, as he only managed to speak to a specific group of teens: the goths. With his iconic red lipstick, big hair, and long blazers matched with Nike shoes, he made himself an icon of the goth scene. Smith helped the goth scene become more popular although the media still mocked them by treating them like outcasts. 

Dennis Rodman

Before there was Harry Styles, we had NBA icon Dennis Rodman.  From wearing a wedding gown to marry himself to showing off multiple piercings and designer jewelry, matching women’s tops with men’s bottoms and men’s shoes to rocking different hair colors, this GenX icon has proven that he knows how to make both female and male clothing work together. So next time you want to break gender stereotypes within the fashion world, make sure to look very high up to Dennis Rodman.

Kurt Cobain

P.B.RGE via Creative Commons

No matter how old you were, what music you listened to, or how you dressed, everyone was trying the grudge look thanks to the late Kurt Cobain. Although that type of fashion was not meant to become mainstream, fashion in the early ‘90s quickly went from bright to light colors. Doc Martens, flannels, band t-shirts, and ripped jeans were all the rage. Kurt also popularized what we now know as Clout goggles. His style is helpful for anyone who wants to dress more laid back. 

Faye Wong

Faye Wong was a huge part of introducing American fashion to Chinese fashion. She reintroduced the Hippie look in the late ‘80s and then Bantu knots in 1993. But the most famous introduction was in 1994 when she helped the hairstyle of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the 90s alternative band ‘’The Cranberries,’’ become popular with the youth in China. Unlike Dolores, who only wore goth outfits, Faye was styling her short hair with different outfits. One day she’d let her inner punk out, and the next day she’d dress like a ’90s supermodel. In  1996, she was one of the few, both in China and America,  to wear fashion-tech outfits. If there is one thing that Faye Wing has taught us, it’s to step outside of our comfort zone.


Another icon who had teen girls in love with her fashion was the late Mexican singer Selena.  She was known for putting a lot of sparkle in her outfits. Whether that be in her bras, boots, hats, or even belts, it’s clear to see that Selena incorporated her own twist by taking inspiration from Mexican culture.  Her style works perfectly for anyone looking to add a bit of bling to their style. 


Kevin via Creative Commons

 In a short span, the late Aaliyah proved that she was not only an R&B icon but also a fashion icon. She helped fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger become the biggest designer of the 1990s among the youth and the Hip-hop industry. She also made baggy clothes and tomboy outfits fashionable.  The beauty of Aaliyah is just as iconic. Her signature side bangs, which would cover one of her eyes,  became a popular hairstyle for teenage girls.  Her makeup was also very tomboyish, either natural-looking makeup or darker shades of makeup, such as her lipstick being either red or purple. Her style works perfectly for the average tomboy who wants to add a hint of a girly girl.

Zoran Veselinovic via Creative Commons

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s impact on ‘80s fashion was just as huge as his impact on ‘80s music.  The gloves, the hat, and the amount of sparkle that went into his outfits were such a cultural trend that people all over the world were dressing up as him.  He continued his success as a fashion icon by embracing a slimmer silhouette, shorter pants, bright-colored socks, and most importantly, sequins. His outfits from the “Thriller’’ music video to the “Bad’’ music video are now a part of pop culture history.  Michael’s style is for anyone who’s ready to make quite an appearance at a party.

Jennifer Aniston

It’s so easy to mistake an outfit of Jennifer Aniston, or of her “Friends’’ character Rachel, for a 2020s outfit.  It’s safe to say that Jennifer, or Rachel, was ahead of her time with fashion. Her outfits balance both a cool and casual look. Aniston’s also responsible for an iconic hairstyle called “The Rachel.’’   Although Jennifer’s haircut in ‘’Friends’’ may not be liked by us Gen Z,  I can definitely say that her style fits right in with our fashion.