The last decade of the twentieth century stood at the edge of the millennium, with one eye looking into the future and the other glancing back into the past.
Both views played an important role in shaping the fashion identity of the '90s.
Style in this decade seemed to continually undergo a confused transformation. In reacton to the overconsumption of the '80s and the recession of the early '90s, clothes first took a turn toward a more pared-down simplicity. That look, however, was replaced in 1993 by grunge, which was quickly succeeded first by the "monastic" look of 1994 and then, later that same year, by a '70s-inspired retro look. The '90s essentially presented a montage of fashion history, with trends coming and going sometimes within a single season.
Clothes by ready-to-wear retailers such as The Gap, Banana Republic, and Eddie Bauer came to the forefront of fashion. They managed to tap into the needs of women who wanted comfortable, wearable clothes. Because women were buying mass-produced goods, design houses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci branched out into ready-to-wear lines. This change of focus left designers the room to experiment with blurring the lines between art and fashion as never before in their couture collections. Thierry Mugler and Issey Miyake played with neoprene, plastics, and never-before seen "techno-fabrics." Rei Kawakubo and Azzedine Alaïa manipulated the natural shape of the body by incorporating sculptural elements in their designs. In an era of globalization, the high-fashion universe no longer revolved only around Paris, but expanded to include London, Milan, New York, and Tokyo.