How ’90s Fashion Influences Today’s Style, According to a Vintage Expert at Deepcover

Deepcover founder William Wagner explains how ’90s fashion has been infused into today's style.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Photography by Chandler Kennedy  
Styling and Grooming by Michael Baquerizo and Walton Nunez
Modeled by Griffin Reed

These days, the world of fashion has a low bar for entry, and a scrappy generation has thrown in its lot. With low risk and a plethora of digital tools available, small brands are blooming, each commanding their own degree of success. As fashion and style are democratized, those creating the styles are free to do whatever they want, which often means capturing something that's been lost. In this case, they’re capturing the ’90s.

The ’90s began a quarter of a century ago, but for the new designer class, it’s the era they grew up in. As a country and as a culture, we’ve gone through the wringer in the last two-and-a-half decades, and all that remains from the ’90s has been altered. But we miss the way the world used to be; not the nuts and bolts of it, but the feeling. Looking back, the promise and prosperity so prevalent in the ’90s seem like ancient history, yet we’ve managed to hold onto them in our own unique ways.

There’s a pocket of this alternate ’90s universe on Allen Street in New York City. Deepcover is a vintage store that sells merch from the 1990s. Specializing in wrestling tees, the owner of the spot, William Wagner, keeps his inventory diverse so there’s something for everyone. Last week, Jaden Smith stopped by for a few minutes and walked out with four tees. Eric Andre is a repeat customer. Miranda Kerr posed in Korean Vogue wearing a Giants crew neck from Wagner’s shop.

A huge orange Nickelodeon blimp hangs from the ceiling next to WWF T-shirts and a Baby (from Dinosaurs) doll. The vast array of colors and shapes will feel familiar to anyone up on current fashion and street style trends. The racks are filled with inspiration for what’s hot now.

Deepcover is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but if you head a few blocks west to SoHo, you’ll get a taste of how the ’90s have been infused into the 2010s: Hedi Silmane designed ripped jeans and flannels during his time at Saint Laurent, a nod to Nirvana-grunge; Rick Owens’ silhouettes are evolutionary descendants of MC Hammer’s harem pants; graphic tees that largely disappeared in the 2000s have returned as reprinted tour tees, featuring bands like Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and Iron Maiden. The revival has sparked a hunger for Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Drake concert tees. Every Thursday, Supreme drops a menagerie of clothing items rooted in 1990s style and pop culture, like collabs with Playboy and Silence of the Lambs graphic tees. Even Tupac’s bandana has resurfaced on crowns in SoHo.

If there’s one thing Deepcover teaches us about fashion, it’s that it’s cyclical in nature. Trends emerge, disappear, and resurface again. It’s never a question of if something will return, but when, and every time a style makes a comeback, the contemporary generation inscribes its own meaning to it. Denim jackets used to be equated with Bob Dylan, but for those who grew up in the ’90s, it meant Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears’ infamous matching denim suits.

Image via Complex Original

For Wagner and Deepcover, it’s about getting to the root of a stylistic heritage. “I was seeing all these other streetwear brands like Undefeated, Under Crown, and Stussy, and was seeing where they were getting their influences from. Instead of buying what they were making, I was going back to what they were inspired by.” That’s why he skipped the Playboy-Supreme drop and opted for an OG Playboy TV—the one he wore during this interview.

Wagner likes the originals, but brands that reference the ’90s now cook up their own interpretations. Today’s denim is distressed like it was in the ’90s but is also narrower than it used to be. Men are bleaching their hair again, but leaving the gel at home. We’re all playing Pokémon, but are exploring our own, real life cities—not Viridian City. We want the feeling of the ’90s and have tried to reconstruct it without the muck (no pun intended).

“I look at this stuff as an art form,” Wagner says, pointing at his deep rack of wrestling tees. “Someone had to sit down and work it out and make it. Today you can Photoshop anything. You can pump out products like it’s nothing. You can release a hat once a week and come up with [totally] different designs. You could probably even do a different hat every day if you wanted to. Now everything is come and go but this stuff is here to stay, and it’s going to be around for a long time hopefully.”

The ’90s were unique in that printing technology progressed with the growth of identity advertising, so graphic T-shirts were able to carry more meaning. Every household had a TV, and with the financial boom, people of all socioeconomic status had more leisure time—time that was used largely for self-reflection. Compared to their parents, who experienced major political, social, and cultural events (like the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love) and whose own parents lived through the Great Depression, millennials grew up during a simpler, easier time. They belong to the generation that was told they could do anything. And they believed it.

“Everyone asks if my Nickelodeon blimp is for sale like, ‘Oh, how much would you sell it for?’ Wagner says. “I wouldn’t [sell it] because it’s from an era when money wasn’t important. It’s a metaphor for an [era] when things were a little bit easier, when everything wasn’t so serious.” Wagner refuses to let go of the blimp because, in a way, it would signify letting go of the ’90s.

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In the new millennium, the world has become more confusing and dangerous; much less certain and hopeful. The ’90s and aughts represent two major extremes, and we as a society (with people like Wagner at the forefront) are bridging that gap as best we can. There’s a yearning for a time that’s not just simpler, but more comfortable, and that’s reflected in our fashion trends. The last decade has been important for the growth of the American soul. We’ve brought light to the shadowy corners of the unknown and are doing some excruciating work to make it brighter. But in the pursuit of hope, we need our armor. For many of us, that comes in the form of fashion and style.

By bringing ’90s style back into vogue, we’re also (subconsciously) trying to recapture the energy from the time period as well. We’ve created an enormous mood board, donning our hopes and dreams in denim and jerseys; creating an environment of nostalgia. It’s beautiful in a sense and is, therefore, everything that fashion is supposed to be. Fashion is aspirational: It represents what we want our perfect selves and a perfect world to look like.

That being said, our calling back to the ’90s is almost a visceral aspirationalism. We’re reiterating what was cool when people first realized that anything could be cool. That’s why you’ll see an infusion of ’90s style in brands like Fear of God. Millennials are now influencing fashion as more than just consumers. They’re the designers too, and as designers, they’re beginning to transfer style trends to the next generation—a generation that remembers what it was like to have more hope than fear.

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At a time of uncertainty mixed so richly with trepidation, we remember the days when Tupac and Biggie were kings of the rap game; when afternoons at Central Perk and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set the standard for our domestic relationships, and in the process, allowed us to forget the fears of our international ones; when our primary concern was if the Tomagatchi was well fed. 

Reminiscing skips the time in between, calling the space together. It’s a blend of time travel and revisionist history built into a Stone Cold Steve Austin memorabilia tee. It’s new, for sale, and you can purchase it using PayPal.

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