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Blast Los Angeles Bureau

As the decade creeps ever so slowly toward the overly-hyped end of the millennium, fashion trends have taken a nostalgic, navel-gazing turn. It's all about retro these days. We've already witnessed the return of disco, punk, ska, and swing, and all the accoutrements that accompany them. We're so busy waxing rhapsodic over the past that there's no defining '90s look except in how we redefine past fads.

You can argue that the grunge look was a '90s thing. I don't know. Grunge did not encourage a sense of fashion in the sense that you wore whatever didn't smell horrible. Flannel shirts, thermals, big-ass boots -- it was a simpler, more organic punk look.

Doc Marten's boots and shoes were worn with everything from sweatpants to ballgowns, but a pair of boots do not a trend make. It wasn't meant to last, anyway. Grunge died when Nordstrom's started selling Docs, around the time the movie "Singles" came out.

OK, what about the whole "casual Fridays" office phenomenon? Sorry, you strike out there too. Khakis and button-down shirts have been worn since the '30s. Twin sets and jeans are nothing new either. The real miracle is that you can wear this stuff to the office without getting fired, not that it's a brand-new look.

The '90s did usher in the so-called cyberspace era, but advances have been made so far as technology goes, not in clothing. Techno takes its cue from '60s astro-style. So we haven't colonized the moon or sent a human team to Mars. But dammit, we can wear silver go-go boots and metallic lipstick and lots of vinyl.

Sunglasses have a techno edge to them, as though they were secret x-ray specs that really work. Athletic gear also has a space look -- just check out a pair of Nikes sometime. Think of Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in "Space Jam." But it's all about the look, not the actual hardware. How much technology went into creating a pair of athletic shoes that will quickly fall apart due to shoddy construction?

One retro movement that refuses to die is the '70s behemoth. This has been going on for nearly the entire decade, starting with the club kids in the turn of the decade. Platforms, flares and polyester shirts are still being sold and worn. But thank God no one's enthusiastically bringing back sky-blue tuxedos and cowl-neck sweaters.

This '70s nostalgia also brought on the whole little kid look -- we want to wear what we wore as tykes. So you had the baby doll dresses, Mary Jane shoes, overalls, striped t-shirts, Carter's-type T-shirts with the fold-over sleeves and sneakers. Girls ran around with little plastic Goody barrettes in their shag cuts and had backpacks shaped like stuffed animals. Everyone had some kind of Hello Kitty doodad.

Cocktail lounge and cigar culture ran concurrently with these other eras. Swingers would trot to the local dive wearing their best vintage outfit (and it better be authentically vintage, not some '90s update) and dance all night to the sounds of their local big band. The martini was hip. Cigar bars opened up all over for Rat Pack wannabes, and the supper club was the hot meal ticket.

Then there is the hair of the '90s, which again slavishly follows retro. Shaved heads and goatees, the "Friends" shag and the bob. The relatively short hair length prevalent in the '90s is probably a reaction to the perm horrors of the previous decade. Every straight-haired male I know who was old enough to legally go to a bar sometime in the '80s has suffered the indignity of a perm, or, even funnier, a "body wave." Then crew cuts became stylin' for the men, the spikier the better. Women simply grew out the perm or hacked off the offending parts. But is there a single unique '90s haircut? Nope.

Maybe the hodgepodge nature of the '90s is a good thing. There's a little something for everyone -- you can be a hipster without trying too hard. You can mix it up, depending on your mood, and not look like you're hopelessly stuck in a time warp.

So I'm off to the bar down the street to have a martini. I'm wearing my superfly vinyl coat, turtleneck sweater, flared burgundy Levi's cords, and Vibram-soled hiking boots. And I don't look like a wacked-out freak.

Clothing links that cater to the hip and happening '90s guy or grrl. I recommend you keep some of this stuff if you make a purchase -- it may very well be retro in a few years.

Gen X
Years from now, people will try to make the whole "Gen X" myth into a retro scene. Get your artifacts here.

'90s "Classics"
For the grown-up Gen X'er who has to work in an office for a living.

Athletic gear
Hey, those Air Jordans might be worth a fortune someday.