It’s worth noting, however, that the stylistic contributions of Black women have been largely absent from these pop culture flashbacks. For the record: Black women were unequivocally front and centre in setting beauty and fashion trends during the ‘90s. From R&B divas, video vixens, to Black models and actresses – women of colour broke barriers and introduced the world to their boundless creativity, vivacity and unique style that would trickle down and inspire the rest of the world. In celebration of Black History Month in the UK, we are giving Black women their well-deserved flowers for the trends they created during this golden era that kept us looking beautiful and fly.
Nude lipstick paired with dark lipliner.
As someone who came of age as a young Black girl in the ‘90s, I have firsthand experience of experimenting with many a trend, including the nude lipstick/dark lip-liner trend. I recall purchasing a frosted gold lipstick by Constance Carroll at my local market, and let’s just say I looked like I had dipped my lips in flour once I applied it. The solution? Well, there was no way I was going to waste my money, so lining my lips with a black lipliner and blending the colours was the only way to make it work. This trend has its roots firmly in the ‘90s, and it was popularised by women of colour – particularly Black and Latina women – by way of necessity. Legendary make-up artist Sam Fine was famed for applying this look on Naomi Campbell and told Allure that he drew inspiration from the girls he grew up with who struggled to find lipsticks to complement their dark skin tone. It’s a look that is certainly enduring, scoring highly among with Gen-z in particular. Recently there was a furore on TikTok when Hailey Bieber came under fire for rebranding her darkly lined lips tutorial, which went viral, as ‘Brownie Glazed Lips’.
Acrylic nails and nail art.
It’s hard to think of a time when acrylic nails were not the de rigueur. They’ve been a staple part of nail trends since the ‘90s, and never really left. The look emerged during a time when Black popular culture was gaining prominence in the mainstream. Stars emerging within the worlds of hip-hop and R&B gifted us with a colourful, flamboyant visual presentation that blended designer labels with hip-hop influenced street wear. R&B/hip-hop icons in the making, like Mary J. Blige, Coko from SWV, and Lil Kim decorated their talons in bold colourful shades, adding accoutrements like jewels and gems for extra flair. Soon enough, nail salons were everywhere. Acrylic nail manicures would become a staple beauty treatment for Black women as ubiquitous as eyebrow waxing or a press ‘n’ curl. Fast forward to present-day and acrylics and nail art have gone mainstream. In an article published on Refinery 29.com, writer Nadra Nittle highlights how there is very little acknowledgment of Black women being torchbearers of this particular trend. She writes, “Long, artificial nails in an array of shades and designs have gone mainstream, but the origins are separated from the black women who routinely wore them, despite being ridiculed and considered “ghetto” for their manicures. Now long, square-tipped, and bejewelled nails are more likely to be associated with a Jenner or a Kardashian than they are with women of colour.”
Sleek, Laid Edges
Laid edges, baby hairs, edges on fleek – all terms used to describe the trend for slicking down the edges that grow around your hairline. Once again, this is a style that was born out of necessity. Historically, young Black girls were led to believe that the coily, curly, frayed hairs that sprouted from their crown should be sleeked into submission because Afro-textured hair was considered unkempt. As a result, gels and pomades would be applied to the hairline to make it appear sleek and straight. During the ‘90s, edge styling took a life of its own, with young girls becoming increasingly creative with their baby hairs, applying swoops, swirls, zig zags and other inventive patterns to complement their ponytails and updos. Today, slayed edges are a style staple and have in fact created an entire category of haircare, with edge styling gels and edge styling combs sold by many hair manufacturers.
Dark Berry Lipstick
As an antithesis of the cutesy coral, fuchsia, and berry lipstick shades that dominated the ‘80s, makeup took an edgier turn in the 90s, with darker, vampy lipsticks being the shade du jour. This smouldering shade was worn by the likes of Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, and most notably rapper Foxy Brown, who adopted black and burgundy lipstick as her trademark shade. Every make-up-loving Black woman has a dark-hued lipstick or two in their beauty arsenal. It’s the one shade that we can almost guarantee is flattering to our skin tone. Fast-forward today and everyone from Rihanna, Lupita Nyong’o to Zendaya pays homage to this lasting trend.