lessons from...1998

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.04.00 pm

A couple weeks ago, I went for a music festival with some friends, and style-wise we were astounded by the sheer...1990s of it all. There were girls in tube tops and track pants (hello Spice Girls!)! Tube tops and dungarees. Way too many tube tops, generally. Even some (gasp!) thin, arched brows.

We marvelled that we were now old enough to see trends return.

It's not all bad. I love 1990s style too, and it's not just whatever the Hadids are currently wearing. Specifically, I love Calvin Klein-era minimalism, DKNY cool and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy chic. When I described this to my friends, one of them said, "Ah, Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail."


Watching the movie again made me realise how many style lessons I took to heart (while forgetting the plot entirely). The soothing palette of grey, white, and black. The simple, sporty charm of a crew neckline. Simple flat shoes meant for walking around the city. I imagined that one day I would too live in a place like NYC, running around town in my cool, minimalist separates.

A few themes I loved, and still do --

#1 - The mock turtleneck

If anyone asked me what was the defining 90s style lesson for me, it would be mock turtlenecks. Less restrictive and more practical in the tropics than actual turtlenecks. I like how it highlights the neck while covering it up - it's a discreet elegance.

Meg Ryan wears a plain black one in the movie to a casual dinner party; I love how it has all the ease of a T-shirt but with the elegance of an LBD --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.19.50 pm

It's the kind of outfit that dares the wearer to keep it simple - no statement necklace, no statement earrings - and it would work in a variety of occasions, from work to well, dinner parties.

#2 - The crew neck, the twinset and the fitted knit

Whether it's a sweater or a T-shirt, my fave neckline of all time has to be a crew neck. Again, I like the covered-up charm of it, plus it's practical - no worry that I would flash someone when I bend over, or that my bag strap would pull on it in an unsightly way. There's also a sporty feel to it.

I like the crew neck of a white T-shirt peeking out from under a sweater, like it does here --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.42.53 pm

And this sweater dress is so good. A boatneck would have taken it to soignée territory; here it's still elegant, but in a brisk, almost sporty way --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.37.20 pm

Meanwhile, if the weather permitted it here, I would rock a twinset all the time. It's such a simple way to do a tonal look -- it's basically a T shirt worn under a cardigan -- and done right, it's visually interesting.

I love how Meg Ryan manages to do it in a way that doesn't look too "country club" --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.17.13 pm
Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.33.26 pm

On a related note, I also love all the crew neck cardigans in the movie It's a lot more common these days to see v-necks and draped styles, but I'll always love the tidy feel of a high, round neckline --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.57.41 pm

Finally, I love that a lot of the knitwear in the movie is fitted, without looking like those clingy, 70s' jersey knits. The light grey one Meg Ryan wears below is my idea of the perfect fitted knit (you can't really tell but it's quite a chunky knit) --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.26.24 pm

#3 - The white shirt

I love a blue shirt for its casual workwear feel, but I do own and regularly wear a white shirt, for the simple reason that nothing else looks as crisp and fresh as a white shirt. I like them slightly oversized but still crisp, relaxed but still buttoned up. Meg Ryan proves this oxymoron is possible (note she's buttoned the cuffs) --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.52.46 pm
Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.53.16 pm

Another a great look featuring a white shirt in the movie --

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.02.58 pm

I like that it isn't a Peter Pan collar (so it's not twee), and that she's worn it buttoned up but the lapels are long and soft enough to drape slightly, like the kind you see in men's button downs.

#4 - The skirt

I find it challenging not to look fussy in skirts, and there's something so comfortable (and therefore inspiring) in the way Meg Ryan does it in the movie.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 8.58.39 pm
Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 10.00.41 pm
Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.56.04 pm

You can't see it in the shot, but she's actually wearing sneakers in the last outfit above. (Perhaps sturdy shoes is the answer? She is, after all, wearing heavy black oxfords in the first shot...)

P.S - That black bag in the first shot: how good is that length for a shoulder strap?

#5 - The trench coat

Ah, another item I have zero use for here in Singapore, but I have one nonetheless because I watched too many movies, including this one (I wear it when I travel to colder climes).

I do like them oversized, but it isn't just a matter of aesthetical preference; I find they have to be a little loose so that I can layer comfortably underneath, plus they need to be long to keep the rain off my clothes. I like that they're not meant to look sleek and perfect -- everyone, even Meg Ryan, looks a little dumpy in a truly functional trench coat. And that's what makes it such a classic across genders, sizes, age and eras.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.51.23 pm

#6 - The loungewear

This is a Nora Ephron movie, so there will always be a surfeit of great knits and loungewear.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.46.56 pm
Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.50.26 pm

#7 - The hair

Meg Ryan, among others, cemented for me the idea that short hair rules. No explanation necessary.


In 1998 (the year You've Got Mail was released), Meg Ryan would have been 37, a little older than I am now. This likely explains why I look back at all the mid/late-90s movies with such fondness for the style: I'm finally at the age where all these clothes make sense for my life.

It's been 20 years, but when I look at these clothes, time is irrelevant. Style is style, and you'll always find a way to love what's stuck with you.

What movies have you fallen in love with, style-wise?

P.S: A few of my movie style favourites:
A Bigger Splash
Sliding Doors
Girl, Interrupted
Thelma and Louise
A League of Their Own

All screenshots by me


Archana said…
Lady, you nailed this post.

This movie was one of the first english films I fell in love with. My salient notes :

1. It's okay to be lanky. My society liked full figured chubby women and used to nag me about putting on weight. I liked seeing this waif like women pranced round in trousers that I thought looked big on her. The boyish charm of it all !

2. Short hair. Yes & yes !

3. Neutrals. Again, a new experience for me. Indians wear color and find neutrals "sad". This film and the matrix were my big inspirations on how I see color in clothing. I discovered gray.

4. Nerdy women who read and hang out in libraries - cheers to that thought.

5. A black turtle neck with trousers is an equivalent to LBD for sure. I can never get on board with the twinset though.
cca.. said…
great observations!
Pret a Porter P said…
And that hair would go on to becoming the hair style of suburban moms across America.

Ive never seen this movie, despite how iconic it is. Or Harry met Sally either. Cant say Im with you on this one.

I love the luxe, languid lifestyle in Bigger Splash minus dakota johnsons character. For me, I will love The Addams Family forever and forever. I want all the dresses Angelina Jolie wore in Alexander, especially the white one. Alain Delon in Le Samourai is the gold standard for men. And Im not mad at the jazz singer's leopard coat and black coupe with red interior. The red kimonos of Hatsumomo in memoirs of geisha and in Hero. Hmmm...this explains why a big chunk of my wardrobe is out of touch with reality.

MC Bontemps said…
I would probably have been with the other commenter about suburban moms except for the terrific editorial eye you've brought to bear on seemingly unpromising material (and yes to twinsets and crewnecks).

Some favourites for modern but feminine looks in which a person could happily walk out of the house today : Lauren Hutton in American Gigolo, Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, Kristin Scott Thomas in the English Patient, Glenn Close in Meeting Venus (1991). For someone with a more fabulous nightlife than mine : Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, Wong Kar Wai's cheongsam-ed ladies in Mood for Love and 2046. For full-on fantasy : all the women of Henry James adaptation Wings of the Dove (1997) but most especially Charlotte Rampling as an evil step-mother type in artistic head-wraps and pre-Raphaelite draperies; the wonderful Tilda in Orlando (I don't think she has ever looked more stunning or otherworldly on film).

Alain Delon in Le Samouraï for sure but if we are allowing a bit of bad taste, then Delon again in Plein Soleil for louche lounging on a yacht and Tony Servillo in the Great Beauty for older and even loucher.
lin said…
Archana: I don't think the twinset is a popular idea with most people! But in the right colour and fit, I think it's awesome.

Nerdy women: this reminds me of writers who dress well (Joan Didion, Claire Messud, Siri Husdvedt, Nicole Krauss, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie just to name a few). One of my biggest crush categories.

cca: Thanks!

Pret a Porter P: Now that you mentioned it, it is very suburban mum isn't it? I definitely live far away enough from American suburbs to still be able to romanticise the look.

It's not a great movie, and I prefer When Harry Met Sally. But interestingly, not many people movies about adults falling in love any more (not without a major plot point, like one of them being in coma).

I'm right there with you on A Bigger Splash! I have a list of "out of touch with reality" wardrobe loves myself, one of them being I Am Love - it's Tilda Swinton in very conservative, luxe, rich lady clothes but with very subtle, minimalist touches that make it a little modern, a little interesting. I'm too practical to dress like that in real life, but..so dreamy. The coat in A Perfect Murder worn by Gwyneth Paltrow. I love the Hitchcock heroine look too, especially Grace Kelly in Rear Window.

Alain Delon in Le Samourai - untouchable! But I still like Steve McQueen in Bullitt best.

MC Bontemps: I love Lauren Hutton's style in American Gigolo and Kristen Scott Thomas' in The English Patient as well - both are on my list of films to screen-cap and blog about.

My idea of full on fantasy is...Out of Africa. There was something very luxurious and romantic about all those ivory layers, which she later layered with safari and military touches.

jesse.anne.o said…
I should probably not admit this but I have 2 3/4 sleeve black mock turtlenecks in my closet...from Delia*s. Circa early aughts but still. They're just really versatile with a loud vintage skirt. I did have 3 but I ruined one by making it into a bat costume with an old black umbrella for Halloween last year.

Short hair (and flats) forever!
Anonymous said…
So. Good.

Off the top of my head, Meryl Streep in It's Complicated, Diane Keaton in...anything!

Popular Posts