2022 saw a resurgence in sexy 90s business wear style in the aftermath of the pandemic. Gen Z has hailed it ‘Corporate America Core’. Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner have been all over the trend after launching their own brands. We’re looking to the OG’s Miranda Hobbes and Ally McBeal to show us how it’s done.
By the early to mid 90s, it was the norm for professional women to wear structured suits to the office and the colours that were popular in that time period were navy, grey or pastel colours. Two-piece suits with blouses were worn but also short dresses with blazers. Later in the 90s, trouser suits instead of skirt suits were becoming more common. Slouchy pant suits were big in 1997.
Check out our instagram reel to see pages from the 1998 and 1999 Victoria’s Secret catalogues and a few other publications including Holt Renfrew’s ‘Point of View’ 1996, J.Crew, Sears and JC Penney all showing popular business fashion at the time.
Miranda Hobbes/ Sex and the City
The outspoken redhead was one of the most underrated Sex and the City characters for style but Miranda Hobbes has been getting her dues in recent years.
During the early seasons, Miranda’s look was hyper corporate and straight forward. Her costuming read as ‘conservative lawyer’ without much room for play. However, in recent years, her style has been re-analysed under the lens of ‘aspirational minimalist androgynous boss’. She was a career woman who meant business in her sharp power suits.
Her off duty casual attire was very understated and now falls under the category of what we call normcore. She was all about comfort on her off days in oversized sporty looks, basic layers, sweatshirts, solid colours and denim. She was positioned as the character the average viewer could see themselves in.
As the seasons progressed, her costuming became more refined with more feminine details like plunging necklines, statement earrings, tighter silhouettes and brighter colours.
She says in season 2 episode 15 that she hates vintage/antique items!
When the show first aired, there seemed to be a consensus that Miranda was the worst dressed character with no fashion sense. The show’s costume designer Patricia Field made an active choice to under-style Miranda as the character was far more interested in her career and didn’t have much time to focus on her wardrobe. Her original look is now seen as classic, chic and understated, having aged well in comparison to some of the more outlandish looks donned by Carrie.
We loosely re-created some of her season 1 and 2 (1998 and ’99) outfits with 90s stock from our rentals collection. It’s a mixture of work outfits (pant suits with contrast shirts, some with a tie and some with an open collar) and sleek minimalist day/cocktail looks (dress pants with plain tank tops/turtle neck tops) as well as her iconic season 2 Fendi coat look she wore to the baseball game.
We couldn’t mention Miranda Hobbes without also acknowledging our other favourite 90s lawyer.
Ally McBeal first came on the air in September 1997 and ran for 5 seasons until 2002. It made a star of Calista Flockhart in the title role as an up and coming Boston lawyer in her late 20s. She made waves with her ultra-mini office skirts that everyone seemed to have an opinion about, on and off screen.
Her workwear was exclusively solid coloured mini skirt suits or separates, often in pastel tones and clingy lycra tops or collared blouses. Sometimes she wore a mini dress with a longer blazer.
Ally made corporate dressing fun in thigh skimming nipped in looks, bringing sex appeal to prim office wear.
Vogue noted in a 2016 article that “the mini skirt suit was a perfect fit for McBeal’s jumpy, adorably neurotic personality. Like McBeal, that ever-shortening hem was just a little out of place in the office, and no one ever let her forget it. In one episode, an elderly male client referred to McBeal as ‘no pants’ and a 1998 article in the Baltimore Sun asked, 'When is a skirt not a skirt? When Ally McBeal wears it’.”
Calista’s set costumer said that they wanted to show off her great legs. “There was nothing like that show ever, first of its kind, so it had to catch the audience’s attention, that’s my opinion.”
“Whenever I get depressed, I raise my hemlines.”- Ally McBeal (season 1)
Pictured below is our copy of the September 1998 issue of Harper’s Bazaar with Calista gracing the cover under the heading “The Real Ally McBeal: Calista Flockhart & the 25 Coolest Women on TV”. She was photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for the issue with a full interview by Alex Kuczynski. “Calista Comes Clean. Ally McBeal is cute, smart and confused. Who would have thought she’d become the poster girl for postfeminism?”
On the negative reaction to Ally’s penchant for short skirts, Calista says “If you wear short skirts or do anything feminine you immediately get cast as a bimbo”.
A Los Angeles Times article from March 1998 shares some more insight into Ally’s costuming at the time:
“The Ally formula: It’s not easy for a character to find a signature look so compelling that she is instantly identified by it and still makes a real fashion statement. ….if you’ve tuned in from day one, you can see how her look has evolved and been pared down. She now favours a strict tailored minimalism that almost always involves a plain, single breasted suit or blazer cut along slim, straight lines; a very short, straight skirt and a lycra V-neck sweater or t-shirt.
Costume supervisor Loree Parral noted that 'a closet like you have at home makes her more real to viewers'. It contains 45 active suits and 10 blazers in muted yet lively colours such as French blue, moss green and purple; a few black and brown skirts; 100 tops. Jackets, skirts and suit pants are interchanged. The most frequently worn suit labels are Bebe, Parallel, Tahari, Emporio Armani, Christian Frances Roth, DKNY, INC., Laundry, Claudio.”
The costume designer of season 1 is not listed.
Season 2: Rachel M Stanley
Season 3: Danielle King
Season 3-4: Yana Syrkin
Season 5: Mimi Melgaard and Hilary Wright
We chose some 90s minimalist skirt suits from our rental collection which we thought were a good fit for something Ally might have worn. The hems were a little longer on some skirts and so were hiked them up a little in the styling. Two of the jackets are the longer style that we saw Ally wear sometimes with dresses. The suits are paired with a variety of collared button-up blouses and sleeveless tank tops. The colours reference the French blue and moss green we have seen Ally sport as well as some other muted colours we thought were suitable.