The Prettiest '90s Beauty Trends

Bring back the teeny braids and matte lipstick!

90s beauty - sandra bullock
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Put simply, the 1990s were a magnificent time for beauty. Yes, there were some regrettable moments (pencil-thin eyebrows, endless body glitter), but many '90s makeup trends hold up today: matte lipstick, bold eyeshadow, natural curls, and lip gloss with lip liner, just to name a few. We even had some cool new beauty aesthetics to draw from, like the beach blonde (Pamela Anderson) and the mob wife (Sharon Stone).

Now that we're firmly in our '90s renaissance era, it's only right to reflect on the '90s beauty trends that hold up in 2024 (...with a few tweaks here and there).

Pieces Coming Out of Your Updo

90s beauty gwyneth paltrow

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The "messy" updo (by which I mean very carefully styled updo with some front pieces pulled out and left to dangle in front of your face) was a popular trend. It was beloved among high school prom-goers, but our celebs also liked it: see also, this pretty braided bun on Gwyneth Paltrow.

Crystals Everywhere

90s beauty - cher

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Leave it to Cher to find ever-evolving ways to bring glitter into her looks. Since the majority of the hair crystals are clustered around the crown of her head, it almost looks like glittery dandruff. Spacing them out towards the front and throughout the hair strands would (and did!) work better.

Braid Buns

90s beauty - brandy

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Brandy's micro-braids were hugely influential for Black women in the '90s, and she styled them in myriad different ways. I particularly loved when she styled them in buns (either in character for Moesha or at awards ceremonies like this one), as a gorgeous and architectural 'do.

Cool Glasses

90s beauty - scary spice

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I grant you that the shape of the lenses is very '90s in a way that feels dated today. But Scary Spice is showing off a trend that still holds up (pastel accessories). Make the lenses a bit more circular, and make the frames slightly thicker, and you'll be in business.

Pink-Red Cheeks and Lips

90s beauty - princess diana

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Princess Diana defined the '80s and '90s with her classic yet deeply individual fashion. By this decade, she was leaning in on her naturally stylish instincts, which meant bolder lip colors with a touch of shine and rosy cheeks—matching with her outfit, in true royal fashion.

Lots of Bronzer

90s beauty - geri halliwell

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The erstwhile Ginger Spice would go blonde and debut a choppy bob as a way to evolve her persona even while she was a Spice Girls member. The bronzed skin complemented the lighter hair color, and we could achieve a similar look with some spray tan today.

Blonde Front Highlights

90s beauty - kirstie alley

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"Skunk hair" wouldn't hit the mainstream until the '00s, but you could see its origins in the prior decade. I actually really love these front blonde highlights on Kirstie Alley, although today I would probably carry the blonde through the rest of the hair.

The Half-Up, Half-Down 'Do

90s beauty - sarah michelle gellar

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Many a middle schooler (including myself) tried to emulate this seemingly effortless hairdo with less success—it can create a distressing "hair triangle" shape if you do it wrong. The key is to pin the side pieces lower on the scalp and not make the hair too voluminous.

Big Braids

90s beauty - angela bassett

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Angela Bassett: an icon since the '90s! I love this beauty look top to bottom. We've got the classic matte lipstick (very '90s in a good way), minimal and matching blush, teeny tiny cat-eye, and then the glorious updo as the star of the show. Bonus: thicker brows!

Matchy, Matchy

90s beauty - rachel leigh cook

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Wearing a beanie to the red carpet was a very '90s-'00s thing, but here I don't actually mind it. On Rachel Leigh Cook, it lends itself nicely to a dark, matching red lip color that really leans in on maximalism. The pastel eyeshadow is a bit tougher to pull off, but more on that in a moment.

Crunchy Waves

90s beauty - michelle pfeiffer

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Curls and hair gel—it was a fine line in the '90s. Too much, and you run the risk of having "crunchy" looking hair. Too little, and you wouldn't get enough shape and definition. Naturally, Michelle Pfeiffer gives that exact perfect balance on her soft waves.

Soft, Short Hair

90s beauty - demi moore

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Demi Moore made short hair look so good (and I guarantee many people got a similar pixie cut, hoping to look exactly the same). It's simultaneously soft and very, very cropped. The top is long and has a deep side part, which helps give the illusion of more hair.

Extremely Angled Front Layers

90s beauty - melissa joan hart

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The front pieces on Melissa Joan Hart's hair are even shorter than I remembered—if you're unfamiliar, this was taken while she was starring in the ultra-popular Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and her style was highly envied by people of a certain age. Today, I would make the shortest pieces longer and connect it to the rest of the front fringe.

Light Eyeshadow

90s beauty - cameron diaz

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Granted, some trends can only be pulled off by celebrities (hi, Cameron Diaz!). But I would argue that the light, pastel eyeshadow is more universal than at first glance. The light pink color is just on her eyelid and not on her eye bone or towards her brow—and she has a glittery clip in her hair to match.

The "Glistening" Look

90s beauty - jennifer lopez

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It's quite tricky to pull of a "I look like I was just out in the sun, but somehow I'm not dripping with sweat" look. Naturally, J. Lo pulls it off to perfection. A modern iteration of this makeup would involve using a highlighter, blending your foundation and moisturizer together, and some lip gloss.

Short Bangs

90s beauty - winona ryder

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Micro-bangs are not for everyone; they certainly don't work for me. But Winona Ryder's spiky pixie cut benefited from the short layers at the front to highlight her tiny, angular face. Consult a skilled hairstylist before you attempt this, but when it works it works.

Messy Parts

90s beauty - denise richards

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We loved a zig-zag part in the '90s. Sometimes, when it looked too zig-zag, it ended up looking strange, but when it's just messy and wild like on Denise Richards, it gives off bedhead in the chicest way. Seriously, give this one a try—it's so low-stakes.

Mini-Braids

90s beauty - monica

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Braids at the front of the face—sometimes interspersed throughout the hair as well—was a cutesy but cute '90s beauty trend. Monica's makeup is dark and dramatic, thanks to the matte lip and smokey eye, so the braids help bring back some youthfulness.

Thick(er) Brows

90s beauty - brooke shields

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Phew! Thank you, Brooke Shields, for keeping your brows thick (unless the rest of us). As most people know, thick brows had a major resurgence after the '90s, and it was difficult for those of us with thin brows to grow ours back. This natural but bushy look is probably the ideal brow.

The "Bixie"

90s beauty - meg ryan

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If you didn't know, Meg Ryan popularized the bixie (bob plus pixie). It's got the length of a pixie in the front, but the back has longer layers—meaning it's the best of both cuts. The whole thing looks uneven thanks to some strategic layering, but not in a sloppy way.

Fun Flowers

90s beauty - drew barrymore

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Drew Barrymore's signature '90s look was throwing some daisies in her hair and waltzing onto the red carpet looking carefree as heck. Add in some glitter eyeshadow and a very dark red lip, and you've got peak '90s. Minus the copious body glitter, this could be a very nice casual look.

Lots of Lip Liner

90s beauty - destiny's child

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As with other celebrities on this list, Destiny's Child is demonstrating one of the most popular '90s beauty trends: visibly lined lips plus shiny gloss. When done correctly, like this, it gives an ombre effect, with the darker hue on the outside and the lighter shine on the inside.

Beyond Nude Lips

90s beauty - sandra bullock

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Taking matte lipstick and lightening it gives us a color that is juuuuust a couple hues off from skin color. Sandra Bullock has chosen one that's dark enough to distinguish her lips from her face, which is what you need to do if you want a similar vibe in your makeup.

Long, Layered Hair

90s beauty - janet jackson

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While Janet Jackson's braids are usually what we remember from this time period, I'm also a fan of her curls worn loose, with a deep side part and some product for extra volume. While we collectively eschewed the "big hair" of the '80s in this decade, a voluminous 'do was still very welcome.

Long, Minimally Dyed Hair

90s beauty - alicia silverstone

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Bless you, Alicia Silverstone, for letting us dirty blonde girls know that it was okay to rock your natural hair color. (If you don't know, a darker blonde sometimes gets labeled "dull" and "dirty.") But when it's healthy and long and luscious like this, it's stunning.

A Bright Red Lip

90s beauty - whitney houston

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The late Whitney Houston had a joyful style that matched her ebullient personality and epic voice; this look is from her "I Will Always Love You" era and gives us her trademark soft red lip and a gentle smokey eye. It's a subtle, underrated classic.

Purple Makeup

90s beauty - aaliyah

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The late Aaliyah had incredible style that always set her apart from everyone else. While she wasn't the first to go bold with a purple lip and matching eye makeup, she makes it looks edgy, not costume-y, thanks to a sleek cascading hairdo and minimal blush.

Messy, Beachy Texture

90s beauty - pamela anderson

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Pamela Anderson basically perfected the "beach blonde hairdo"—after all, she basically lived in a bathing suit on the set of Baywatch. It's actually easy to make this look messy instead of casual, but some texture spray will help add volume and dimension without weight.

Surprise Brunette

90s beauty - sarah michelle gellar

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There was nothing more fun or surprising than when an actor you knew as a blonde went brunette for a more dramatic role (Sarah Jessica Parker did this well as Carrie from Sex and the City in the '00s). But no surprise brunette will ever be more iconic to me than Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions.

Almost Frosted Tips

90s beauty - halle berry

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Halle Berry's pixie cut was already pretty iconic in the '90s, but then when she dyed it bleach blonde and left some visible roots (a much classier version of frosted tips), the crowd went wild. This is probably a black belt-level beauty look to pull off, but she's doing it.

Loose, Messy Curls

90s beauty - nicole kidman

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This is a still from the movie Eyes Wide Shut, and it's a perfect example of Nicole Kidman wearing her hair in its natural (or nearly natural) curly hair texture. For us curly girls, '90s-era Nicole Kidman is a wealth of Pinterest-worthy looks. And this updo is perfection.

The Mob Wife

90s beauty - sharon stone

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Slow claps for Sharon Stone! Before the trend even had a name, Stone was rocking the mob wife aesthetic: dark eyeshadow, eye-catching scarf in her hair, incredibly over-the-top jewelry (both on her body and on the bed). Don't forget the (faux) fur coat to complete the look!

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.