When It Comes to '90s Beauty, Gen Z Can't Get Enough of Icons Like CBK and Sade

1x1_Listing Image
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gen Z Says is a bimonthly column chronicling the latest trends in the fashion and beauty space through the lens of Who What Wear's own Gen Z editors. Expect a download on the upcoming class of tastemakers, emerging designers, and shopping and style choices straight from the generation setting the trends.

In case you haven't been paying attention to Netflix's additions for the month of April, there's one not-so-new show that's been making headlines. Sex and the City has finally made a reappearance on the streaming platform after landing itself on HBO's app for the past couple of years. The steamy, fashion-filled series set in the late '90s through the early 2000s captured my attention during the latter years of my college career, sparking a newfound appreciation for vintage Manolo Blahniks, a Manhattan zip code, and quirky nicknames to love interests. Now, a new generation of viewers are identifying themselves as a Charlotte York, Miranda Hobbes, Samantha Jones, or Carrie Bradshaw and falling head over heels for '90s style.

I'm a proud Charlotte—a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, eternal optimist, and lover of timeless style. As much as I love incorporating bits of Charlotte's look into my minimalistic beauty and fashion choices, there are only so many reference shots to borrow from. After all, she's a fictional character created by the brilliant show writers. I'm taking it one step further and looking to two of the era's very real '90s beauty icons to shake things up: Nigerian British soul singer Sade Adu and the late It girl Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.

Dawn Tan Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy Flatlay

(Image credit: @dawntan)

While Sex and the City has been having its renaissance everywhere from TikTok to Pinterest, aesthetics associated with Sade and Bessette-Kennedy's signature styles have been making their rounds. Lifestyle-centered videos captioned with #sadegirl set against Sade's "Like a Tattoo" or "Kiss of Life" and CBK-inspired accessory hauls from C.O. Bigelow—her go-to pharmacy and beauty brand—have sparked a resurgence of throwback looks. In fact, over the past year, I've witnessed a major departure from the aesthetics of clean girl beauty in favor of something sultry, minimal, and effortlessly cool.

Why the sudden interest in the beauty trends associated with '90s minimalism? My theory is that a good number of my fellow Gen Z consumers aren't as maximalism-driven now as they have been in the past. The simple, achievable looks popularized by the likes of Sade and CBK aren't unlike those of the fictional friends at the heart of Sex and the City. Lips in deep berry and red tones, lightly groomed brows, and sensual eye makeup paired with timeless accessories (think CBK's tortoiseshell headbands and Sade's eye-catching gold hoops) make a deadly combination my generation seemingly can't get enough of.

In this month's issue of Gen Z Says, I'm diving into '90s minimalistic beauty for anyone ready to hop on the trend revival, starting with the must-have products. Plus, I've pulled together some of my favorite fragrances inspired by the two beauty muses of yesteryear who've remained as influential today as they were at the turn of the century.

The Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy Look

Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy '90s-Inspired Beauty

(Image credit: Getty Images)

CBK-Inspired Fragrances: Clean and Floral

Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

(Image credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Getty Images)

The Sade Look

Sade Adu '90s-Inspired Beauty

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sade-Inspired Fragrances: Warm and Sensual

Sade '90s Beauty Look

(Image credit: Ullstein Bild Dtl/Getty Images)
Maya Thomas
Assistant Beauty Editor
Maya Thomas is Who What Wear's assistant beauty editor based just outside of Seattle, Washington. Her strong love for all things beauty and fashion stems from a strong childhood interest in the fine arts. During a gap year spent in Paris studying the history of French fashion, she shifted her focus to English literature and journalism as a student at Loyola Marymount University with the goal of one day pursuing a career in fashion. After graduating in May 2021, Maya began freelancing for Parade.com as a contributing commerce writer while also building a following on her lifestyle blog, Itsmayalala.com. When she's not writing, Maya spends her free time catching up on reading, perusing art galleries, and enjoying a night out at the ballet every now and then.