Mariah Carey's '90s Looks Are What We Need But Don't Deserve

The first time I was introduced to Mariah Carey in all of her glamour was when I was about 8 years old and watched the music video for her single "Honey." There's a shot of a white curtain blowing around Carey, obscuring different parts of her outfit as the camera pans up her figure. She stands in a two-piece set made up of a white miniskirt and tube top and towers in high heels as her windblown hair whips around her. It was everything I thought I'd be one day as an adult. (Still working on that.) The unabashed glamour of Carey's style was something I wanted to emulate and became a major source of inspiration for my own personal style. In fact, my brother—who introduced me to Carey's music—and I still regularly use "Mariah '97" as verbal shorthand for looking and feeling our most glamorous. ("I felt very Mariah '97 in that dress.")

Carey launched her career in 1990, a debut that coincided with the ushering in of a new decade and, with it, a transition in style as the maximalist vibrancy of the '80s quickly gave way to the pared-back fashion of the '90s. Despite the rapidly changing tastes of the era, Carey's style was definable from the start as a modern interpretation of the bombshell and has remained consistent throughout her career.

While Carey's way of dressing has often been described in hyperbole as outrageous or over-the-top—typically with a "diva" label thrown somewhere in the mix—it was rare, particularly in the '90s, to see Carey in the lavish sequins, furs, and ornamental jewelry associated with the traditional bombshells of Old Hollywood. Carey, who has repeatedly named Marilyn Monroe as her own style icon, incorporated sleek '90s minimalism into her high-glam look: neutral color palettes and fitted silhouettes, strappy heels and high hemlines, spaghetti straps and halter tops.

Carey's beauty looks were also resplendent in staples of the era. The curled, coiffed hair and brightly colored lipstick of the bombshell were swapped for long, sleek blowouts, smoky eyes, and nude lips

Since there's always room to take style to its next, most glamorous level, we're providing inspiration with some of the quintessential looks that defined Carey's elevated take on the '90s bombshell.

The gold detailing on the buttons and chain straps completely elevate this LBD. Here, Carey attends the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1994.

Carey in a casual Calvin Klein look at the designer's show during Fall Fashion Week in 1994.

Here, Carey was attending Todd Oldham's 1994 show at Fall Fashion Week. We appreciate a subtle grunge moment from MC.

Carey in a matching Chanel set in 1994. Usually, she opted for neutrals during this era, but the pink makes this such a fun look.

Brown leather is always a yes. Note the matching blazer thrown across the shoulder.

Let me just jot this down. Longline leather jacket over minidress… got it.

A lesson in how to style stripes. Carey in Giorgio Armani in 1996.

We love a three-piece set. This is, dare I say, a casual look for Carey, who wore it at a film premiere in 1997. There's the subtlest touch of sequins on the blouse and matching cardigan.

A '60s-inspired look complete with patent boots and a high, half-up hairstyle.

Yes, Mariah, show off the open back. This is a more traditional bombshell look.

How gorgeous is the rich gold on this dress?

Carey at the 1997 MTV Music Video Awards—one of my personal favorite looks of hers.

Carey's VH1 Divas '98 look has truly had me in its grasp since I was 8 years old. The big hair, the shimmering gold dress… This is what I thought I would be as an adult.

An off-the-shoulder ensemble, the patent leather detailing along the neckline is so subtle but impactful.

Have we brought back the sweater wrapped around the waist yet? We should. This is a '97 look at a film premiere.

Let's also take in the gorgeous curls.

An outfit that could have easily come out of 2021. The ruched detailing and cowl neckline feel so current.

Carey at a benefit party in 1998. Manifesting this outfit for my next going-out look.

The simple white dress is stunning, but the berry color palette for the makeup is giving major beauty inspiration.

Carey really mastered the art of both trendy and timeless outfits.

Carey wearing jeans with a cutoff waistband, a look she popularized in the late '90s with her music video for the single "Heartbreaker" in 1999.

Okay, okay, this was technically taken in April 2000, but it felt like a crime to not include Carey in her iconic butterfly top by Emanuel Ungaro.

Related Stories