This list of classic ’90s hairstyles, many of them inspired by the hottest celebrities of the decade, is proof that some things are best left in the past. But mostly, it's clear that what's old often becomes new again. From Brandy's braids to Missy's waves, reminisce on these "hype" and "sophisticated" looks that you remember dog-earing in your favorite black hair magazines.
The short, cropped do
Call it the Halle Berry or the Toni Braxton or the Nia Long, but the short haircut was one of the most popular hairstyles of the '90s. From Halle's slightly longer do in 1992's Boomerang to Nia's ultra-short style in 1995's Friday, this look required quite the touch-up to remain in top-notch shape.
Ask for Poetic Justice-style braids and every black hairstylist oughta know exactly what you want: box braids. These thick, rope-like braids were also worn by Jamaican singer Patra, who released her debut album, Queen of the Pack, in 1993, the same year Poetic Justice was released in theaters.
Platinum blond hair
Mary J. Blige wore platinum blond tresses on the cover of her second album and has kept up with blond hair of different hues and styles ever since. She wore it in long braids on the cover of My Life and has since worn her hair in bobs (see the “Be Happy” video), ponytails and cropped dos. Several other artists in the ’90s donned golden locks as well, including Eve, Lil' Kim and Faith Evans.
Micro braids are the small, take-all-day-to-install cousin to box braids. Brandy Norwood popularized the style on the hit ’90s show Moesha. She had black girls everywhere running to hair braiders from South Central to the South Bronx to look just like "Mo to the, E to the." Brandy wore numerous types of braids—from shorter, slightly thicker ones in the "I Wanna Be Down" video to longer, thinner ones in the video for "The Boy Is Mine."
Back when music lovers flocked to Sam Goody or Blockbuster Music or their local music store to cop CDs in the ’90s—and could even buy an album single—Missy Elliott's cover art for "Hit Em Wit Da Hee" featured the rapper with a hairstyle so wavy you might get seasick. Missy sported finger waves on this cover as well as in her epic music video for "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)." Your favorite auntie probably rocked 'em, too.
The Aaliyah swoop and wrap
After a fresh perm or a press, perfecting that side part was crucial in order to guarantee that your swoop was one in a million, just like Aaliyah's. The singer's second studio album cover—along with the video for "One in a Million"—is the greatest example of the coveted swoop. Maintenance was also key for this look. Wrapping your hair every night guaranteed a longer lasting do. Did anyone else take pics from magazines to their hairstylist to achieve the look?
You know the routine: Slick that hair up into a high ponytail, then lay those edges down with a little water, an old toothbrush, some gel or maybe even some Vaseline. Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas wasn't the first to rock baby hair, but she might win the crown for keeping up with them the longest. Here she is on Instagram a couple of months ago, edges still laid for the gawds.
This hairstyle was a simple way to make sure your bun was full and flourishing. Cut the toe of an old black sock, roll it up, pull your ponytail through the hole, then strategically move your hair over the sock for the perfectly shaped bun. You were really poppin' if you had the baby hair laid, too. Now it's easier than ever to achieve this look—just buy a foam bun donut.
If you don't immediately remember this hairstyle as the "mushroom," just call it the black girl hair hat: a short, almost-bowl-cut-style hairdo, where the bangs are long and the back hangs at about the same length. Robin Harris' love interest in Bebe's Kids, Jamika, rocked it. Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins wore a rendition of the hairstyle in the 1994 video "Creep," with a few longer strands on both sides of her face. Harriet Winslow rocked her own version, too, as a sort of black woman's mullet situation, with short layers up top and a long back that's bumped under.
That sleek perm
Every ’90s girl knew the "Just for Me" song—even if you didn't have a perm. Black radio played it out, and the jingle was just too cute and peppy to not catch on. "I want style, body and shine. A look that's to-tal-ly all mine. Hair so soft, silky and free …" You know the rest. To get that sleek, straight look, young girls and grown women were spared a long sitdown with the hot comb for a press in order to ensure a few minutes with the tinge of the creamy crack.
In the ’90s, the French roll hairstyle was designated for days when your hair needed a little extra flair. Need a fancy updo for a wedding or special occasion? Ask your beautician for a sleek French roll. Whitney Houston pulled one together on New Year's Eve in the first scene of Waiting to Exhale. And then again, the next year, in The Preacher's Wife for her date with Denzel.