Cultural Guide to the 1990s

Art and Architecture

1990 - The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum becomes the sight of the largest art theft in history when criminals make off with art worth over $300 million. - Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh sets a record by selling for over $80 million.


1992 - Written by John Gray, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, becomes an international bestseller and a pop culture reference. - Black literature achieves broad crossover appeal when Toni Morrison's Waiting to Exhale remains a staple on The New York Times bestseller list for months.

1997 - J.K. Rowling's release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is an instant hit with young audiences and goes on to win numerous book awards. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) would be even more successful.

1999 - Stephen King, Anne Rice, Danielle Steel, John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, and Tom Clancy release popular works of fiction throughout the decade. 


1990 - With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany is soon reunited into a single state. - After multiple delays and well over budget, The Hubble Space Telescope launches.

1991 - Citizen unrest and economic instability leads to the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. - The superior technology and military strength of the United States brings a quick end to the Gulf War and defeat of Iraq.

1992 - Videotaped footage of Rodney King being beaten does not prevent the acquittal of the officers charged in his beating. In the Los Angeles Riots that follow: widespread looting, arson, and assault occurs. - Terrorists bomb The World Trade Center and kill six. - Bill Clinton becomes President of the United States and remains so for the rest of the decade. - Dubbed the "Dream Team," National Basketball Association (NBA) players compete in the Olympics for the first time in 1992. Four years later, they bring home a second gold medal.

1993 - Cult leader David Koresh and 80 members of his cult die by fire in the Waco standoff.

1994 - A players strike prevents the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason and cancels the World Series.

1995 - The bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma kills 168 people and injuries hundreds more.

1996 - Dolly the sheep becomes the first cloned mammal. - An injured Kerri Strug successfully sticks her second vault to lead the American Women’s Gymnastics team to its first overall gold win. - The Atlanta Games turn somber when a pipe bomb explodes and kills one. 

1997 - The East Coast-West Coast Hip Hop Rivalry comes to a head with the drive by shooting death of 2Pac in 1996. Rival rapper Bigge Smalls is shot dead in the beginning of 1997.

1998 - The MLB home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa stirs interest in the sport once again.

1999 - Friendly mergers and more hostile takeovers dominate the '90s. In 1999, Exxon Corporation and Mobil Corporation became ExxonMobil. The Euro becomes the official currency of the European Union. - World wide panic is in place as computers everywhere are expected to crash due to the millennium bug. - A killing spree at Columbine High School makes world headlines. – The world population officially totals over six billion. Unemployment rates in the United States reach a new low of four percent.

Fads and Fashions

1990 - Denim is worn everywhere and makes it into corporate America for Casual Friday's. Acid wash denim jeans are trendy in the early part of the decade while denim overalls are worn for comfortable style. Hippie inspired wide-leg pants become a hit as the era fades out. 

1992 - Grunge rockers bring ripped jeans, long messy hair, and flannel shirts into popular appeal. - Instead of just getting ears pierced, experimentation encourages youth to pierce tongues, lips, and even genitalia.

1995 - Plush animals known as Beanie Babies become a hot collector's item in the later half of the '90s until their popularity began to wane at the end of the decade. - Hip Hop looks began to dominate youth fashions. Baggy jeans in every color imaginable, loose sweaters, oversized gold chains, and braided hairstyles became stylish.

1996 - Tickle Me Elmo is the most have holiday toy for the Christmas season and a short supply causes more than a few fights among parents. The Tamagatchi, handheld digital pets are an instant success. - All black clothing, spiked hair, face tattoos, dark dramatic makeup, and neon colored hairstyles began showing up as part of the Goth movement as the era progressed.

1998 – With short supply and high demand for the Furby toy during the holiday season, some enterprising owners resell for hundreds of dollars. - Pokemon trading cards are released in North America to feverish interest. - Hair scrunchies, butterfly hair clips, facial glitter, slap bracelets, baby doll dresses, and mini backpacks are all considered fashionable at some point during the '90s.

Historic Documents and Legislature

1990 - The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 granted civil protection to individuals suffering from disabilities.

1993 - President Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy bans gays in the military who are open about their sexual orientation.

1994 - The North American Free Trade Agreement creates a free trade zone between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. - The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires federal background checks for any individuals buying firearms.

1997 - To help low income families become self-sufficient, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families act begins offering cash assistance.

People & Personalities

1990 - Anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela is freed from prison after spending 27 years behind bars. – Billionaire Donald Trump spends most of the decade dealing with financial problems and files corporate bankruptcy. - After leading the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive NBA Championships from 1990 to 1993, Michael Jordan briefly retires to play Minor League Baseball. After his return, Jordan leads the bulls to another stunning three championships before retiring again in 1999.

1991 - Popular basketball player, Magic Johnson shocks the league and the world by announcing he is HIV positive and retires from the NBA.

1992- Ross Perot decides to run for president as an independent and becomes the most successful third place finisher. After forming the Reform Party and campaigning again, Ross once again came in third.

1994 - With blacks finally allowed to vote in a South African election, Nelson Mandela becomes the nation's first black president. - Figure skating rival Tonya Harding arranges an attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Her knee injury does not prevent Kerrigan from winning silver one month later at the Olympics.

1995 – Oprah is the first black women represented on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans. During the decade, Oprah also wins several Emmy Awards, releases several successful books and forms Oxygen Media. - Football star OJ Simpson is acquitted of murder charges in the death of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. 

1997 - Diana, princess of Wales dies when her vehicle crashes while trying to evade paparazzi. Madeleine Albright becomes the first female to become U.S. Secretary of State. - Bobbi McCaughey delivers a healthy set of sextuplets.

1998 - Clinton's admits to an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky after initially lying. Clinton is acquitted at his impeachment trial in 1999.

1999 - John F. Kennedy, Jr. dies after his plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean.

Music, TV, and Movies

1990 Law & Order hits the airwaves and other medical and police TV dramas follow including NYPD Blue and ER

1990 - Dances with Wolves wins the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1990. Following in order till 1999 are: Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, Schindler's List, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love and American Beauty.

1991 Disney scores big with Beauty and the Beast; later animated classics: Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998) are also successes.

1992 - MTV kicked off the reality show craze with the first season of The Real World. – The Cosby Show goes off the air, but a wave of popular black themed sitcoms follow with crossover appeal including: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, Living Single and A Different World. - Jay Leno takes over for Johnny Carson as the permanent host of The Tonight Show.

1993The X-Files becomes an international hit and opens up TV audiences to other similarly themed science fiction programs. - Controversial animated program Beavis and Butt-head is noted for its crudeness.

1994 – Due to the popularity of the first season of Friends, women copy the Rachel, a layered haircut worn by Jennifer Anniston.

1995 - Based of a novel by Terry McMillian, Waiting to Exhale featured a mostly black cast and proves an audience exists for black themed entertainment. 1998s How Stella Got Her Groove Back would also be popular.

1997 - Titanic becomes the most successful film of all time with $1.8 billion in revenue. - South Park, an adult cartoon, is an instant hit and causes controversy. - Will Smith stars in Independence Day, then follows up with Men in Black (1997); two of the highest grossing films of all times.

1999 - Considered by many to be the greatest show of the decade, Seinfeld dominated TV until the end of the decade.

Popular Musicians & Bands

1990 – Mariah Carey releases her self titled debut album. Multiple follow-ups including: Music Box (1993), Daydream (1995), and Butterfly (1997), help Carey become the most successful artist of the decade.

1991 - Michael Jackson releases Dangerous, his most successful album of the '90s. Boyz II Men's first album, Cooleyhighharmony helps restore glamour to Motown. Their "One Sweet Day" duet with Mariah Carey spends an unbroken record of 16 weeks atop the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1995.

1995 - Mexican-American singer Selena is murdered by her fan club manager. – Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette becomes one of the largest albums of all time and releases multiple singles.

1996 - The Spice Girls become one of the best selling music groups and sing about "girl power" with the release of their first album Spice. By 1998 however, original member Geri Halliwell had quit the band. - Lisa Marie Presley files for divorce from Michael Jackson.

1997 - The Backstreet Boys achieve international success with the release of Backstreet Boys. Millennium (1999) would become the biggest release of the decade with over 40 million copies sold.

1998 - Britney Spears gained attention notoriety by wearing a sexy schoolgirl uniform in the video for her first single, "...Baby One More Time" - As the theme to Titanic Celine Dion's single "My Heart Will Go On" proved to be as unstoppable as the film and became the best selling single of the year.

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