I was born in 1998, at the end of the decade that I love. Titanic was in theaters, Britney Spears released… Baby One More Time, Geri Halliwell quit the Spice Girls, and Apple released the bright turquoise iMac computer.
I was too young to enjoy these things, but my first home in Mansfield was full of 90s decor. I loved the fun. The hallway was decorated with tongue-and-groove woodwork, green and terracotta wallpaper. We had a tangerine kitchen with bottle green appliances, and my bedroom was covered in suns and moons. Homes weren’t decorated for Instagram back then. People were less shy and not afraid to experiment. I moved about 15 times during my childhood, but anything from the 90s felt like me.
As a teenager, I loved finding abandoned 90s memorabilia at garage sales and charity shops. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s and came out as gay at 15. I was often portrayed as different, so I toned down my interests. But in sixth grade, I met other people with eclectic tastes, so I started having fun and dressing in Levi’s 501s, silk shirts and loose sweaters Sweater Shop and Kangol – the quintessential 90s uniform.
I had built a collection of 90s tech at home. Dad gave me a Kenwood stereo for my 14th birthday – he bought it for £40 at an online auction. I bought the first iMac from 1998 for £50 on eBay and an old Sanyo TV after seeing an ad in the newspaper. I use them all, although the functionality of the computer is limited. I bought all the Now That’s What I Call music CDs from 1990 to 1999 from record stores, charity shops and eBay, and collected hardcover interior books from the decade, including catalogs Laura Ashley for £2 each.
I’m now an illustrator and a lot of my work is inspired by the 90s. Two years ago my boyfriend, Matthew, and I moved into a cottage with my parents in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Mom and Dad gave me free rein to decorate. I gave Mom a full bedroom at Laura Ashley with pale pink and white floral bedding. The kitchen has yellow appliances from the 90s, like those of my grandmother.
In the living room there is a CD tower with albums from Blur, the Cardigans, Dubstar and Steps. A Spice Girls calendar hangs on the door and we have an old VHS player. I look at my Vicar of Dibley box set on it. I drive an old blue Austin Metro and recently bought myself a project car, a beige 1984 Toyota Carina, to fix up.
Matthew wasn’t interested in the 90s when we first started dating, but after three years together my interest has rubbed off on him too, and we share clothes. Everyone in our little village knows me because of the way I dress. When I go to Manchester or Sheffield I fit in more, especially now that the 90s are popular again. I used to have looks that suggested I was from another planet. It’s great to see the resurgence, but it drives prices up, which is annoying. I saw a shirt I bought for £1 from a charity shop years ago that sold for £60 in a vintage shop.
During confinement, I shared videos from home on TikTok. I wanted to bring nostalgia and joy during a miserable time. People messaged me saying it reminded them of the homes and parents they loved; others have offered to send me souvenirs. I’ve met friends online who are in different decades and we send each other charity shop finds. I have a friend who is obsessed with the 70s; I sent her Pyrex glasses and a Candlewick bedspread.
Socially and politically, we’ve come a long way since the 90s. As a gay man, it wasn’t a decade that would have been easy for me, but I’m happy to enjoy his legacy. It is still current. Watching the Free Britney affair was heartbreaking: I love watching reruns of Top of the Pops when she was a teenager and it’s sad to think how bad it got for her. But I loved seeing the big comebacks, like Steps and the Spice Girls.
I don’t take my self-interest too seriously. I have a smartphone, I use the internet, but my personal tastes have turned into a lifestyle that I find fun. When people ask me why I do it, there is no other reason than it gives me joy. Isn’t that enough?
As told to Deborah Linton
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