Long Live ’90s TV Beauty

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I know, I know–it’s virtually impossible to capture the timeless beauty of the ’90s into one article, no matter how ambitious. Everyone has their own little pocket of the ’90s they hold near and dear; their own mental photo album of the decade’s greatest beauty hits. I wouldn’t have dared to throw my hat into the ring until I started watching Living Single for the first time. The show is centered around six friends who go through all kinds of personal and professional adventures in New York, and hilarity ensues. But before I finished the first season, I found myself pausing more than watching so I could screenshot looks to save. I’ve come to love the doll-like femininity of Regine and the tomboy-meets-HBIC energy that Khadijah carries into her wardrobe and uncomplicated makeup. And then there’s the endlessly creative hair. Of note is Maxine’s, which sets a standard for bob braids that’s only rivaled by Moesha’s.

That began my wormhole of a revisit to ’90s TV. But I’m not mad that my queue’s full of nostalgia-rousing shows—it makes for a comforting nightcap, like hanging out with an old bestie. But the beauty! That’s what I’m tuning in for. Here’s my catalog of the onscreen muses I’ve long appreciated, starting with…

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Josie Packard in Twin Peaks

David Lynch has made a career of centering alluring, emotionally unavailable women who just happen to be out-of-this-world beautiful. I know a lot of people were swayed by the girlish charms of Audrey Horne and Donna Hayward, another troubled beauty, but Josie Packard stood out to me. Her crimson lips implied her strength when her character was more reserved, and her inky cut that looked best slicked and parted was fresh in a world where more retro ideas of femininity took the lead.

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Pamela James in Martin

The girl knew how to banter! The Serena Williams of comebacks, Pam regularly set Martin and his friends straight, and did so in two-pieces worth a mint and with perfectly laid hair. Her go-to was a ponytail, or any other style that pushed the hair away from her face…she had to keep an eye out, with her perfect eyebrows framing the way. She was relentlessly independent and heavy on the personality–I can relate!

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Laura Lee Winslow in Family Matters

Quality television is when you can watch characters come into themselves through the course of a show. For Laura, that meant her quirkiness matured into wit, and her makeup and hair went from child-like (she was a kid, after all) to the soft, minimal aesthetic that defined the decade. I wouldn’t say that ribboned pigtails are the best look to debut a character with, but seeing her embrace an easy chignon and brown lip as the show went on had me dreaming of being all grown up. My favorite haircut? The Nia Long pixie, which reminds me that…

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All the women in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

…Were deities. It’s incredible that the Banks women always found ways to impart their individualities into their looks. Props to the costume and makeup department, because there was never a point that I wasn’t inspired by everyone in the ensemble cast. Hilary made me want to get thin eyebrows so I, too, could scrunch them in confusion throughout the day. Ashley made me want to take a scissor to my T-shirts and get bangs. Vivian Banks (the first one) made me want to join a dance class and try a hot press—just not in that order. All of Will Smith’s love interests were muses in their own right, too. I don’t know if Will always deserved Lisa’s consistent smoky eye or Jackie’s shiny honey brown hair (and patience), but I loved to see their stories unfold.

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Fran Fine in The Nanny

A style icon if there ever was one, but also a shining example of using a Bump-It in a socially acceptable fashion. As I’ve rewatched The Nanny, I’ve found a new appreciation for leg care…what body oil do you think she used??

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Dana Scully in The X-Files

There’s a subtle glamour to the canonically practical FBI Agent Dana Scully: her auburn-red hair, her ability to wear a full face of makeup with glasses on, her love of wearing a nude lip. At the same time, she works on her computer by candlelight. She was easily more brilliant than her sidekick Fox Mulder, but always open-minded, and knowing how to curl the ends of her bob just so.

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Angela Moore in Boy Meets World

Seeing Angela on Boy Meets World was refreshing, not only because she had a full, dimensional arc, but also because she was allowed to be vulnerable and compassionate despite her less than perfect backstory. And I believe…she was the first Black “hipster” I ever saw on TV. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone else on the small screen with her Bantu-knots meets box braid hairstyle. I’ll never forget how affirming it was to see a Black girl who was creative, wore her hair natural (when she felt like it!), and dated the cutest guy on the show.

There’s so many more to add to the list, but this is a good starting point, right? Before my eye starts to wander towards the early aughts…let me know who your favorite ’90s beauty muse is below.

—Utibe Mbagwu

Screenshots via Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix





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