90s Fashion: TLC’s old school hip-hop style in iconic outfits

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90s Fashion: TLC's old school hip-hop style in iconic outfits

 

TLC is the blueprint for girl groups. Formed in Atlanta in 1991 TLC — Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye”Lopes & Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas — became not only the bestselling American girl group of all time, but the most influential as well. The trio redefined contemporary R&B through their innovative hip-hop beats, digital nuances, and deep grooves. The group’s smooth sound was bolstered by honest, empowering lyrics that spoke to women’s independence and strength, and tackled topics from self-esteem (“Unpretty”) to HIV/AIDS (“Waterfalls”). Through the 90s and into the Y2K era. TLCFour top-ten singles, including the slinky, were scored “Creep”The anthemic “No Scrubs.”

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In addition to their groundbreaking sound, TLC’s style is eternally influential. The group’s larger-than-life, matching-not-matching wardrobe set the standard for future female ensembles like Destiny’s Child. And traces of the trio’s signature look — a mix of sporty, gothy and street — can be seen, today, in the GHE20G0TH1K movements and the style of stars like Rihanna and Billie Eilish. Here, we take a look back at some of TLC’s most iconic outfits from the 90s through to Y2K.

tlc posing on the red carpet of the billboard music awards in air brushed shirts 1992

The 1992 Billboard Music Awards

“From day one, we always admired male R&B groups. They would go onstage with no shirt on and baggy jeans and girls would scream,” Chilli told Teen Vogue in 2017, speaking to TLC’s early years. “When I met T-Boz and Left-Eye, they were buying jeans that were a size 38. Three little cute girls dressed like boys was cool back then. Our style was cartoonish but fly at the same time.” Here, one year after their debut, the group attends the 1992 Billboard Music Awards in support of their quadruple platinum-selling first album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. The trio is wearing oversized denim. To resemble the look from the movie, the girls spray-painted the shirts. “What About Your Friends” video. And spot the condom hanging from Chilli’s vest? TLC was known for accessorizing their looks with contraceptives in order to promote safe sex in the early 90s. T-Boz explained to Teen Vogue: “We wanted to empower young girls to have their own stash of condoms and not to leave it up to the guys. Some parents thought we were telling their kids to have sex. But we were making a fashion statement to make it easier to talk about sex.”

tlc posing on the red carpet at the mtv movie awards in dolce & gabbana boxers 1995

Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

1995 MTV Movie Awards

Another of TLC’s signature borrowed-from-the-boy-groups looks: the exposed boxer. “We’d been wearing boxer shorts since the beginning, but we got a little fancy around this time,” T-Boz told W Magazine2017: These Dolce & Gabbana waistbanded, Dolce & Gabbana shirts were worn to the 1995 MTV Movie Awards.

tlc wearing leather and tiny sunglasses at the blockbuster awards 1996

Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Blockbuster Awards 1996

TLC was seen in full Neo cosplay at the 1996 Blockbuster Awards four years before The Matrix reached theatres. It’s not true. But these outfits are so prescient to the film’s leather-clad look — right down to the tiny sunglasses — it’s uncanny.

tlc wearing bikinis and iridescent pants at the soul train awards 1996

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At the Soul Train Awards 1996

In 1995, TLC brought stylist Julieanne Mijares on board to create costumes for the group’s “Waterfalls” video. (Remember). those watercolour trousers? In addition to “Waterfalls”, Julieanne is responsible for some of TLC’s most memorable looks. Think the group’s sheer Grammy’s tuxedos in 1996 or “No Scrubs” black vinyl space suits. Or these sparkling jewel-tone looks worn to the 1996 Soul Train Awards. Initial styled with matching organza blazersThese ensembles are reminiscent of the silk PJs of yesteryear. TLC’s “Creep” video. Crazy, sexy, cool, indeed.

tlc wearing white organza two piece suits at the grammy awards 1996

Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

1996 Grammy Awards

These looks are at the intersection between street, gothy, and sporty. We’ve got tripp pants in ripstop and silk organza, oversized blazers, fuzzy sports bras, a top hat and an XXL belt chain. Styled by the group’s long-time collaborator Julieanne, these tuxedos were worn to the 1996 Grammys, where the group won two awards and delivered one of the most searing industry takedowns in Grammy press room history.

“No Scrubs”1999 music video

This is more than a chart-topping hit. “No Scrubs” is one of Y2K’s definitive anthems: a paean of self-respect, a takedown of deadbeat guys and, as Washington Post journalist Lonnae O’Neal Parker put it “a reaction to 20 years of hip-hop misogyny.”The word is also popularized. “scrub”The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999 and the year-end charts. The song was also certified triple platinum in the UK in 2001, proving its timeless appeal. Also iconic is the single’s Hype Williams-directed music video, which epitomizes the turn-of-the-millennium’s sleek, futuristic aesthetics. The clip shows the group performing in a space station while wearing a trio of vinyl spacesuits. Six months after the video’s release, TLC scooped the VMA for Best Group Video wearing luxe leather iterations of their iconic “No Scrubs” looks.

Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Kids’ Choice Awards, 1999

1999 “No Scrubs”TLC brought TLC on the awards shows circuit, where the single garnered the group multiple nominations as well as wins, including a VMA (Best Group Video) and a Grammy (Best R&B Performance). On their 1990 tour, the group also attended the Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, where they were nominated for Favorite Music Group. In addition to performing, “No Scrubs” getting slimedThis trio wore a trifecta of child-friendly outfits with a Sesame Street logo. A statement-making ensemble fit only for one of R&B’s foremost ensembles.

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