Words by Mikelah Rose
If you ask most dancehall aficionados, the ’90s is usually their favorite era musically. It was also the most visually stimulating era, especially when it came to the women. The dances got sexier and the fashion became just as raunchy, with “bare as you dare” scantily clad style becoming more and more prevalent as the decade went on. For this new generation of dancehall queens, it was always about outdoing the next gal with your own signature style. Popular trends included jumpsuits, ankle-length shorts, knee-length vests and jackets and pants three times as big…and that’s just the men! Some of the ladies put a feminine twist on baggy fashion with a feminine twist, while others were ready to “skin out” with g-string body suits, cutout dresses and, of course, the ubiquitous pum pum shorts.
Popular dancehall queen Carlene (see above), one of the most well known fashion icons of the era in Jamaica, often wore patent leather thigh-high boots, fishnet stockings and cut out body suits that fit her like a glove. Carlene would saunter her curvaceous body on stage and in the dancehall, garnering much attention everywhere she went. Those that weren’t on the scene at the time might recognize her as the blonde bombshell in Chaka Demus & Pliers’ classic “Murder She Wrote”:
With the rise of the dancehall queen came the 1997 movie Dancehall Queen, which displayed early 90’s dancehall fashion in all its glory on the big screen and on VHS, catapulting its salacious style to international attention. Now, the world knew: bright shorts, bold patterns and colorful hair to match—getting ready for the dancehall was a unique sort of production for ladies, and you could never wear the same outfit twice.
We showed you a glimpse of young Patra’s style in our look back at dancehall fashion in the ’80s, but the self titled “Queen of the Pack” really found her style in the ’90’s, when she became famous for her signature goddess braids and tight oufits. She often mixed her style between baggy shirts and pants and form fitting pumpum shorts, body suits and mid-drift tops.
Shabba Ranks took the ’90s dancehall, “bigger is better” approach and freaked it in his own way. The chiseled DJ often liked to show off his body, wearing cut out button-up shirts and oversized suits with high shoulder pads. Shabba was often fully accessorized in all gold everything– watches, chains, rings and bracelets. And who can forget those round framed wire glasses?
The U.S.-based duo Born Jamericans were heavily influenced by hip-hop, infusing the style in their music as well as their clothes. While their music was equally inspired by the dancehall that was coming out of Jamaica at the time, they rocked the combat boots, baggy jeans and oversized shirts that were synonymous with New York hip-hop at the time. This style also resonated with many Jamaican dancehall performers like Bounty Killer and Beenie Man and of course, Bronx-based, Jamaica-born Boogie Down Productions deejay Mad Lion.
Stay tuned as we bring you up to di time on current dancehall styles.