MR Magazine 90s covers
by John Jones

Remember the day a suave, bearded Stu Nifoussi ­first turned up in your office pushing ads in a fledgling trade mag called MR (no it’s not called Mister!)? Or the ­first time Karen Alberg waltzed into your store to take blurry photos with a clunky camera (and film!) and record the interview on a large plastic Sony device that used tapes? What else was going on that day? Did you stop by Borders during your lunch break to grab the latest book by your favorite management guru? Did you scatter Post-It Notes throughout your copy of the Wall Street Journal to share features with coworkers? As we celebrate 30 years of MR magazine, we look back on what else was happening in the world that surely influenced your business, your customers, and menswear trends in general.

Party Like It’s 1990

The 1990s doesn’t sound like it was that long ago, but when you walked into the office that morning, you might have been jamming to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” on your bright yellow Sony Walkman Sports edition. You wouldn’t have had a mobile phone in your pocket unless it was a Motorola Microtac. Milli Vanilli was out—Girl, You Know It’s True—and Mariah Carey was in with her own “Vision of Love”. Maybe you went to see Ghost or Pretty Woman that weekend at the movie theater…or else stopped by Blockbuster to grab a VHS tape, or just kicked back and watched Seinfeld…not that there was anything wrong with that.

On the news, George H.W. Bush had been president for about a year, the USSR was crumbling, Germany reuniting. Iraq invaded Kuwait for the start of the first Gulf War. Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990. The U.S. debt was at $3.2 trillion, unemployment hovered around 5 percent, minimum wage (depending on your state) hovered at around $5 an hour, and a regular stamp was 25 cents.

Needed to get an order out to a vendor quickly? You probably had a secretary type up a memo…on an actual typewriter—which you’d send via fax…or maybe you still were using a Telex machine? No email quite yet…the Internet didn’t happen until 1991!

Although financial industries held to higher standards, 53 percent of companies allowed casual dress by 1998.

Customer Relationship Management was becoming a phenomenon at retail, offering everything from coupons to discounts to “BOGOs” to get customers to surrender their personal details for mailing lists so we could entice them to clip more coupons and come back to the store. Six Sigma, part of the quality management trend (still going strong in some circles), grew out of its roots in Motorola to invade all sorts of companies….and make a whole lot of consultants a whole lot of money in the process.

2000 Maniacs

If you were an early adopter when the 2000s rolled around, you might have been listening to your music on one of the ­ first MP3 players; the iPod wouldn’t be easing your commute until 2001. Saying “Bye Bye Bye” to the 1990s, we were asking “Who Let the Dogs Out?”…still a wedding favorite. You might have left the movies that weekend feeling like a 90-pound weakling after ogling Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Marvel launched the first of (so far) 13 X-Men movies. Jake Gyllenhaal broke out with Donnie Darko, while Cast Away made us worry just a bit about that stack of pricey samples we sent out via FedEx. Settling down at home with The West Wing (Sheen for 2020!), we even admitted our addiction to The Sopranos.

Bill Clinton was ­finishing up his second term as president, the Air France Concorde crash in Paris brought supersonic passenger jet travel to a close…a sad precursor to the terrorist attacks of September 11th more than a year later which would have worldwide political and economic consequences. George W. Bush narrowly won the November election, making the term “hanging chad” more than just a threat to the guy bringing your daughter home late. The U.S. debt now stood at $5.6 trillion, unemployment fell to 4 percent, minimum wage was around $5 an hour, and a regular stamp cost 33 cents.

We relied on our PalmPilots to keep us organized—although it wouldn’t be too much longer before they’d be replaced with BlackBerries and iPhones—and as the dotcom era ushered in a whole new approach to work, you may have dodged a bean bag chair or a foosball table while making your way to your desk. By now, email was the norm—and you were likely writing all of those yourself.

Paco Underhill

Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point turned Hush Puppies from a shoe brand into a case study way before the term In­fluencer would become a line item in our marketing budgets. Closer to home, Paco Underhill had us rearranging our store shelves while menswear’s own Jack Mitchell was teaching the world how to hug.

2010 Percent

We weren’t quite “feelin’ ­fly like a G6” as we headed to work in 2010; cranking Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” or Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” through the EarPods of our iPhone 4S. When you got home that night, if you weren’t streaming Avatar on your Apple TV, you might have been completely caught up in Breaking Bad, or heading for a night out to see Inception or The Social Network.

President Barack Obama—whose 2008 election was itself a landmark—was busy cleaning up one of the biggest financial debacles of our time. A BP oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 people and dumping an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. We all watched breathlessly as 33 Chilean miners were rescued after spending 68 days trapped half a mile underground. Couture designer Alexander McQueen committed suicide on February 11th of that year. Violent crime in the United States hit a 20 year low in 2010, and Bob’s Red Mill CEO Bob Moore gave his entire company to his workers upon his retirement. The U.S. debt was at $13.5 trillion, unemployment was nearly 10 percent, minimum wage was just over $7 an hour, and a regular stamp was 44 cents.

You might have started your day telecommuting from home, but you weren’t asking Siri for help quite yet…that would take another year, and Alexa wouldn’t have invaded your home until 2014. At the office, you might have been leaning on your CIO to get that Shopify site up and running while trying to sort out just what those kids in marketing were doing with this Instagram thing… (The hugely successful Old Spice Guy viral campaign garnered nearly 40 million views in its first week in 2010).

Although Sustainability (with a capital “s”) was still more representative of customer demand. The relentless pursuit of shareholder value—sometimes at the expense of all else—was driving both Wall Street and Main Street. Online retailing grew to the point that megaretailers began closing doors. (If you were reading Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, or Justin Halpern’s Shit My Dad Says, you probably got it on Amazon!)

To the 2020s…

Where will we be ten years from now? With the pace of change accelerating at a ridiculous rate, it’s hard to even imagine. You might be dressing in front of a virtual reality mirror in your bedroom…not that you’ll have to dress for work once C3PO takes over the C-Suite. In any case, may we all be around to find out!