Twenty-five years ago, the first episode of Blossom aired on NBC. Although the pilot had some marked differences from the way the series unfolded (among other things, different actors played Blossom’s parents, and they weren’t divorced), precocious teenager Blossom Russo (Mayim Bialik) possessed the same spunk and worldly demeanor that made her an eventual hero to pre-teens and teenage girls.
When Blossom returned six months later, in January 1991, the show’s premise had crystallized: Blossom and her older brothers—recovering addict Tony (Michael Stoyanov) and dolitish jock Joey (Joey Lawrence)—were dealing with their parents’ divorce and absent mom (Melissa Manchester). More often than not, the sitcom focused on Blossom trying to navigate adolescence, but in real, relatable ways. In fact, Blossom resonated so much because it didn’t sanitize or gloss over the things she dealt with: getting her period, becoming interested in sex, being physically assaulted by a date, navigating dating and high school drama, Tony’s relapse, or her dad (Ted Wass) starting to date again. Blossom and best friend Six (Jenna von Oÿ) were the perfect characters to usher in a decade where strong, smart, interesting teenage girls (and women) permeated pop culture.
But Blossom also had a self-referential sense of humor that was way before its time. (Witness when Blossom and Six are discussing sitcom dos and don’ts at the start of a Season 5 episode.) And the show wasn’t afraid to leverage its sitcom status in order to let fantasy creep in, such as when Blossom and Alf have a tête-à-tête, or when she gets advice from Mrs. Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), or she imagines she’s a pop star a la Madonna. In this sense, the series was a refreshing, female-driven counterpoint to contemporary shows Doogie Howser, M.D. and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, both of which had preternaturally smart main characters.
Throughout all of this, Blossom Russo became a fashion icon to legions of girls, mainly by erring on the accessible side of quirky. She took what was popular—overalls, vests, loud patterns, oversized shirts—and added funky flourishes that made her stand out: layers, a baggy sweater, weird jewelry, or a unique hat. (Blossom’s penchant for floppy hats is rightfully praised, although a bit overstated; as it was pointed out in 2014, Six wore cute headgear more.) In early seasons of the show, her headband game was also on point. Yet her style felt easily replicated: She wore the kind of age-appropriate outfits that kids with a meager allowance or budget could throw together.
According to a 2011 interview with Blossom costume designer Sherry Thompson, that’s exactly what started to happen. “During the second season, we became aware that girls across the country had spontaneously formed their own ‘Blossom Fashion Fan Clubs,’” she told Refinery29. “Girls who lived in or were visiting L.A. would come to watch the taping of the shows, and would sit in a large group all wearing their own versions of a Blossom outfit. Others would call or fax each other after the show aired to coordinate Blossom-inspired outfits for school the following day.”
Indeed, unlike Beverly Hills, 90210, whose fashion purposely felt glamorous and adult, or the mall-bland trendiness of the clothes on Saved By The Bell and California Dreams, Blossom’s style felt like an organic extension of the character. She wasn’t being fashionable to attract boys: Instead, Blossom was just being herself. In fact, despite dealing with typical teenage frustrations and confusing situations, she always seemed comfortable in her own skin; consequently, her clothes were an outward manifestation of this inner self-confidence. Blossom would decide to wear something ridiculous to school—because why not?—or throw on something risqué just to be rebellious. Or else she’d try on an outfit and dance around her bedroom to pop music because, well, when you don’t yet have a driver’s license, what else is there to do?
Bialik herself has remained an icon thanks to The Big Bang Theory and her extensive blogging and social media presence. But it’s no wonder that the effortless style and funkiness she cultivated on Blossom remains so beloved today, and an integral part of ’90s nostalgia culture. Well before grunge and alternative culture made looking different the norm, Blossom marched to the beat of a different drummer.