1857 as the years of someone's life between 90 and 99; from 1848 as the tenth decade of years in a given century; 1849 with reference to Fahrenheit temperature. See ninety.
Many still live who remember those days; if the old men cannot tell you the exact date, they will say: 'It were in the nineties;' (etc.) ["Chambers's Journal," Nov. 1, 1856]
Related: Ninetyish "characteristic of the (eighteen-) nineties" (1909). In Britain, the naughty nineties was a popular name 1920s-30s for the 1890s, based on the notion of a relaxing of morality and mood in contrast to earlier Victorian times. In U.S., gay nineties in reference to the same decade is attested from 1927, and was the title of a regular nostalgia feature in "Life" magazine about that time.
The long, dreary blue-law Sunday afternoons were periods of the Nineties which no amount of rosy retrospect will ever be able to recall as gay, especially to a normal healthy boy to whom all activities were taboo except G. A. Henty and the bound volumes of Leslie's Weekly of the Civil War. [Life, Sept. 1, 1927]