Grunge Fashion History Case Study

Generation X developed grunge fashion as they disagreed with the societal norms and a career-oriented lifestyle. They disagreed with societal classes and were annoyed by the idea that human worth should be based on material things such as money or property. They were equally annoyed that sacrificing one’s life for a pointless 9 to 5 job was seen as what is expected of individuals.

Hence, grunge fashion history marked an era that reflected the lack of desire to participate in the status quo. Simply put, grunge fashion was about going against the norm. The grunge lifestyle represents individuality, expressing that people want to be known for their words and work and not be lost in the crowd as they strictly adhere to what is expected of them.

The grunge lifestyle transcends through time. Read on to learn about the grunge movement’s influence of the grunge style on music and fashion.

What is grunge Fashion?

The word “grunge” is associated with something dirty or messy. Grunge is both a music genre and a clothing style. In general, the meaning of grunge is an integral part of what grunge fashion and grunge music style are. True to its essence, people sporting the grunge style generally had a messy look to them.

In the 80s and 90s, the grunge style was everywhere in the United States. Since part of the grunge mentality is to allow others to live the way they like, it was broadly accepted by individuals who found the norms of society constricting. However, before we discuss grunge fashion, let’s first dive into how grunge came about.

Grunge music

Sub Pop, an independent record label based in Seattle, is credited for the rapid prominence of the grunge style. Back then, rock musicians were at the beginning stages of their careers and didn’t have a lot of money to spend in recording studios. 

This circumstance meant that they didn’t have access to sound recording equipment and relevant technologies of the time. Thus, the recording was always scratchy and “crude,” lacking refinement. To conceal the crude sound of the music recording, some musicians would crank up the volume, which made individuals refer to the music as “dirty.”.”

In the mid-1980s, Sub Pop began marketing these Pacific Northwest rock bands, describing the music style as grunge.

At the beginning of the grunge movement, the music genre represented a mix of heavy metal and punk rock. The grunge-style music was seen as gritty or unconventional. The genre generally defied the status quo of the music industry. 

The lyrics of songs in this genre were usually subdued, introspective, and dark. The sound, the lyrics, and the music itself were filled with angst and a feeling of being misunderstood. These characteristics of grunge music resonated with a large audience, leading to the beginning of the grunge era.

In grunge fashion history, the late 1980s saw many new grunge artists and musicians join the grunge movement. Individuals supporting the grunge genre had massively increased. The grunge style began to gain more and more attention as its followers and supporters continued to grow. 

Early into the 1990s, the grunge scene had become so popular that it became mainstream and was no longer regarded as an alternative subculture.

During this time in grunge fashion history, Nirvana, specifically Kurt Cobain, was at the forefront of the grunge era. People considered the rockstar Kurt Cobain to be one of the biggest influences on grunge fashion. He was the lead singer of the highly successful band Nirvana. Cobain is widely believed to have represented the core of the grunge movement and the phenomenon of the grunge style influence. 

Other notable bands that inspired and exhibited the grunge genre in the United States are Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Sound Garden. Outside the United States, two bands, Bush and Radiohead, climbed the charts of the grunge genre in the 1990s. The popularity of these bands within and outside of the United States made grunge the most widely listened to music in the genre of rock music.

As time progressed, the grunge sound incorporated independent rock influences with Punk and heavy metal. A sub-genre of grunge called post-grunge was also prominent in the 1990s, towards the end of the grunge era. 

Grunge fashion history in the 80s and 90s

Grunge fashion was inspired by the gloomy, dark, and generally messy themes of the music’s movement. Grunge fashion is also characterized by not abiding by the fashion norms of society. It represented the desire to break through the noise and push back against what society thinks is acceptable. Grunge fashion is a little bit careless, carefree, and effortlessly cool.

The beginning of grunge fashion was simultaneous with that of the grunge movement. People wanted to look like their rock band idols, who at the time was taking the western world by storm. People imitated the dressing of these idols, which was generally casual and a slacker fashion.

At the time in the 1980s, the trend was shiny neon clothing, but the grunge style went in the opposite direction, characterized by darker themes and a more “on-the-fringe” aesthetic. In its early days, grunge fashion leaned towards Punk, embracing the daring personas of rebels. Some characteristics of the grunge style are black clothing, face and body piercings, mohawks, tattoos, chains, fishnets, cut-off sleeves, studded belts, and leather jackets.

Grunge fashion history in the 1990s saw the evolution of the grunge style. People were sporting ripped, faded, frayed, and even wrinkled clothing to achieve a generally disheveled look. Some characteristics of the grunge look were ripped jeans, denim jackets, bandanas, beanies, converse sneakers, oversized t-shirts, baggy sweaters, Birkenstocks, Doc Martens, and other laced-up shoes or combat-styled boots.

The lumberjack shirt in grunge fashion history

The lumberjack shirt was essentially a woolen flannel shirt with plaid designs worn by loggers. Plaid flannel button-down shirts worn in the grunge era had lumberjack roots and weren’t entirely made of wool. The fabrics used to make these shirts were part woolen or non-woolen. 

These flannel shirts were a very significant trend in the grunge style movement. Whether it was tied around the waist or worn unbuttoned over a graphic t-shirt, plaid button-down flannel shirts are indisputably a significant part of the grunge style.

Throughout the 80s and 90s in Seattle, flannel shirts and leather boots were abundant in thrift stores. Many of the bands, when they were starting, would shop at thrift stores to save money. Due to this situation, they paired these flannel shirts and leather boots, which soon became a fashion trend as the grunge sound got more and more popular.

The male and female grunge style

Grunge fashion went beyond just clothing. It ranged from clothing to hairstyles, makeup, piercings, and accessories. The style aimed for a general messy and unkempt look, pushing against cultural norms, and supported a general “I-don’t-care” look. 

During this time, men generally wore their hair long and tousled with a scrubby facial stubble. Men’s style in grunge fashion history consisted of second-hand or shabby t-shirts with slogans, band logos, etc. A plaid shirt might be worn on the t-shirt, with ripped or faded jeans. Black combat boots, especially Don Martens, complete the look. A significant inspiration for the men’s grunge style was Kurt Cobain. Cobain’s style was unique because it was a combination of both male and female fashion.

Women went in the opposite direction, sporting short pixie haircuts. In grunge fashion history, women preferred dressing way down, and less was more. Women typically wore slip dresses with flannels, ripped jeans, and plaid in layers. Ripped and low-rise, wide-legged jeans were popular. Women’s paired their dressings with accessories such as chokers, hoop earrings, etc. Dark and rich-colored lipstick was the norm. 

Kurt Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love of the Hole band, was a major inspiration for women’s grunge fashion. She was known for wearing baby doll dresses, slips, Mary Jane shoes, combat boots, dark lipstick, black eye makeup, tights with holes in them, oversized coats, and lots of velvet.

Grunge as a luxury style.

Grunge fashion was initially about spending as little as possible on clothing and still achieving a look that was considered cool. The grunge style was the opposite of glamorous, unlike that of other music genres. However, in the early 1990s, as the grunge style became a more popular trend, a fashion designer named Marc Jacobs brought grunge to the luxury fashion platform. 

Jacobs, the creative director of women’s design at Perry Ellis, debuted a spring collection that was inspired by grunge in 1993. The exhibition consisted of some iconic grunge items such as flannel shirts, printed dresses, Doc Martens boots, and knitted skullcaps. A few years later, in 1997, Jacobs and his partners joined the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton. 

As grunge hit the mainstream, fashion brands began integrating grunge into their fashion lines as well. As a result, flannel shirts, slip dresses, combat boots, and other grunge accessories could be found in mainstream department stores with high price tags.

Grunge fashion history in the late 1990s and early 2000s

Grunge music essentially came to an end by the turn of the century. Following Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, the entire movement was in mourning. Many bands broke up or stopped making albums. However, in the late 1990s, as the grunge movement came to an end, grunge was integrated into pop culture, which sparked the rise of alternative music and inspired modern rock as we now know it.

As the grunge era began to reach its end, modern grunge styles emerged. Oversized shirts and sweatshirts over ripped and pre-faded jeans became the trend. In the late 1990s, the first pre-ripped and pre-faded jeans were sold in stores. 

Modern grunge fashion still possesses most of the characteristics of the grunge style in the 80s and 90s. As with other types, the current iteration is still an imitation of the original while celebrating its roots. 

Final Thoughts

In many ways, the first grunge movement was anti-fashion; however, it soon became a style that spoke the mind of a broad audience. The modern grunge style echoes this today, except with curated and nostalgic pieces sold by many retailers. We hope that this article has given you insight into grunge fashion history.

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