Grunge Fashion

Words by Suraya Kazzuz

Define Grunge:

A general term of disparagement for someone or something that is repugnant or odious, unpleasant, or dull; also, dirt, grime. 


a style of rock music characterised by a raucous guitar sound and lazy vocal delivery.

The story begins in an entirely unglamorous studio during the mid-1980s. A fusion of punk rock and heavy metal, the Seattle music scene became the foundation upon which grunge fashion was developed. The word was first recorded as being applied to Seattle musicians in July 1987 when Bruce Pavitt described Green River’s Dry as a Bone EP in a Sub Pop record company catalogue as “ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation”.

This derogatory term was soon adopted and revered by bands who wished for the hopeless, angst ridden nature of their music to resonate with the public. If Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was the frontman of grunge music, so too was he the frontman of its fashion. Although grunge did not start with Cobain, it certainly took off in a similar trajectory to that of his career. His reckless, careless way of dressing was soon adopted by millions – the oversized check shirt atop a graphic (often graphic in all meanings of the word) tees. Those who enjoyed the music soon enjoyed the fashion statements that came along with it. But at what point did grunge fashion bridge the gap between a niche, bold fashion statement to a style which would become prevalent on the runways?

The dishevelled, unbothered, rebellious look threw the well-known verse that ‘fashion is pain’ out of the window, instead laying the wearers pain bare on their sleeve (metaphorically of course). All of the words used to describe grunge; dirt, grime, repugnant, odious – these do not seem like words which would be well suited to the catwalks of Paris, New York, Tokyo and London, yet grunge fashion found its way onto some of the world’s most well-known talents, from Kate Moss to Winona Rider. With the rise of grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, came a rise too in grunge fashion. As the music became commercialised, so too did the fashion.

The ironic dismissive, lazy technique in the structure of grunge music gave way to allow the lyrics and the voice of the band to shine in the spotlight. Grunge fashion took a similar turn, little structure but a lot of voice.

Grunge was, and is, more than anything a mood, a feeling. Grunge reflected the hopeless feelings of American youth during the time, who were strongly feeling the cataclysmic sloppy attitudes which seem impossible to avoid at the end of, not just a century, but a millennium. After all, who could have hope that the next thousand years would be any better than the last during a time of political turmoil and economic distress. No money, no morals, no structure – the answer? Grunge.

Dressing down was now a form of rebellion, especially in a world which values looks above all else. People were refusing to care about what others thought about them, which is especially powerful within a society that relies upon societal expectations to condition the opinions of its people. This lack of care became prevalent amongst western youth. A sea of dark colours, ripped jeans and flannel shirts could be seen from the stages of the most dingy and tangy clubs and bars.

The attitudes of the youth were soon picked up on by some of the most influential designers in the world. In their 1993 S/S Collection, Marc Jacobs showcased his designs for sportswear brand Perry Ellis which embraced the chaotic, angsty and youthful grunge movement. This in itself was a rebellious decision as according to American Vogue, this was a move which not only made Jacobs career, but also got him fired from his position at Perry Ellis. With the twenty year life cycle that fashion often adheres to, grunge is making a comeback. Today’s youth feel just as rebellious, anxious and angry. What is perhaps different now than it was in the 90s, is that this new generation of amoral “ultra-loose” grunge lovers are all the more expressive, open and creative.