Wednesday, 24 May 2017




Those filtering through Instagram, or listening to mainstream pop music, might have noticed that grunge fashion is back and in full force.

Kendall Jenner rocking the grunge look for brunch. Source.
Early 90s grunge, with its thrift store clothes, long unwashed hair, Doc Martins, and IDGAF attitude, was the newest wave of rebellion for teens and young adults.
Youth of the 90s.
Having philosophical roots in the punk movement of the late 60s and 70s, heavy metal in the 80s, grunge originated out of the Seattle music scene in the late 80s, then really taking off in the 90s. While researching the movement, I found a walking tour in Seattle of important landmarks during the grunge revolution.

The fashion style is a marriage of the punk/heavy metal movement to blue-collar, working class, clothing. Leaders of the movement included Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.The style is meant to feel comfortable, dirty, and be heavily steeped in flannel. A quick image search of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, or William DuVall in the 90s gives an ideal example of the underground subculture.

The most popular photo of Kurt Cobain.
Key fashion items include ripped jeans and tightsband T-shirtsplaid shirtsmuted coloursbabydoll dressespleated mini skirts, layers of miss-matched patternsDoc martens/Converse high tops, tattoo chokerslong unkempt hairgoatee beard, dark, smudged makeupleather jackets, and eco-friendly clothingIt complimented the rise in skater subculture, and the increasing popularity of tattoos and body piercings.
Steven Meisel Grunge & Glory shoot for Vogue, 1992
The popularity of grunge was cemented by musicians' lyrics speaking to the large audience of working class youth. They brought social issues into pop culture by speaking to young people’s need discovering how to "come as you are". For the bands pushing the scene, this meant "mundane everyday style" or "slacker style". They would wear the same clothes to perform as they do as if they were at home, direct contrast with the “wild mohawk” punk scene simultaneously present on the west coast.

Steven Meisel Grunge & Glory shoot for Vogue, 1992

Feminist grunge musicians like Courtney Love popularized the kinderwhore look. Consisting of torn or ripped tights, low-cut baby doll and peter pan collared dressed, knee-socks, heavy makeup, and leather boots or Mary-Jane shoes. It projected 'a strong feminist statement...about so much more than a little velvet dress, ripped tights and a dumb media-made label. It was about intentionally taking the most constraining parts of the feminine, good-girl aesthetic, inflating them to a cartoon level, and subverting them to kill any ingrained insecurities.'

Courtney Love in a photo shoot in her kinderwhore style.
In a less ironic and more direct way, women fought the feminist battle through androgyny. Women dressed in the same baggy clothes men and boys did, with the same long, unkempt hair, so they couldn’t be '…defined by their sex appeal.'

"Grunge....became an anti-consumerist movement." The less you spent on clothes, the cooler you were. The clothes came from thrift stores, were distressed and dirty from a rough life style, and the hair and makeup had a feel of I-spent-all-night-at-an-underground-grunge-show-dancing-my-face-off. Long hair was used "as a mask to conceal the face" so musicians could "express [their] innermost thoughts." Musicians like Kurt Cobain exemplified this look.

Kurt Cobain performing on stage with Nirvana before his death.
In an attempt to fight a "manufactured image" by dressing in authentic ways true to their social class, grunge popularized "heroin chic," a trend that Maxim Furek links to the how the drug played a prominent role in the grunge scene, and lead to Kurt Cobain's death in 1994 (marking the beginning to the fall of grunge). The look opted for pale skin, dark eye circles, and emaciated, waif like, features reflecting the addition. Models like Kate Moss moved the look into mainstream, possibly influencing an increase in eating disorders in the 1990s.

Kate Moss modeling for Calvin Klein.
In 2014, Vogue issue, it was stated that "Cobain pulled liberally from both ends of a woman's and a man's wardrobe, and his Seattle thrift-store look ran the gamut of masculine lumberjack work wear and 40s-by-way-of-70s feminist dresses. It was completely counter to the shellacked, flashy aesthetic of the 1980s in every way. In disheveled jeans and floral frocks, he softened the tough exterior of the archetypal rebel from the inside out, and set the ball in motion for a radical, millennial idea of androgyny.

In an ironic but predictable chain of events, as grunge became more mainstream, fashion designers started incorporating it into their collections. They were inspired by the "realness" of the street style and paired it with high fashion. This did not sit well with the musicians, who dismissed Marc Jacobs and Anne Sui. Other than appropriating their style without engaging in it, members of the subculture felt they were misrepresented. Editor of Details, James Truman, said in 1993: “…. grunge is it’s not anti-fashion, it’s unfashion. Punk was anti-fashion. It made a statement. Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it’s crazy for it to become a fashion statement.” 

Behind the scenes shot of Marc Jacob's Perry Ellis grunge collection.
The unkempt fashion sense defined the look of the "slacker generation:, who "skipped school, smoked pot...[and] cigarettes and listened to music" hoping to become a rock star one day. 

What is available today is but an echo of the rock movement. Now, it's thanks to A$AP Rocky, Rihanna, and Kanye West that the upscale "reinvention" in 2016, is more about the fashion than the music or a movement. I refer to this new wave trend as ‘glamour-grunge’, taking the best and worst of the movement and mashing with contemporary fashion trends. Ripped jeans, muted tones, and plaid are paired with Instagram makeup and heeled boots that would break an ankle in any mosh pit.

Rihanna posing for Instagram.
There's an attitude in the fashion industry that, because so few things are patented, you can borrow and steal from other fashion trends for inspiration and make something new. However, if people wear something to just "look cool", cultured, or intelligent, without understanding or being a part of the culture represents, what does that mean for the cultural movement? 

Leaders of the grunge movement, when it first emerged and now, felt that if the fashion designers wanted to create a grunge inspired collection, they needed to stay true to the movement and what it stood for. In a discussion with a few of my contemporaries, it was pointed out that in 2017, people feel they can include any style of fashion into their wardrobe so long as they genuinely enjoy it, without necessarily being a part of any movement. I personally feel that some fashion styles represent group collectives as a way to express your personal philosophies and attitudes. Although grunge does not represent an ethnic community, it is a community nonetheless.

Grunge sought to make a difference in people's lives through music. It has since reformed into hipster and now millennial fashion (for lack of a better term) with unclear support for the music or the philosophies it embodied. If fashion is a way to express who we are, and represent communities we belong to, then if we are going to represent a community for style, then we should all make a small effort to understand what those styles mean, and what they stand for.


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