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Last Updated on April 20, 2022
The 90s (namely early-mid) was such a wonderful decade of different fashion styles (some questionable, some forever iconic). We had preppy, goth, hip-hop, grunge, pop-girl cute, and even the greasy-haired style of the hardcore rock dudes. But in this article, we are focusing on one of the coolest yet hard-to-nail looks…punk.
Not to be confused with Seattle grunge, punk style (born in the 1970s) endured throughout the 90s with the help of music icons Green Day, and the English Queen of punk style, fashion icon Vivienne Westwood.
Punk style is best demonstrated by alternative streetwear and stages buzzing with punk music late into the night through decades-old images.
Ladies, if the punk trend is evading you but you’d love to try, read on for our ideas to help you get the 90s punk look.
If leather and pins aren’t quite in your ballpark right now, start slow with tartan. Tartan was and still is, a stalwart of true Punk outfits.
If you flip through images of 90s neo-punk fashion looks, you’ll come across pleated tartan skirts or kilts paired with leather jackets and frayed, sleeveless shirts. In Japan, the punk style took on a kawaii (cute!) look with tartan mini skirts, pink hair, pigtails, and bows.
Try a pair of fitted tartan trousers in green and black check, a worn-in band tee, and chunky lace-up boots for casual wear. Or, go for a tartan mini dress with a fitted sweater underneath, paired with sneakers or ankle boots for a punk-meets-modern-hipster approach.
For a more polished, work-friendly look, pair your fitted tartan pants with a collared shirt, tie, heels, and an extra nod to punk with kohl-lined eyes.
Even if you only know the barest basics of 90s punk fashion, you’ll know that leather is a cornerstone of the punk aesthetic. The favorite leather jacket, worn night after night, punk show after punk show, slowly evolving with added studs, pins, and patches. The leather jacket is to the punk what the plaid shirt is to the grunger.
If such an item is missing from your wardrobe, never fear. You can incorporate leather into your ensemble by way of mini or pencil skirts, embellished with a row of studs, or a sleeveless cropped leather jacket with inky black eyeliner to match. For a subtler take on leather, try fingerless gloves, leather patches on tartan pants or jackets, and studded leather accessories.
Hardware: tough as nails jewellery
Jewelry adds extra texture and dimension to your punk look, even if your clothes are veering toward the mild. Craft your own punk-style necklace by threading various-sized safety pins through a metal chain. If you’re still testing the punk waters, this is a great way to get punk-ish, without completely changing your usual style whether it’s total hipster or modern-chic.
Thrift and get creative
One of the best ways to introduce the punk trend to your repertoire is to trawl stores. You can find well-loved items that have the all-important worn-in appeal.
For example: Take a vintage (or near to!) oversized denim shirt with holes and frayed edges. You could cut the sleeves off, add an oversized pin (or ten) to the collar or hem, and you’ve got a custom-made punk top.
You may even find a lived-in leather jacket you can pair with “holy” jeans or a tartan mini over fishnet tights. To make it unique to you, add your own studs, patches, or metal embellishments. Beware, you may become hooked on thrifting and repurposing…which we totally endorse.
Lived-in makeup and bold hairstyles
Punk doesn’t stop at the outfit, it extends to the hair and the face. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean a 12-inch mohawk and full dye job. Interpret the core trends your own way, and make them work for your world. For example, those with shorter hair could spin the mohawk look by getting a subtle side shave to the left or right of the part.
Use a texturizing product to give the hair lift and create a soft mohawk or side-swept asymmetry. For long hair, try sweeping the hair over to create an extreme side part, texturize the lengths, add a braid to the shorter side and thread it with different-sized safety pins.
For makeup, there are no hard and fast rules, as long as it’s bold, brave, and you wear it like you mean it.
You could start with a black or charcoal shadow smudged into the top and bottom lash lines, with a little taken along the inner corner alongside the nose. This creates a unique punk shape, a clear deviation from the modern Insta-trend of the extreme inner highlight and cat eye.
Or, take your liquid liner and create interesting shapes with various wings around the eye. If you’re more lip-focused, try a deep burgundy or purple lipstick shade to start with, then double-up on deep lips and smudgy eyes when you’re feeling bold.
Another way to embrace punk is to veer toward the Japanese Kawaii direction by using ombre shades of pink and red over the face.
Take a matte red or pink blush and use the “draping” technique to fluff the color onto the temples, high points of the cheekbones, and outer corners of the eyes.
Or, take a sheet of paper, lay it diagonally across the cheekbone under the eye, and buff saturated color toward the temple. Remove the paper and you’ve got a crisp angle. A stunning example of when style-meets-art, a cool-romance take on the original.
Play with layers and different textures
You can create your own brand of punk in the way you assemble your central items as well as your accessories. Take a look at what you’ve got waiting in your wardrobe (shop your stash, as they say!) and find contrasting textures and patterns.
You could layer a tartan shirt with a leather jacket or sleeveless denim vest, and juxtapose the look with tailored slimline trousers and pumps. Or, pair a midi skirt with your boyfriend’s t-shirt, tucked it, with a tartan shirt tied around the waist and fingerless leather gloves and safety pins dotting the hemline of the skirt.
Bondage pants have been a must for punks since the 70s. Originally designed by Vienne Westwood in her first shop “Sex”, these pants have always been associated with the punk subculture and alternative dress.
You can buy these pants online from a range of stores and there are options for all budgets. Some pants are looser than others, so you can easily find a fit that suits your style. You can also choose between black options, tartan traditional styles, and even rave bondage pants too – for brighter color palettes.
Denim is an essential 90s staple, but if you want to embrace a punk style you need to take this trend even further by ripping them! Whether you opt for skinny jeans or loose-fit jeans, a few rips will instantly add some punk personality to your outfit.
Another popular trend is to wear some ripped tights or fishnet tights under the jeans so that the material can be seen in the rips. This is a more disheveled look and works well if you are trying to embrace 90s grunge or punk styles on a budget.
Punk Outfit Ideas:
While punk clothes are good to own, you need to know how to style them into an outfit too! Here are some ways to create quintessential 90s punk girl styles.
Punk chic style takes inspiration from the original punk movement in the 1970s. With a heavy focus on tartan, fishnets, and leather, this aesthetic plays with texture and materials to create provocative looks. Anyone embracing the punk chic style should own bondage pants and fishnet tights for sure!
To get some extra inspiration, look at Gwen Stefani in the early 90s. Her initial style was very punky, and she even went on to work with punk icon Vivienne Westwood in the 200s creating some iconic looks for her music videos. Designer Jean Paul Gaultier also created some punk-inspired looks in his 1994 ready-to-wear collection, these serve as great inspiration too for anyone needing extra style pointers.
Traditional punk chic style might not be for everyone as it can be more risque. If you’re looking for a softer (and perhaps more feminine) alternative, try the recent interpretations of traditional punk styles.
These interpretations involve typical tartan and lace fabrics, but they’re styled with a softer edge. For example, flannel shirts can be tied around the waist, or leather is worn in a more fashionable blazer style. Check patterned tennis skirts with fishnet tights are a popular pairing in this style, alongside Doc Martens or creeper shoes. This style works well for everyday wear and isn’t as striking as the previous style.
Riot Girl style is a perfect style for anyone that wants to dress in a niche 90s subculture fashion. While Riot girls often get confused with general grunge styles, the style is driven by feminist music and punk takes rather than a general grunge style. Key Riot girl style icons include Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna. Bikini Kill and Hole are bands that drove the subculture into the mainstream, inspiring girls to ignore traditional preppy styles and to express themselves through clothing.
The Riot girl style often consists of feminine dresses and pastel colors mixed with dark denim and leather for a fusion of styles. Courtney Love used to wear babydoll dresses and pastel-colored skirts, but she would then add a black lace bra or ripped rights to add some edge to the look. Check out Courtney Love’s style here.
Grunge style is more relaxed than punk chic, as the grunge movement was less focused on aesthetics and more on attitude. Typical silhouettes for this style involve loose-fitting tees, baggy flannels, and wide-leg jeans. Ripped and worn materials suit this style as they add to the “no cares” mindset too.
Beaten-up trainers or worn-in docs are also popular shoes for this style. Pair them with some old blue jeans, your favorite band tee, and a boxy jacket for the perfect grunge look. There are modern iterations of grunge that involve mini skirts, make-up, and choker jewelry, however, these miss the true essence of grunge. When you look back on images of youth in the 90s they were never as polished as the style suggests now!