Last Updated on November 13, 2020
The original word “grunge” was used as slang to describe, dirt grime or sludge.
As we all know, language is flexible. This means that one word can easily start to be associated with a completely different meaning over time.
This is exactly what happened to grunge.
In this article, you can find a brief history of the grunge scene, as well as mens fashion tips on how to reproduce this iconic look.
Where did “grunge” come from?
Well, the first noted usage of this word (in the sense we’re referring to today) seems to come from a 1981 letter written by Mark Arm (Mudhoney’s vocalist). In this letter, he referred to his band, at the time, Mr. Epp & the Calculations as
“Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure s***!”Mark Arm
Later on, when the founder of record label Sub Pop, Jonathan Poneman was describing the Seattle music scene to journalists, he used that very same word – grunge. This was the first time grunge wasn’t associated solely with the sound of rock bands such as Nirvana, Green River or Soundgarden; but also their fashion.
Although the word grunge defined the sound of late 80s rock music – fuzz effects with a mixture of punk, hard rock, and metal sound; over time it became an alternative fashion style. Since then the unwashed and moth-eaten appearance became the first thing that pops into our mind when we hear “grunge”.
In actuality, it would be wrong to call “grunge” a fashion choice. Grunge neither followed nor rejected fashion – it simply ignored it. However, the look made its appearance in mainstream culture thanks to the popularity of bands like Nirvana. Once the “Nevermind” album hit, Kurt’s signature look became a fashion hit.
Grunge & Fashion
What sealed the deal for grunge in mainstream culture was the release of Marc Jacobs’ designed collection. The Perry Ellis collection included some of the most iconic grunge clothing pieces – plaid shirts, army boots, and graphic tees.
However, due to the four-figure price tag hanging from these clothing items, the designer was met with critiques. Although frowned upon, Jacobs undoubtedly set a new direction in the world of fashion – upping the luxury factor on the alternative look.
Trends indeed fall in and out of fashion, but grunge never left completely. You can find pieces of “grunge” clothing in any thrift store or charity shop – old jeans and band tees, cardigans and heavy boots. Students and musicians are still broke, young and setting a new street style, that is undoubtedly fused with elements of grunge.
There is no such thing as a grunge hairstyle; however, you can think about growing out your hair. Try to be nonchalant and cut down on hair products; since the free, natural hair is probably the closest hairstyle you can call grunge.
If you are inspired by the look of the late ’80s and early ’90s, start by taking notes from some of the best-known celebrities of our time. Aside from the king of grunge, Kurt Cobain, there are a lot of famous people, who didn’t need a band, to rock this look back in the day.
Johnny Depp, River Phoenix, and Will Smith are some of the most notable mentions when it comes to grunge fashion of the 90s.
You can also take some tips from Keanu Reeves or Jared Leto, who were also into this alt style.
Getting inspiration from celebrities sometimes isn’t enough to pull the whole look together; so I will mention some must-have clothing pieces that every grunge lover owns:
Earlier, musicians used band shirts to signal favorites or to show support to the small bands who hadn’t succeeded yet. This wasn’t limited just to the musicians; many fans wore the shirts with their fav band, and you are likely to remember someone being called a “poser” for not liking the band they were wearing.
Today, this isn’t likely to happen. Band tees dug their way into the mainstream, and are not limited to thrift shops. If you are not big on bands, you can just get a skater inspired look – a shirt with a print. They are typically white or black, but you can find the “faded” ones- for a complete retro look!
A signature Kurt Cobain look indeed; however, these shirts are still fashionable- because of their simplicity. Since they are usually one coloured (white being a shade, not a colour), you can wear them with anything, there is no thinking about colour matching or fit.
They are comfortable and neutral. You don’t have to worry that your look will be over the top by adding layers. These shirts are made precisely for that!
Along with band tees, lumberjack shirts are one of the most essential parts of grunge style. It’s hard not to see why; they are cheap warm and simply look cool. You can wear them loose or tie them around your hips – it’s entirely up to you!
The ideal pick would be the one that’s a bit faded, and worn out (or just looks like it); since the whole look revolves around the “too dope to care” attitude. When you’re on the hunt for plaid shirts, second hand stores are always a good option.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with layers and give yourself space to look as laid back as you possibly can. Remember the general rule: the older and bigger, the better.
Remember the oversized knit Kurt wore on MTV Unplugged?
It was full of cigarette burns, stains, missing buttons… and it sold for $122,000!
That doesn’t mean you should be neglectful to your clothing, hoping you’ll sell it for a couple of hundreds, but you should try to channel the vibe of that iconic item. The tossed-on, careless vibe Cobain echoed. You can always buy a size or two bigger, to achieve the oversized fit.
When it comes to keeping warm, similarly to a flannel shirt, these jackets were one of the best on the market. They were cheap, warm and could be used as a sleeping bag – given that you bought one big enough.
Double points if you patch them up! Some brands sell them pre-patched, but if you want to make it more personal you can always add a patch or two. Generally, you shouldn’t have any issues finding a military jacket, since they can even be seen in Saint Lauren stores.
This is another classic look. You can wear denim on denim, mix it with other shades and colors – grunge knows no rules. In case you don’t want to experiment too much, it’s always a good choice to go for a pale ripped denim jacket!
Not really a good outfit for colder weather; but if you purchase a high quality leather jacket it will last for years. Not only will you not be spending money on jackets every year; but you’ll be the embodiment of that edgy 90s style.
Although they were an anti-fashion statement once, nowadays almost everyone has one in their closet. Contrary to its name, biker jackets are not reserved for bikers and riders alike; so feel free to include one in your grunge essentials!
Not exactly a typical grunge item, but it could make a great addition to your wardrobe. Because of their unique look and light weight, they were huge in the 90s.
Unfortunately, grunge doesn’t allow a lot of room for sportswear; so it can be pretty hard to pull off the alt look while working out. There weren’t many sneakers and tracksuits in ’80s Seattle. However, running with a windbreaker is perfect for maintaining the retro alt vibe!
If you lived through the ’90s, you must’ve worn them. They were the epitome of cool, the more pockets you had, the cooler you looked. In all honesty, they were practical; you didn’t need to carry a backpack to keep all of your belongings safe.
That said, in today’s menswear, they are a huge no! At least the baggy oversized ones; so if you want to include them in your wardrobe, get a slim fit.
There is no grunge without ripped jeans. The rebellious spirit of the 90s made the torn denim a quintessential part of any alternative style.
Of course, there is no need to go overboard with the edge factor; you can just implement this clothing item into the everyday look to make it more grunge. The great part is that since they are still in fashion, you needn’t search long to find a perfect fit for you!
“The bigger the better” rule of the 90s can be seen not only in cargo pants crazy – but with baggy jeans too. Similar to today’s streetwear style, in which baggy jeans play a big role, these were also hit in the ’90s.
Usually worn with a chain attached to a wallet, they were a must-have item symbolising the 90s era. However, baggy jeans today shouldn’t be that oversized, and like with cargo pants, go for a more tapered fit.
You can find a modern alternative to these jeans, in almost any store; since they are an essential part of any streetwear lover’s closet.
The signature design of Dr. Martens combat boots, was popular in the sub-culture, long before it made its way into the mainstream. However, the boots are also a part of today’s streetwear, which makes them easier to find. Along with Vans and All-Stars, they make a great fit for completing your grunge look.
A great accessory for winter weather, a trapper hat will not only protect you from the cold but also help you rock the grunge aesthetic. This lumberjack inspired hat is also a personal favorite of Jared Leto, who is a famous lover of the edgy-camp style. Trapper hat will certainly keep you warm, and you can certainly find it for more than an affordable price!
These iconic glasses are famously worn by Cobain and remained an ever-fashionable look since. Originally made by Christian Roth, in the Archive 1993/Series 6558, the glasses became a hit during the ’90s.
Although they never went out of style completely, recently they made a huge comeback (especially with the lovers of street style); which means that you can find them in numerous colour shades and personalise them to your own style – grunge or not.
Additional Tips for Fashion Enthusiasts
For the bolder guys out there, there are a few additional things you can add to complete the grunge look. If you love to personalise a trend, or are just curious about how to pull the whole look together – bear with me, for just a few extra remarks!
Make the look your own
It is important to stay true to yourself; no matter how much you want to look like one of the grunge trendsetters, completely copying the look is never a good look (pardon the pun). What you can do is look for inspiration, try to emulate the vibe, not the specifics.
It’s hard to do it right from the get-go; however, in time, you’ll feel more confident to mix up the outfits and have more fun with your new look. Keep in mind, that grunge is an anti-fashion statement – and you should do just that.
If you mimic the grunge icons too much it will look more like a dress-up party, than a style you feel comfortable in. Follow the guidelines, but make your own rules!
Have a DIY project
You don’t have to completely tailor your clothes but have an occasional personalised item. Add a patch to your jacket or backpack, doodle on your Converse high tops, let your creative energy flow.
This style is about not-caring attitude and staying true to your preferences. You don’t have to be Kurt Cobain to be allowed to add badges and buttons on your clothes; if you’re not satisfied with the result, you can always take it off!
Experiment with the fit
There are two main ways in which grunge dealt with controversial subjects such as gender and sexuality. In womenswear, there was a Kinderwhore look that fused the innocent “girly” look with a more of an adult appeal, Courtney Love is a great example. The women were free and played with their sexuality and overall look.
On the other side of the spectrum, there were a lot of women who dressed in androgynous clothes, hiding their bodies completely. For men, grunge also meant freedom and experimentation. You could rock a traditionally female piece of clothing and still be considered masculine.
If you feel comfortable with this idea, you can always try to play with the fit, and wear what looks good to you!
Grunge fashion is supposed to be simplistic, easy and mundane – but entirely you. To rock the grunge look, you should wear something comfortable and loose but also something that represents your style.
Base the look around your own preferences and don’t let other people get under your skin. Be bold and confident, life is too short to wear boring clothes.