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Last Updated on December 1, 2022
Have you ever found it difficult to tie grunge style clothing with your modern day outfits?
From college, work, family, seasons or a hundred and one other commitments it can be difficult to integrate grunge style aesthetics into your everyday life.
Well, that’s what this essential grunge style guide is for.
So, let’s begin:
Grunge fashion initially developed in the 80s and grew popular in the 90s, specifically within the Northwestern USA. Many famous grunge rock bands came from this area. Nirvana for example, was founded in Washington. Both Nirvana and Pearl Jam are considered the bands that made grunge culture so appealing.
The grunge movement eventually expanded across the country, and consecutively across the world. Fashion is much more than what people are wearing. It reflects the everyday frustrations and emotions of the society that wears it.
What is Grunge Style?
During the 80s and 90s, capitalism surged within economies—this caused many ideas to appear, citing an attempt of rebellious behavior. Grunge style is a reflection of this rebellious attitude that Generation X was feeling. It stood against the status quo, and stood for the liberty to be openly careless.
Grunge fashion is characterized by the aspect of ‘dressing down’. There are endless stylistic deviations from the 90s seen in current fashion trends.
If I was to throw out a pivotal list of grunge womenswear.
Here it is:
- Silk slip dresses
- Babydoll dresses
- Plaid flannels
- Vintage floral prints
- Black leather
- Ripped jeans
- Crop tops
- Chunky black boots
These are styles that are still worn by influencers and celebrities. They became popular in the 90s, but fashion is an endless repetitive cycle and they have become popular once again.
80s Grunge Fashion
The word ‘grunge’ was briefly mentioned during the 70s, but did not attract attention until the 80s. During this decade, grunge music and fashion began to grow due to the decline of punk music. The grunge style during the 80s had many similarities to punk, even though they are now considered completely different aesthetics.
They are similar in terms of the careless vibe they give off to spectators; even though grunge is much more effortless than punk. Punk fashion is about trying to look effortless, while grunge is about just being naturally effortless.
Grunge fashion during the 80s was defined by a combination of the two subcultures, and later evolved fully on its own throughout the 90s.
Early 90s Grunge Fashion
Grunge fashion developed into a more minimalistic concept during the early 90s. Throughout the 80s, grunge elements were attempted in combination with punk. At the beginning of the 90s, grunge was established through a fully careless attitude—wearing comfortable, minimalistic clothes, that reflected the carefree and liberal state of Generation X. Grunge fashion had its official breakthrough in 1992.
Courtney Love is one of the great American female musical artists of the 90s. Love made a huge impact within the grunge genre scene. Admired for her fearless personality, shameless attitude, and incredible voice, Courtney seemed to live through a grunge lifestyle—one that her fans highly admired.
When thinking of her, images of Kurt Cobain immediately come to mind. She was married to the king of grunge, and the two were often seen showing their incredible sense of style together.
Grunge was one of the passions that brought them together.
Read: Early 90s Fashion: 15 Fascinating Trends
Mid 90s Grunge Fashion
While grunge fashion peaked in 1993, by 1994 it had slightly evolved in terms of aesthetics. Fashion trends became slightly more feminine and elegant—not as careless as they were during the initial years of the decade. Grunge remained well and live, but had slightly changed. Plaid was still a favored print, but this time among blazers and neat miniskirts.
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill
Kathleen Hanna is an American singer and activist who rose to popularity during the 90s as the lead vocalist of the band Bikini Kill.
She was without a doubt an icon of grunge fashion, and adapted to the changes within the style during the mid 90s. Kathleen was known for her punk rock sense of style, reflecting elements of grunge.
She often wore plaid, crop tops, had messy hair, and was generally unafraid of speaking her mind. Kathleen’s best grunge looks were worn on stage during her multiple, unforgettable performances.
Shirley Manson of Garbage
Shirley Manson began her musical career in the 80s, but made her breakthrough in the mid 90s. The Scottish native singer had a very particular sense of style that attracted a huge fandom—very punk rock, grunge.
She loved heavy eye makeup. Primarily a thick application of winged black eyeliner. Her short, always messy red hair was also an iconic aspect of her appearance.
Read: Mid-90s Fashion: Less Becomes More
Late 90s Grunge Fashion
The late 90s grunge fashion was heavily influenced by other cultures and past fashions. The 70s made a comeback during the late 90s, which had an effect on grunge. The 70s was also a time fueled by energetic rock and roll bands, such as Ramones and Sex Pistols.
See the influence of this past decade within the late 90s, from 1997 onward. These were combined with trendy bright color palettes. Unusual, yet at the time, an modern interpretation of grunge.
Winona Ryder was an icon of grunge fashion based on her street style looks. She was heavily publicized during the early 90s not only because of her successful acting career, but because she was dating equally as famous Johnny Depp. Winona was admired for her effortlessly cool fashion looks
And oh my, it lasted throughout the 90s, up until the early 2000s.
Gwen Stefani was one of the most successful singers during the 90s. While her musical genre leaned more towards pop rather than rock, Gwen still incorporated grunge fashion in her looks both on and off stage.
Her stage performances often shows her using grunge outfits. People watched Gwen and copied whatever she was wearing. Her career will always revolve around her ‘golden years’. The 90s. Her colorful yet grunge style reflected the changes made within fashion towards the end of the 90s.
Grunge Fashion Designers
Marc Jacobs is credited as one of the designers who worked with grunge fashion the most during the 90s, as creative director at Perry Ellis. His 1993 Spring Collection for the brand featured multiple grunge elements such as chunky, untied black boots, plenty of plaid prints, and effortlessly layered silhouettes.
The show was described as unconventional, and was said to be the reason why Marc was let go from Perry Ellis. However, the show has recently begun to attract attention causing Marc to consider a revival for future shows though his self-titled brand.
Read: 11 Top Punk Clothing Brands that Defines the Subculture
Calvin Klein is attributed as the brand who made slip dresses famous during the 90s. An eternally iconic garment that will always be very 90s. Slip dresses may appeal towards women who want to dress grunge, but still like to maintain a feminine appeal.
The Fall 1996 Read-To-Wear Collection featured plenty of slip dresses that could be styled through the grunge aesthetic.
Perhaps the most iconic 90s brand was Doc Martens. A brand that is still selling the same, classic shoes from the 90s today. The Originals Eight-Eye Lace-up Boot in black are the best sellers, and were highly common during the 90s.
Buy a pair!:
This is the first and most important detail in a grunge outfit—these can also make any outfit look edgier, therefore more grunge.
The grunge aesthetic is still very much alive in fashion trends today. Many people look back at the 90s for current inspiration, from high end designers, to smaller start up brands. Brands like Saint Laurent and Dries van Noten have worked grunge elements into their collections during the early 2010’s.
Modern grunge can be described by elements such as the iconic plaid prints, small floral prints, washed out denim, translucent slip dresses, and the most popular—the oversized silhouette. Blazers, sweatshirts, and t shirts are worn in bigger sizes to provide this unpretentious and casual attitude.
Grunge Street Style
Today, as well as back in the 90s, grunge street style is very personal and can be adapted towards each individual’s particular style.
The general rules to follow:
- Wear oversized anything
- Choose garments that seem worn out
- Accessorize with chunky gold jewelry
- Choose a statement show—like ‘stomping’ boots
- DON’T bother brushing your hair
When it comes to the hair you can wear it down or tie it back. Do not skip the makeup. Apply it in a hurried, slightly smudged manner. This will create an impression that you quickly left your house—you still look stylish, even though you don’t look put together.
Grunge chic is a stylistic interpretation of the grunge subculture that emerged in the late 90s. It has since developed into a style of its own. Grunge chic takes the basic elements of grunge, and combines them with a more feminine and elegant elements.
The easiest way to achieve the grunge chic look is to mix edgy grunge garments with a statement, chic piece.
For example: Pair a worn, slightly oversized t shirt with a pencil skirt and sleek leather boots. Another grunge chic outfit could be a formal blazer featuring plaid print, paired together with leather leggings.
The cute grunge style consists of bringing out the more ‘sexy schoolgirl’ elements of grunge fashion that were very on trend during the late 90s. Think plaid miniskirts, floral print baby doll dresses, and tiny crop tops.
During the peak of their careers, the Spice Girls often played with elements of cute grunge within their outfit choices.
Skin tight mini dresses, colorful crop tops, and slip dresses all formed part of their go to wardrobe. They played with grunge silhouettes and bright color palettes.
High Fashion and Classy Grunge
High end fashion houses interpreted grunge fashion through their own, more traditional ways. The 90s was the era of the supermodels. A forever icon of high-end grunge fashion, Kate Moss was discovered in the late 80s.
Her career took off in the early 90s. She was one of the most influential people in fashion during the 90s. As the “it” girl and most popularized supermodel, what she wore was highly important to her followers.
Kate has always been described as having a laid-back attitude towards life, very similar to the general idea that pushed the grunge movement. While Kate has multiple different styles and is a fashion ‘chameleon’ of sorts; she will always be remembered for her grunge style. She favored Calvin Klein for many of her stylistic choices.
Currently, high end fashion houses such as Anna Sui and Miu Miu often look back at 90s grunge for modern interpretations of grunge. Grunge gone classy.
Pastel Soft Grunge
The pastel soft grunge style incorporates classic elements of grunge with a pastel color palette.
This trend first appeared in 2010 as an interpretation of the original 90s grunge. It takes into account elements of the goth subculture as well—distressed leggings, fishnet stockings, and pastel dyed hair.
The must haves to build a soft grunge look are stud earrings, thick soled sneakers, faded flannels, Converse sneakers, plastic chokers, and sleeveless 90’s band t shirts.
While there are clear references to punk within grunge aesthetic, they are very different styles overall. Punk grunge combines aspects from the two into one, generalized style. Punk is more raw; harsher music genre, edgier style, and more hardcore. Like that seen below:
Grunge is a gentler form of the harshness that punk represents. Incorporating elements like chains, darker color tonalities, and darker makeup looks is a great way to achieve the punk grunge look.
Read: 90s Makeup Ideas (And How It!)
Simple and Comfy Grunge
The 90s are known as an era that referred back to minimalism within fashion. There are definitely elements within grunge fashion that reflect this minimalism, and are equally stylish without compromising comfort.
Simple and comfy grunge is just that. Oversized tees, loose jeans, multiple layers, sneakers, and tons of unbuttoned flannels.
Anything too loose can be fixed with a leather belt tied around the waist.
In some ways, pale grunge is quite similar to soft and pastel grunge. However, pale grunge does not take into account the goth elements. Pale grunge displays the more innocent and simplistic side of grunge.
It is the mirror image of traditional grunge—instead of incorporating dull, bright, or dark colors, it focuses on lighter colors—primarily white and cream shades.
Hipster and Indie Grunge
Hipster and indie grunge style are a ‘free spirit’ take on classic grunge aesthetics. The perfect example to represent this style is Indie rock singer from the 90s, Liz Phair.
The American vocalist incorporated indie grunge for what it was; a lifestyle, and much more than a way of dressing. Her outfits often combined edgy elements of grunge with hipster garments such as tie dye prints, fringes, and suede boots.
Grunge Bohemian Style
Grunge bohemian style is heavily inspired by elements from the 70s—boot cut jeans, warm color schemes, and long loose silhouettes.
Boho grunge takes the best of iconic elements from the 70s and incorporates them with elements like ripped denim, layers on layers, and comfy sneakers.
The bohemian interpretation of grunge is highly significant since the 70s played a big role in fashion during the late 90s.
Post Grunge Fashion
After the 90s ended, a big shift occurred within the fashion industry. Even though grunge fashion had ended, many of the characteristics that had made such a vast movement had remained. Early 2000s fashion prioritized casual clothing.
Endless denim, leisurewear, tracksuits, camo pants, studded belts and converse were all the rage. The ideas of the post grunge decade were similar, yet different in many ways visually. Post grunge fashion prioritized sequins, shiny fabrics, and shimmering mesh. It was the same ideology, portrayed under a different light.
Types of Clothing
Silk slip dresses were considered iconic within grunge fashion during the 90s. They could be worn on their own—no bra included, or on top of a t shirt for a more rustic look. Slip dresses are a timeless wardrobe piece that every woman should consider purchasing.
They make for a comfy and sexy option for date night—but can double as an elegant option for a daytime lunch. Slip dresses are highly versatile and can be used during all seasons, by all styles. Superdry sells a gorgeous knitted slip dress that appeals to this 90s aesthetic. Buy it here.
Grunge skirts featured floral prints. Floral prints were considered very grunge during the 90s,. Especially designs featuring small flowers, slightly washed out.
Every decade interprets floral prints in their own way—the grunge floral print interpretations of the 90s are still trendy today.
Not everyone is a fan of this print, as it is very particular. The River Island Black Floral Frill Split Midi skirt speaks of the grunge 90s. It is a contemporary version of the same style and print, a perfect addition to anyone looking to be more grunge. Buy it here!
Distressed, torn, and ripped denim was the only way to do jeans in the 90s. While brands began selling distressed denim pants, many people opted to distress their own jeans. Acid wash denim was the preferred fabric of choice.
Slightly distressed jeans such as the Rag & Bone Ruth Blue Distressed Straight-Leg Jeans from Harvey Nichols are a great way to be introduced to this trend, without committing the whole way. These jeans also feature the slightly acid wash tonality—taking you straight back to the 90s. You can also try the DIY trend of tearing apart your own jeans at home.
Grunge tees during the 90s featured the names and promotions of famous rock bands that had a big presence during the decade. These included Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, and many others.
In grunge fashion today, the same vintage t-shirts are highly valued and sought after. Based on consumer needs, brands have also begun displaying these promotions. Like this authentic Pearl Jam stickman logo t-shirt at Amazon.
Grunge sweaters during the 90s were usually thick, made from wool materials, and worn oversized. Some of the most popular prints were vertical stripes and plaid.
Grunge sweaters are an easy way to give any outfit a grunge vibe, by simply draping the sweater over your shoulder, tying it around your waist, or wearing it atop any shirt. This stunning Oversized Rainbow Sweater at Amazon would be a modern option. Check it out.
Black leather is one of the most recognizable materials oriented towards the grunge fashion aesthetic of the 90s. Women wore black leather jackets consistently. Just see Gwyneth Paltrow below.
This Joanna Black Leather Biker Jacket by Gestuz is the ideal wardrobe staple to grunge up any outfit; jeans, a dress, a skirt, the possibilities are endless.
This garment in particular is very 90s since the material is slightly distressed. It gives off the impression that it has been used, recalling the thrift shop days of the 90s.
The most common shoes of grunge womenswear you will find in the 90s were chunky black boots, clobbers, Doc Martens, combats. Call them what you want. They were grunge.
These are still highly popular today, can be easily purchased, and will allow you to create endless stylish looks with them.
During the 90s, grunge fashion included the use of sandals as well, Drew Barrymore wore these well.
These were easy to throw on, and added an air of casualness to any outfit. They varied. But mostly included black rubber flipflops, or tie around the ankle, black leather, low heled sandals. These Parker Black Leather Sandals by Rag & Bone are the perfect grunge sandal to accessorize your wardrobe.
Summer Grunge Outfits
The summer is by far the hottest time of year—sunny days, unbearably high temperatures, and outdoor activities. To achieve the grunge style during the summer, try wearing all the garments that are easy to wear in hot climates that will be airy, and comfortable, without compromising style.
Go for a cool slip dress made from cotton or silk, a flower print baby doll dress, a pair of acid wash jean shorts, and oversized tees worn like dresses.
Spring Grunge Outfits
Spring is similar to summer, but a bit fresher in terms of temperature. The ideal grunge spring outfit would include a slip dress layered a top a unicolor tee like that shown below.
Include it with a vintage tee worn with distressed denim, a floral print mid length skirt, and consistent use of black sandals.
Fall Grunge Outfits
During the fall, the season changes greatly and begins cooling down. This change of temperature calls for the same grunge styles, worn differently. Always opt for a pair of black leather boots, lack tights, and endless sweaters and turtlenecks paired with slip dresses.
You can begin layering garments to give of the effect of 90s grunge.
Winter Grunge Outfits
The Winter is the coldest season, and is when layering comes in handy. Any grunge garment can be worn during the wintertime, if properly layered with warmer alternatives.
Wardrobe essentials include thicker black tights, thick striped sweaters, and plaid everything.
A plaid jacket is the perfect way to give your outfit a grunge edge without trying too hard.
Chokers were huge during the 90s, and were favorites of grunge fashion icons such as Gwen Stefani.
1. The choker
We all remember teen Drew Barrymore´s chokers and the tattoo-choker trend that followed. This celebrity really explored neck attire. Want to see a multitude of choker necklace styles? Check out here. The same iconic chokers that were favorites in the 90s can still be purchased, buy your 90s style chokers here.
Pro-tip: Get a thick black velvet or satin ribbon, thread a pendant, like a cross or a crystal and off you go!
2. Long chains
In 1993, a Calvin Klein ad campaign shows how layering a bunch of long chains grants instant coolness, a characteristic of one of the supermodels that ruled the 90s, Kate Moss. With uncombed hair, no makeup, and sometimes no shoes, her options were mainly of the minimal kind, but still on the wild side of grunge.
Pro-tip: Wear your stacked necklaces as an effortless accent, as Kate Moss did and pair them with basic tops and dresses.
3. Hoop earrings
Golden hoop earrings were an alternative accessory choice, and favorite of the decade as well. Sounds from the Fugees and iconic Lauren Hill — the successful hip-hop band lead singer — work as an instant flashback to her earring choice. That is, the hoop.
You can dress it up, by throwing a fur coat over a leather jumpsuit, or down, with a denim jacket and long skirt. Lauren’s policy for this ear accessory is appropriate for every occasion.
Pro-tip: Be bold, notice and hop on the hoop, the same way Hill did by combining earrings with identical necklaces and bracelets!
The cherry on top is nothing less than a tiara. Steel the irreverent way of wearing it from the queen of grunge Courtney Love. For a night out pair it with a satin dress, for a casual day top it over a babydoll collared dress.
Pro-tip: You might need a twin friend to match as Love did in 1995 with Amanda de Cadenet when attending the Academy Awards. Your lips: the color red.
Grunge hair is very simple; the messier, the better. Forget your hairbrush and simply run your fingers to tousle up your bedhead. Hair is such a powerful accessory. It can say a lot about a person, including their personal style. Courtney Love was the 90s grunge hair queen. Love always left her hair ‘au natural’. Giving us endless hair goals.
Alike everything grunge, grunge makeup is characterized about not trying too hard. Grunge makeup is slightly smudged and messy.
To recreate the grunge makeup look, apply a light layer of foundation, but not enough to cover all imperfections.
Line your lids with a thick coat of black liner, and then gently smudge it with a blending brush. A light coat of dark red lipstick is the right way to complete the look.
While this style guide will help you get that grunge look using current fashion trends. This edgy fashion subculture includes much more than a way of dressing.
Attitude. You gotta feel it. Start by attempting a laidback, relaxed attitude towards life. To be grunge is about being free (or at least feeling free); being your true self, and simply not caring what others may think. The 90s was a fun time, full of moshes, raves, innovations, and comfort over fashion. Recreate this lifestyle, anytime, anywhere!