Last Updated on November 18, 2020
Whether out of feels or chills, the metal subculture outfit was almost always a head-turner.
Comfy or restrained, flashy or trashy, colorful or monochrome, the 90’s metal scene covered it all.
With more than a 50 year-long history, the metal subculture was there to welcome all those who didn’t feel they fitted well into society. Those who had the urge to express themselves differently, or simply enjoy the thrill of the mosh-pits.
Metal looks, as well as its music, might not be everyone’s cup of tea but the aesthetics within the community always had a special place for millions around the world. Even when it was neglected, it was neglected on purpose, out of rebellion, or as the means of expressing a point.
Metal and its fashion in the ’90s holds a dear place in my heart too as I was myself a nu-metal head in the late 90s. While metal may hide in the shadows of the mainstream when it comes to fashion that doesn’t mean you can’t get some outfit inspiration.
Origins of Metal Music
From blues to rockabilly, over rock and hard-rock, metal has a lot of moms and dads.
Most agree the first band to create the definitive heavy metal sound was a band from Birmingham, UK (the city I was born in), they were Black Sabbath. They set the path to all the legends that were to come after them.
Although Black Sabbath was the first heavy metal band, there were songs prior to their music that influenced and/or sounded like metal, especially the music of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, even Jimmy Hendrix and other hard-rock bands out there rocking in the ’60s.
As far as the influences go, some bands were more important than others to our favorite metal stars and idols, young and green back then. Other than those we mentioned above, some of the strongest influences many metal musicians report were by Kiss, Rush, Motley Crew, recently late Van Halen, AC/DC, etc.
Since then, metal developed and branched out to different sub-genres all with their particular staple, some fusing other styles of music like classical, jazz, hard-rock, etc. The most important genres worth mentioning are:
- Heavy Metal (of course, coming to us in the ’70s);
- Thrash Metal (the 80’s);
- Black Metal (80’s);
- Death Metal (80’s as well);
- Industrial (you guessed it – late 80’s);
- Progressive Metal (80’s again)
- and finally Hard-Core and the other –core subgenres (sprinkled around the 80’s and the ’90s).
Combine any of these and/or add anything else outside metal and you’ll get Power Metal, Grind-core, Nu-metal, Doom, Speed, Groove, Gothic, Math, and so on.
90’s Metal Culture
Now, even though some staple metal movements began in the ’90s, metal also evolved throughout the eras and some crossings are vaguer than others.
What’s important for the metal alternative culture in the ’90s was MTV and the impact it had on how bands could reach potential fans. The other methods then included radios and the community that shared their discoveries as well as the recordings on decks and occasionally CDs. Man, those were the times!
With metal, the key-words are ‘heavy’, ‘dark’, and ‘reaction’. The ‘reaction’ doesn’t necessarily mean drawing a reaction out of others. It also means showing your reactive opinion on the matter of things around you. For example, in the ’70s and the ’80s men wearing long hair was a reaction to a formal and rigid way of understanding manliness.
The ’90s was an interesting period because metal culture was already well-developed, seeing many bands rise and fall and even some genres losing popularity. What marked the ’90s in this sense was first slow and then a rapid loss of interest in heavy metal looks and the classic heavy metal aesthetic.
This doesn’t mean that the heavy metal attire was completely wiped out from the scene since other genres adopted and adapted it to their looks. And then on top of all of this, the 90’s kids started gaining reaction not only to the mainstream culture but also kind of rebelled ‘against their own’. This included cutting hair or having their own particular gear, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Early 90s Metal Fashion
In this transitory period from the ’80s come a few genres that were brewing back then.
Thrash metal made the blazing revamp during the early ’90s as the most notable bands published some of their greatest work (Metallica with Black for instance).
This aesthetic included:
- Tight jeans
- Large buckle belts
- Long hair
Thrash metal will see its weakening coming from the death metal scene which was back then underground but soon will take its place.
The second wave of Norwegian Black Metal was coming to the rise with bands such as Immortal, Cradle of Filth, or Dimmu Borgir.
- Reverse crosses
- Pins and needles
- Monochrome black attire
Finally, with bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, the Grunge movement was on the rise, rebelling against the exclusive and often extravagant style of other genres, namely Hair-metal fashion or Glam.
- Second-hand shirts, especially flannel shirts
- Ripped jeans
- Ripped cardigans
- The hair was still long (but not mandatory)
Mid 90s Metal Fashion
In the mid-’90s, the Death metal scene totally gained momentum. Death metal fashion was on the rise.
- Black t-shirts
- Black leather jackets
- Blue or black jeans
- Sleeveless t-shirts
- Heavy combat boots
- Sometimes simple sneakers
- Bullet belts
- Few leather wristbands
Generally, it felt a little more casual than Thrash.
Industrial metal also gained a larger, mainstream fan-base with Nine Inch Nails in the forefront and that brought a new glam to the dark.
The style included:
- Acid wash denim
- Unusual combinations of torn garments
- Don’t forget the platform boots
Gothic also grew at that time and that meant everything screamed Edgar Alan Poe, if not darker.
Women’s gothic culture prided themselves with:
- Gothic-inspired dresses
- Silk and tulle skirts
..and for the boys either:
Victorian-inspired dapper suits with either red or white/grey details.
Think Edward Scissorhands or Brandon Lee in the Crow. Either that or classic rock and metal gear with a Misfits vibe.
Late 90s Metal Fashion
And then came Nu Metal.
With the 90’s fairly on the way and coming to an end, the fight between hip-hop and metal finally came to a halt. Some even became friends and founded your favorite Nu metal bands that brought new nu-metal fashion that just didn’t give a damn.
Korn popularized tracksuits cause, why not?
Other popular garb included:
- Basketball jerseys
- Baggy, reeeaaaallly baggy pants (usually bell bottomed)
- Three-quarters pants
- Lanyards and chain wallets
- Vans shoes
You could do anything with your hair, but dreadlocks, braids, and spikes, preferably of different colors were popular. Chain wallets were big and even mentioned in tracks.
Along with Nu-metal fashion, costume bands also rose to popularity, of which only a few continued with the gig. Mudvayne, Mushroomhead, Slipknot deserve honorable mentions.
Popular styles included:
- Face paints and masks
- Body paints
- Work uniforms
- Prison uniforms
Custom made costumes of clowns were even in a mix, especially when Wes Borland joined Limp Bizkit. As far as the costume styles and patterns, only imagination and your will to dare set the boundaries.
90s Metal Clothing Types (And Who Wore Them)
Thrash and Death Metal
Denim and leather vests and jackets as well as jeans no matter the color was shared by Thrash and Death metalheads. The Death metal fans being a little more casual.
Patches, leather wristbands with studs, Dr. Martens boots, or simple trainers such as Converse All-stars were their favorites. T-shirts were black, often with a band print, sometimes sleeveless or with sleeves torn.
Industrial and Gothic
Dark platform boots, hefty boots, leather, spandex were used by Industrial and Gothic culture along with makeup or even face paint. With gothic spreading its interest towards silk and other quality materials, while the industrials preferred the dark and, well, industrial dark electronic, ‘a man is a machine’ outlook.
The black was the color of choice to the Black Metal fans including the face paint, leather arm, and leg accessories but excluding the platform shoes, most thought it was too much.
A casual look with sports elements, flannel, denim, and everything that’s in the back of their closet were the garments of choice for the Grunge subculture, and basketball jerseys, baggy jeans, and pants, tracksuits, with comfy sports sneakers were preferred by the Nu-metal fans.
Accessories and Footwear
As far as the heavy metal outfit accessories go, wristbands, chokers, chains, and belts were the most popular. All of them could include studs, nails, pins, needles (especially in Black Metal attire), or bullets. Different kinds of patches were popular among Thrashers and Death metal fans and were usually about their favorite bands or reverse crosses, pentagrams, and so on.
The footwear was always an important piece of clothing for the metalheads and while some liked fitting the rest of the attire, the others didn’t care. Hi-top basketball trainers were liked because they were light, heavy, or hefty boots.
After all, they were useful in the mosh pits, the platform boots looked grotesque to many so they shocked a hell of a lot. Some on the other hand liked it comfortable and just went along with whatever hip hop fans used.
Other than those, wallets, bags, and anything else used most commonly was somehow painted, dressed, and made to fit the style of a particular stream. Thrash preferring Kevlar and other hard-fabric, while others liked leather or simpler materials. Stylish rings and jewelry were mandatory for the Gothic subculture. The larger the better.
Metal Outfit Ideas
Go back in the time when Chuck Schuldiner made both men and women woo with his dank licks by finding a Death band printed t-shirt, tear the sleeves, black jeans, a leather jacket, and Dr. Martens boots.
This is something I’ve always wanted to try! Gold skin paint and the same colored work pants, preferably with suspenders, and gold-painted platform shoes. That’s it! Watch out for the weather!
For this nu-metal fashion, you’d need a pair of JNCO jeans and simple Adidas sneakers, wear a baseball hat backward, a goatee, and a baggy FUBU T-shirt.
Famous Metal Artists of the 90s
Pantera and Metallica were the bands that definitely marked the nineties as the two most popular bands overall.
Metallica belonged to the Big Four of American thrash with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. Other notable bands in that field were Testament, Kreator, Voivod, Exodus, Sodom, and Annihilator.
On the groove side with Pantera, you’ve had bands such as Sepultura, Machine Head, Damageplan, Pro-Pain, etc.
Traditional heavy metal
Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Helloween, Accept still kept their popularity among the remaining Heavy Metal fans.
Korn, Deftones, Slipknot, Linkin Park, System of a Down, Mudvayne, Coal Chamber, Otep were the staples of Nu Metal.
Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age were at the forefront of the Seattle Grunge scene. Is there any grunge band that wasn’t from Seattle?
Type O Negative, Therion, Paradise Lost, Lacuna Coil, Moonspell, Katatonia, Nightwish, Timat filled the void in the souls of Goth.
Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, Ministry, Fear Factory, Marilyn Manson, Godhead, Prong dug already large voids in the hearts of the fans of Industrial metal.
Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Emperor stole the souls of Black metal fans, and Morbid Angel, Archenemy, Canibal Corpse, Death, Opeth, Meshuggah were thought by Death metal fans are ‘to die for’.
Finally, the two honorable mentions (and there were many, many more) that don’t fit in any of the genres are Tool and Dream Theater representing the progressive metal of the time.
What’s your favourite metal style? Let me know in the comments below.