A Tribute to Grunge Fashion

Grunge is back! Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock it’s been back these past few years. Distressed everything and acid-wash denim have been appearing everywhere from expensive designers to your local H&M. 

Rising in popularity during the early 90s, grunge became an unstoppable force for the youth up in Seattle, Washington. In contrast to the punk movement of the 70s, a statement of rebellion and anti-establishment fueled by provocative designers such as Vivienne Westwood, grunge had an approach that was less expressive. It did not necessarily protest fashion but simply did not care for it. Their oversized, thrifted, and oftentimes, androgynous looks were not a statement of ridding societal norms but rather a simple indifference towards them.

Paradoxically, the lack of any meaning or motivation gave the grunge movement much significance; with the rise of androgyny, many began to contemplate why we placed much importance to what is considered “normal” for boys and girls and what isn’t, an argument which has made its reappearance these past few years.

The grunge movement was popularized through many people most notably, 90s icon Kurt Cobain, lead singer of grunge band Nirvana. In September of 1991, Nirvana had released “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the lead single off their album Nevermind, both of which would garner massive critical acclaim over time. To the band’s surprise, the track and music video gained immense popularity on both radio and television platforms thanks to consistent broadcasting on MTV and support from local college radios.

It was here that the band quickly skyrocketed into mainstream success and with newly achieved fame, Kurt Cobain’s experimental fashion and disheveled look reached into the public in little time, popularizing clothing such as striped pullovers and his signature white sunglasses. Other bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden adopted their unique take on Seattle’s unique sound and aesthetic and would later rise in fame as well within the music scene.


Common characteristics of grunge fashion such as messy hair, flannels of every color, striped longsleeves, band tees, and distressed jeans were clothing that high-end fashion houses would never dream of sending down the runway. Designer brands sell particularly to the elite, upper socioeconomic consumers who possess much discretionary income than the average man.

Ideally, the rich search for luxurious, exquisite designs in clothing so many designers were quick to ignore the grunge movement despite its overshadowing presence in popular culture. They figured no one would shelve five hundred dollars for any garment that looks like it was purchased for five dollars at a local Goodwill. But as always, there was someone daring enough to take upon the challenge.

In 1992, Marc Jacobs, then the lead designer for Perry Ellis, infamously debuted his Spring/Summer 1993 collection that was inspirited with the aesthetic of grunge and had the world of fashion abject in horror. Critics downright disproved his bold designs and reasoned that it didn’t belong among high fashion labels and that no one would desire to spend so much on a look that seems so cheap. They further disparaged his collection and questioned why he was attempting to convert an anti-fashion movement into something contradictory in its nature.

The backlash grew so immense that he was quickly fired from his job as lead designer for Perry Ellis. Although his collection was poorly received, it did not prevent him from later achieving the womenswear Designer of the Year award from the CFDA.

Mustard Cardigan – Forever 21 | Flannel – Vintage| T-Shirt – Vintage | Jeans – Cotton On | Boots: Dr. Martens – UK Flag | Belt: Vintage | Backpack: Fjallraven Kanken

Perhaps you may not have studied that in your history class, but it was indeed a historical moment for fashion. Simply, Jacobs intended to capture the essence of Seattle’s subcultures, hoping to transport the streets onto the runway but instead was met with vast disappointment. Yet surprisingly, 25 years later we have seen its resurgence and quick acceptance as an influence in fashion. It has become so vital to the looks of today and tomorrow that over time, many fashion critics retracted their negative reviews and apologized to Jacobs after realizing how short sighted their remarks had been.

It is now widely accepted that grunge has perpetually evolved the world of fashion and without its existence, our beloved flannels and Docs would dust up at the bottom of our closets. Stemming from a local city in Washington and growing into an international influence, grunge is the book example of fashion’s undeniable universality and its open mindedness to novel ideas and cultures which otherwise, would have never been seen the light of day.

-Valley Boi

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