Grunge was a music genre before it became a fashion trend. Emerging in Seattle, Washington in the 80s and peaking in the 90s, the rock music style was a hybrid of metal and punk. The genre became a subculture of its own and sparked the grunge era, which gave way to grunge fashion.
Sometimes called the Seattle sound, grunge music of the time was full of angst. It featured moody lyrics, deep bass, distorted electric guitar, and heavy drums. Many associate Nirvana and the group’s late frontman, Kurt Cobain, with grunge. The band was at the forefront during the height of the grunge era in the early 90s. Other prominent grunge bands at the time were the Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Hole, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, and Bush.
The music genre was all about an on-the-fringe vibe. Song lyrics tended to cover themes of carelessness and being an outcast. The grunge outfits that were worn by band members typically reflected this attitude. If the look speaks to you or if you’re just feeling nostalgic about the era, you might be wondering how to dress edgy with a grunge look. Consider this your guide to everything you need to know about grunge fashion as well as a few grunge outfit ideas for men.
When rock bands were new to the Pacific Northwest music scene, they were known to shop for edgy clothing at thrift stores to save money. Since the region has a booming logging industry, a lot of flannel shirts, worn-in skinny jeans, and heavy-duty lace-up leather boots were found in second-hand shops. As a result, these lumberjack staples ended up being a go-to for grunge band members through the 90s.
As many trends go, fans began to imitate the clothing choices of their rock band idols. At the time, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love (his wife and frontwoman of the band Hole) were grunge fashion icons. In addition to their music, the quintessential couple was known for their unkempt looks. They wore lots of baggy attire, donned worn-out, faded apparel, and mixed and matched colors and patterns.
Besides edgy clothing, the grunge era saw a lot of disheveled hairstyles, dark, outside-the-lines grunge makeup, and androgyny. For men, this meant longer, unwashed hair and unshaven faces. Women often rocked super-short pixie cuts, dark lip colors, and heavy black eye makeup.
The look was the complete opposite of the bright and flashy neon trend from the 80s. So, what was grunge style, then? Ultimately, grunge style was anti-fashion. Those who wore it were essentially saying, “I can’t be bothered to follow trends and wear nice clothing.” Of course, once the fad caught on, grunge outfits were mainstream. The anti-fashion movement couldn’t escape becoming a curated style of its own.
During the grunge movement, fashion go-to’s included frayed and ripped denim jeans, corduroy pants, leather jackets, denim coats, plaid flannel shirts, oversized coats, turtlenecks, velvet shirts, babydoll dresses, band tees or other graphic t-shirts, and loose-fitting sweaters.
For accessories, it was all about black leather belts, beanies, bandanas, and ripped tights. Converse and other worn-down sneakers were hot at the time. Combat-style boots like Doc Martens were popular as well as Birkenstock sandals.
Today’s grunge look is somewhat of a remix of the original fad. It’s about taking vintage pieces from the era in addition to modern styles to create contemporary grunge outfits. Now that we’ve discussed the history of the grunge era a bit, check out our favorite grunge outfit ideas for men below.
To nail a classic grunge look, start with a pair of jeans –– the more distressed, the better. Jeans that were ripped at the knee were one of the most popular trends at the time. That said, a faded, frayed, or otherwise distressed pair will work, too.
Next, grab a band t-shirt or another graphic tee. For shoes, go for a pair of high-top Converse Chuck Taylors. To finish the look, opt for a loose-fitting plaid flannel button-down shirt. Wear it unbuttoned over the tee, or tie it around your waist.
Although most people associate vintage grunge fashion with the early 90s trends, it was a slightly different scene in the 80s. That’s because of punk rock’s influence on the alternative music industry.
For this rebellious look, start with a pair of black jeans or chinos (they can be ripped, but they don’t have to be). Next, throw on a plain t-shirt or a graphic tee of your choice. Grab a pair of black trainers or combat boots, and finish the ensemble with a leather jacket. If you want to take it a step further, you might also consider a leather belt and maybe even a bandana.
Baggy clothes were a big part of the grunge scene in the 90s, and the trend continued into the early 2000s. Loose-fitting apparel is back, but it’s not exactly what it was a couple of decades ago. We’re talking about oversized cuts, which tend to be boxy, not baggy.
Another one of our favorite grunge outfits for men is a simple oversized shirt with jeans. Oversized shirts aren’t sloppy, and they’re not just an extra-extra-large size of a standard t-shirt. They have a distinct cut that makes for an unexpected silhouette. To get an oversized shirt grunge outfit just right, you’ll want to avoid other loose-fitting pieces. Go for slim-cut jeans or chinos to balance out the top. A pair of straightforward lace-up trainers are a good bet for shoes. For accessories, opt for a beanie.
During the chillier time of year, you’ll want to make sure you’re bundled up with plenty of layers before heading out. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still pull off a grunge look.
For your shirts, start with a simple long-sleeve tee and layer a short sleeve t-shirt over it. For added warmth, wear a button-down shirt over both t-shirts. Unbuttoned is fine, but you’ll stay a little warmer if you button it. Kurt Cobain was often seen wearing oversized cardigan sweaters –– it was one of his signature androgynous looks. If you want your grunge outfit to look more authentic, you could consider a cardigan instead of a button-down.
Then select your pants. Both blue and black denim are great options for winter, so just wear your favorite pair. Put on some thick socks, throw on some combat-style boots, hiking boots, or other heavy-duty leather boots, any of which will keep your feet warm. Finish the look with a leather coat or a denim jacket with sherpa lining, and throw on your favorite beanie.
On the other hand, when it’s hot outside, you might be looking for some warm-weather grunge outfit ideas. So, can you achieve the 1990s Pacific Northwest look even if you don’t live in a Pacific Northwest climate? As a matter of fact, you can.
Jean shorts (or jorts) are a go-to for summertime grunge outfits for men, but cargo shorts are a solid choice, too. For your shirt, cut-off sleeves will make you look edgy while keeping you cool. Graphic tees or tanks also work. You won’t need a flannel shirt or button down to keep you warm, but you can always tie one around your waist. For shoes, Birkenstocks or other leather throwback-style sandals are great for warm-weather grunge outfits. A simple pair of sneakers is a great option as well.
In the beginning, the grunge era turned its back on conventional fashion. And yet, once the styles caught fire, a very specific fashion movement was ignited. Spending money on clothes was thought to be uncool by grunge rock superfans. That said, after a few years, designers began to implement the styles into their clothing lines –– often selling them at very high price points. At that point, grunge clothing was officially mainstream.
The resurgence of fashion trends doesn’t have the authenticity of their first iterations. For example, ripped denim jeans epitomized the grunge era, but they don’t make as much of a statement today as they did in ‘92. That’s because they’re an extremely common article of clothing that’s been around for a while. In fact, most denim retailers sell pre-ripped jeans. However, fashion comebacks still celebrate their roots, all while adding a modern twist –– and modern grunge attire is no different.
At Affliction Clothing, we salute alternative fashion, and our designs are proof of this. Not only do we accept our afflictions, but we embrace them. The unintentional grunge fashion movement wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the alpha band members and their “I could care less” attitudes. Without even trying, they were ringleaders of the most iconic style of the 90s.
When you shop for grunge outfits from Affliction Clothing, you’ll find an abundance of graphic tees in both short-sleeve and long-sleeve styles. We also carry button-down shirts, a huge inventory of denim, shorts, and tanks as well as leather jackets and other edgy outerwear.
Start browsing grunge-inspired attire from Affliction Clothing today.
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