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January 21, 2020 6 min read 5 Comments

The History of The Grunge Era

Grunge is both a music genre and a clothing style. Seattle, Washington is considered to be the birthplace of the grunge movement, which originated in the 1980s. And grunge rock –– sometimes called the Seattle sound –– inspired an entire subculture.

At Affliction Clothing, we’re trailblazers in the world of alternative fashion. Our fearless designs are inspired by risk-takers through the ages, including rock stars from the 80s and 90s. The influence of the grunge era transcends its time. Keep reading to learn all about the grunge movement and its definitive mark on music and fashion.

The History of The Grunge Movement

Definitionally, the word ‘grunge’ is a term used to describe something that’s dirty or offensive. The music industry’s use of the word dates back to the 60s. That being said, the genre tends to be representative of Generation X and the end of the twentieth century.

Sub Pop, an independent record label based in Seattle, is credited for the rapid prominence of grunge. When rock musicians were just starting out and didn’t have a lot of money to spend in recording studios, they couldn’t always create a “clean” sound. Instead, many would crank up the volume, which led to what’s considered “dirty” recordings. Sub Pop began marketing these Pacific Northwest rock bands in the mid-80s, describing the music style as grunge.

In the early days of the grunge movement, the genre represented a mix of heavy metal and punk rock. The signature sound features contorted electric guitar with heavy bass and drums. 

Similar to its definition, grunge-style music was viewed as gritty and unconventional, defying the music industry’s status quo. The song lyrics are usually subdued, introspective, and generally dark. Both the lyrics and the overall sound of grunge music are filled with angst and a feeling of being misunderstood. These themes spoke to a broad audience, and ultimately, ignited what’s known as the grunge era.

The Grunge Era

As more grunge artists cropped up along the west coast and the rest of the U.S. in the late 80s, the underground music scene gained more and more attention. By the early 90s, the grunge scene was so popular that it was no longer an alternative subculture; it was mainstream.

A lot of people think of Nirvana –– and more specifically, Kurt Cobain –– as being at the forefront of the grunge era. Other notable bands of the time include Pearl Jam, Hole, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden. Outside the United States, grunge bands like Bush and Radiohead climbed the charts in the 1990s. With the popularity of these bands, grunge was suddenly the most widely listened to the genre of rock music. 

Toward the end of the era, the sound incorporated indie rock influences in addition to punk and heavy metal. Post-grunge, a subgenre of grunge, was also prominent in the 90s. Popular post-grunge bands include Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Collective Soul, Everclear, Foo Fighters, Hoobastank, Godsmack, Incubus, Creed, and Third Eye Blind.

Part of why grunge music is so iconic is that it essentially came to an end by the turn of the century. A lot of the bands broke up or stopped making albums in the 90s, which triggered a lot of nostalgia. Following Kurt Cobain’s death at an early age in 1994, the entire movement was in mourning. And yet, grunge’s integration into pop culture sparked the rise of alternative music in the late 90s and inspired modern rock as we know it.

Grunge Fashion

So, what is grunge style in terms of fashion? Grunge style reflects the music movement’s gloomy, on-the-fringe themes of social isolation. In addition to a moody vibe, grunge fashion also represents a desire to break through the noise and push back against cultural norms. It’s a little bit careless, nonchalant, and effortlessly cool.

Grunge Style in The 80s and 90s

The debut of grunge style was basically simultaneous with the grunge movement. In the 80s and 90s, music fans began to imitate the outfits seen on their rock band idols. First and foremost, the look is casual, but it’s a lot more than that. Some people describe it as slacker fashion, and others refer to it as a slouch style.

At the beginning of the era, grunge fashion leaned more toward punk, which embraced the daring personas of rebels. Unlike the shiny, neon styles of the 1980s, grunge embraced a darker, more on-the-fringe aesthetic. We’re talking black clothing, mohawks, face and body piercings, tattoos, chains, cut-off sleeves, fishnets, studded belts, and leather jackets.

As the movement progressed, it began to evolve. The 1990s grunge scene was known for people sporting ripped, faded, frayed, and sometimes even wrinkled threads for a generally disheveled look.

Some fashion staples that many associate with the time include ripped jeans, denim jackets, Converse sneakers, Doc Martens, and other lace-up, combat-style boots. Wardrobe go-tos for 90s grunge also included bandanas, beanies, oversized shirts, baggy sweaters, Birkenstocks, and other leather sandals.

Courtney Love of the band Hole (and Kurt Cobain’s wife) was a major inspiration for women’s grunge fashion. She was known for wearing babydoll dresses, slips, tights with holes in them, Maryjane shoes, combat boots, black eye makeup, dark lipstick, oversized coats, and lots of velvet.

The Lumberjack Influence

Flannel might be the most significant trend in the style movement. Whether tied around the waist or worn unbuttoned over a graphic tee, plaid button-down flannel shirts are quintessentially grunge.

Of course, plaid flannel also has lumberjack roots. These shirts have made their way into the modern outdoorsy fashion sector as well. But believe it or not, the lumberjack look played a substantial role in influencing grunge style. After all, Washington is the Evergreen State, and the Pacific Northwest is nothing if not for its lumber.

Flannel shirts and heavy-duty leather boots are essential in the logging industry, and these pieces were abundant in Seattle thrift shops throughout the 80s and 90s. When many of the bands were just starting out, they shopped at thrift stores as a way to save money. Needless to say, some lumberjack clothing was embraced by the music industry.

Grunge outfits for men and women went beyond just the clothing. From outfits and makeup to hairstyles and facial hair, the style is known for an all-around unkempt vibe. This means long, tousled, and often unwashed hair for men and scruffy facial stubble. 90s grunge also adopted androgyny. So, while many men wore their hair long, a lot of women went in the opposite direction with short pixie haircuts.

When Grunge Went Mainstream

At the beginning, the notion was that spending little to nothing on clothing was cool. Unlike other music genres, grunge fashion was the opposite of glamorous.

However, as the fad spread, top designers began integrating grunge into their fashion lines. Flannel shirts, slip dresses, combat boots, and other alternative styles could be found in mainstream department stores with high price tags.

Modern Grunge Style

In the late 90s and early 2000s, baggy clothing had a moment for both men and women. The trends of loose-fitting pants, extra-large tops, and oversized sweatshirts were all byproducts of the original grunge movement. Around this time, the first pre-ripped and pre-faded jeans were sold in stores.

Modern grunge fashion isn’t too far off from the styles of the 80s and 90s. However, the clothing trends from the early era were authentic simply because people were living through it. As with any trend that comes back decades later, the modern iteration will be an imitation original while still celebrating its roots.

90s grunge was all about anti-consumerism with wardrobes made up of t-shirts purchased at rock concerts, and much of the rest bought second-hand. In many ways, the first grunge fashion movement was anti-fashion. Conversely, contemporary grunge style echoes this, except with curated, nostalgic pieces sold by many retailers.

Want to learn how to dress edgy with a grunge look? People rocking today’s grunge look will often wear vintage (or vintage-inspired) t-shirts and sometimes vintage jeans, too. Other than that, you’ll see a lot of similar styles from the 80s and 90s, but most of it is new clothes emulating vintage pieces. This includes distressed jeans, flannel, button-down shirts, graphic tees, bandanas, lace-up leather boots, and Converse sneakers.

Edgy, Grunge-Inspired Threads From Affliction Clothing

Affliction Clothing is all about living on the edge. Our styles integrate Americana, tattoo art, and a risk-taking, rock-and-roll lifestyle.

When you shop our inventory, you’ll find a substantial selection of grunge-inspired threads for both men and women. From short-sleeve graphic tees, button-down shirts, and leather jackets to cool jeans for men & women, bandanas, and zip-up hoodies, we have it all. Whether you grew up in the grunge era or just have an appreciation for the vintage look, Affliction Clothing has something for you.

Start shopping today.

5 Responses

William caputo
William caputo

February 22, 2021

Damn!!!… Didnt know “Affliction” still round!!… Takes me back to my glory days in early-mid 90’s!!!

Amber Ferrano
Amber Ferrano

March 31, 2020

These are always stories from outsiders taken as truth when they are educated guesses. The style was partly do to being poor. So you wore your work clothes as a paver, a cement worker, cook or longshoreman on stage bc you had no spare clothes or show clothes to change into. The actual “fashion” came from Andrew Wood who thought being a Frontman was a big deal and bc he was fun. That was pre Mother Love Bone in his Malfunkshun days. His fiance, Xana LaFuente worked at a rock clothing store and was good at figuring out what looked cool or could be made into something cool so it didn’t look “Buttrock” the term used for pretty hair bands in spandex cuz PNW’er don’t like to show their junk. She even had a sewing machine that sewed leather. Mother Love Bone guys wore the cool hats and Jeff Ament was king of layering as its a way to say you wore shorts and a t-shirt today even though you did it with long underwear. Nirvana did it with Brady Bunch style clothes. It was the difference between having a little money for clothes verse getting donated clothes and Goodwill. If you were a girl and still wanted to look like a girl you got clothes at the Vintage store like a tutu and cute top or babydoll dress with long johns or leggings, which were from a fancy store but when they got a run in them they were donated. Also with all the old homes and the need to upcycle in the PNW a lot of good quality cute clothes from past eras came in. Those were all Demri Parrott’s doing mixing vintage and new. Her and Xana were the Go-To-Girls for that. I took may ppl over to their homes or driving around town from local band members and managers to A&R in town wanting to look cool. Some of the similar looks came from her coming over dropping her dirty clothes on the ground and making herself a cute outfit from your closet (male or female). The upper scale grunge was John Fluvog style and dark clothes from Nordstrom’s but they kinda looked plain enough to look vintage if you added a broach or costume jewelry. You also had the biker element bc they were bouncers at the clubs and the gay element bc they let the bands play in their clubs when there was nowhere else to play outside the grange, Eagles, Elks, or Lions type Clubs. Courtney came up from Portland and would know that style better although there are similarities. Dharma Bums, Love on Ice, Dan Reed, etc. It 100% for sure had nothing to do with John Paul Gaultier as Oprah credits (❤ her but pissed me off she didn’t care enough to look, some ppl might have stores and not be dead now). I know others th there have things to add, like slices from a pie, but this is what I factually know to be true. Coolmarmalade/ScreamingSeattle

Juan Ceasar Garcia
Juan Ceasar Garcia

February 21, 2020

This article was awesome and well done. I am from Washington.

Rupert Dietch
Rupert Dietch

February 21, 2020

What Kevin said

Kevin Lyden
Kevin Lyden

February 20, 2020

I thought affliction was kelly pavlicks favorite band. Im pretty sure the so called “grunge look” was those guys being poor at first and seattle being cold, wet, dark and grey most of the time. Can probably find most of this stuff where they found it. Your local goodwill or thrift store for a substantial smaller amout of money.

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