Grunge is both a music genre and a clothing style. Seattle, Washington is considered to be the birthplace of thegrunge 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 thegrunge era transcends its time. Keep reading to learn all about thegrunge movementand its definitive mark on music and fashion.
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 thegrunge 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 thegrunge 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.
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.
The debut of grunge style was basically simultaneous with thegrunge 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.
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.
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.
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 originalgrunge 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.
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 thegrunge eraor just have an appreciation for the vintage look, Affliction Clothing has something for you.
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