90s Grunge Fashion Tips and Basics

90s grunge fashion basics
| Style > Alternative Style


See our full list of Grunge fashion tips based on what people wore the first time round. Authentic 90s Grunge basics.

Grunge fashion was led by music, poverty, and social alienation. After a quick scoot through grunge music history we pile into the key elements of grunge fashion and how it applies today. If you’re interested in grunge fashion, the chances are that you’re not desperate to jump on a style bandwagon. You know your grunge roots, and you’ve no intention of paying £400 for silk army pants just because a glossy magazine told you that was the way to take on board the grunge comeback. Hell, we don’t even know if there even is a grunge comeback. Who cares? We just think grunge is a good style for poor people who love music and generally mooching around…

How to Wear Grunge Style Tips

A flowery dress and Doc Martens is the perfect grunge look. The dress should end above the knee, but hey – no rules.

Flowery cotton dresses rock. Grunge style encourages you to wear flowery frocks whatever gender you are. But only with heavy combat boots or weathered sneakers or Doc Martens.

‘Kinderwhore’ little girl dresses with Peter Pan collars. There’s a mini-controversy over who started the ‘little girl dress’ with a Peter Pan collar trend. Was it Kat Bjelland or Courtney Love? Either way, a subgenre of the grunge look is Kinderwhore fashion.

Layers of tops are essential. Good for braving the elements / outdoor gigs. Good for paying less heating bills.

Flannel shirts were popular Grunge attire regardless of gender – mainly because flannel was popular in Seattle as outdoor wear.

Anything plaid became accepted grunge style. Plaid flannel shirts. Long baggy plaid shorts. Tartan kilts were also good for any gender.

Cardigans and very baggy jumpers. Chunky knit cardigans with old leather buttons were everywhere. Holes weren’t just for jeans – every grunge cardigan or sweater ended up with a hole in it for you to put your thumb into so it doubled up as a pair of fingerless mittens.

Ripped denim. Ripped mainly because grunge kids were anti high-fashion and wore their clothes half to death. Once grunge style became popular and mainstream, people would buy their jeans and rip them in a bit before wearing them to get the grunge look. A pale, half-dead stonewashed denim was ideal for jeans.

Baggy clothes were essential for all. No skinny fit. Baggy jeans only. And baggy worked well with the layers of tops. Grunge clothes never fitted because you’d just wear something you’d found in a bin, bought very cheaply, or borrowed off a friend and forgotten to give back.

Charity shop / thrift store clothes. With the recession, we’ll probably see a new mutation of grunge as people start dressing solely from charity shops, and start creating combinations of daywear that Primark never intended in all its years.

Hoodies. Of course. How could we not mention hooded tops! You could get thin hooded tops to stick under long-sleeved tees. Or fat hoodies to wear on top of all your other layers, preferably with a really baggy cardigan over the top.

Hair was ideally lank, or stiff with yesterday’s sweat from a gig. Dye jobs were common, especially bleached hair, but they were irregular – having your roots show for anything up to three inches was common in grunge style. As Hole singer Courtney Love testified in interviews, her rocking layered haircut was mostly achieved by holding her cigarette to close to her hair ends and burning it off by mistake. The word we are looking for is unkempt.

Combat boots. Or worn old high top sneakers or baseball boots. Or Doc Martens.

Accessories – Beanie hats. Or leather thongs tied round your wrists. Grunge fashion wasn’t huge on accessories, unless it was tattoos, piercings and lots of dangly things round the wrist.

Essentially, grunge was/is/shall be again a non-style created by poor kids who wanted to reject the commodification of their world.


Getting into grunge fashion is, even today, easy and cheap. No-one sells cardigans or plaid or flannel for huge amounts on eBay – it’s all still stuff you can root around and find in second hand stores, or that people want to throw away.

However, be aware that – by trawling the second hand shops in the new millenium – you may actually find yourself part of a new wave grunge. Entirely by accident. Just because you have the same anti-commercial ethos, but different things are now available in the shops. Don’t worry. Your slightly different look will probably still be grunge. There may be people out there doing the same as you, creating a new, organic style purely by chance.

And with grunge it was always about the gigs, in the end. Let music, poverty and social alienation lead the way, and we’ll all shuffle forward into a Brave New Grunge!

Grunge Fashion

Grunge fashion was essentially a mix of punk ethic and outdoor wear. Hard, durable fabrics that didn’t cost much (so it didn’t matter if your friend stole them off you) and that you could wear for years. Grunge kids usually did – that’s why holes in clothes started becoming a part of grunge fashion. The punk influence behind grunge style makes sense – punk has always been anti-establishment, and initially it wasn’t expensive.

Why the outdoor wear? Well, it’s not overly warm in Seattle, where grunge originated. And outdoor wear is cheap. And it’s function over form, so it was a good way to retaliate against the futuristic (hey, it seemed that way at the time) high fashion of eighties glamour pop. And if you wear it right, ie. A lot, and preferably in the rain, or covering yourself with beer at every gig and washing infrequently, you can end up looking a step or two above homeless. Essentially, the grunge look grew organically – there was no attempt to consciously come up with a style. The grunge look just grew into itself. Music journo Charles R. Cross said, “Kurt Cobain was just too lazy to shampoo,” and there may have been some truth in that. Seattle grunge label Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman said, “[Grunge clothing] is cheap, it’s durable, and it’s kind of timeless. It also runs against the grain of the whole flashy aesthetic that existed in the 80’s.”

Grunge clothing and hair was generally unkempt. Men shaved infrequently and tended to go for long hair. If they dyed their hair – and this goes for the women too – they didn’t dye it too often – hence dyed roots being part of the grunge look. Then again, dyeing your hair blonde takes effort and is, for some, too much of a nod towards trying to better your appearance and ascribing to a commercial sense of beauty, so a lot people had natural hair and left it be to grow and do its own thing, only occasionally getting a friend to hack at it with blunt scissors when feeling pissed / maudlin / strung out. Dreds were not uncommon, though less so in America.

Grunge bands to check out

  • Nirvana
  • Mudhoney (Touch Me I’m Sick is one of the best grunge tracks ever)
  • Hole
  • Babes in Toyland
  • L7
  • Pearl Jam
  • Alice in Chains

Grunge music history

Grunge was a form of alternative rock that seeped out of Washington (mainly Seattle) in the mid 1980s. It was a kind of hybrid between punk, metal and indie rock. As with hardcore punk, grunge lyrics focused heavily on apathy, social alienation, a need for freedom and a feeling of being trapped. The sound was big on a sludgy, distorted electric guitar with high levels of fuzz and feedback. It was a pretty raw, stripped-down sound, and could either churn out mosh-stomper stagedive classics like Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” or the mournful loss of “Pennyroyal Tea” by the kings of grunge, Nirvana.

Grunge became as big as Gojiro and achieved worldwide fame by the mid nineties thanks to two albums: “Nevermind” (Nirvana) and “Ten” (Pearl Jam). It wasn’t just a boy’s club – Hole, L7, and Babes in Toyland were major indie groups with major followings. Hole made some awesome music, and when lead singer Courtney Love shacked up with Kurt Cobain they were verily the King and Queen of Grunge.

However, grunge was anti-commerce, anti-fame, anti-celebrity. Many grunge musicians were uncomfortable with the genre’s popularity and wanted to keep things simple and local – garage bands and jamming were key to grunge, and grunge gigs were straightforward affairs. No huge lighting shows, no backing dancers, no high fashion. Grunge bands weren’t choreographed performers. Robbie Williams might have sung “Let me entertain you”, but Kurt Cobain spoke for a disenfranchised generation when he sang “Here we are now, entertain us”. Grunge gigs were just a lot of energy, both onstage and in the mosh pit. And, er, slightly less energy at the back near the bar.


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