What Was 90s Grunge Fashion: A History Lesson for Designers!
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What Was 90s Grunge Fashion: A History Lesson for Designers!

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The word "grunge" refers to a certain genre in twentieth-century rock music. Grunge originated in the 1980s in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It went on to revolutionize the music world (especially alternative rock). In the world of fashion, grunge had a strong influence on do-it-yourself (DIY) clothing. Let's take a look at grunge fashion and its long history.

(N.B.: A significant number of young people listen to grunge music and wear grunge-inspired fashion. That said, do not refer to them as "grunges" à la "punks" or "hippies"! That's an easy way to lose your customer base!)

Grunge fashion refers to the clothes, accessories, and haircuts associated with the grunge music subculture and genre. Like grunge music, grunge fashion started in Seattle in the mid-1980s and gained widespread appeal by the mid-1990s. The fashion trend was made famous by rock bands such as Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.

A key characteristic of grunge fashion is the use of durable thrift-store clothes. These clothes are generally worn in an androgynous and loose style. The wearer aims to give emphasis to their own silhouette.

Origin of Grunge Fashion

Although the phrase 'grunge fashion' originated in 1972, 90s style Grunge Fashion did not become widely recognized in the media till the late 1980s. At the time, punk rock was experiencing a renaissance in response to the dominant 'glam rock' and 'hair metal' aesthetics of the time.

As a fashion brand entrepreneur, you should know that the grunge style is very distinct from the punk style. Punk music fans often dress in a leather jacket, torn trousers, a shirt with no metal chains, sleeves and black clothing to stand out from the crowd.

Grunge musicians on the other hand (especially in 1980s Seattle), dressed in ordinary daily attire wherever they went. A typical performance outfit for Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana, would consist of little more than an enormous striped sweater, some torn trousers, a pair of Converse sneakers, and his hair in a messy bun. In recent years, this low-key style from the Pacific Northwest has grown increasingly popular, thanks to the emergence of grunge.

What is 90s Grunge Fashion?

The chief elements of 90s grunge fashion are as follows:

  • Grunge is melancholy, angry and raw in tone. Grunge fashion has an anti-establishment feel to it. Therefore, its styles are anti-consumerist and against the glitter and glamour of haute couture.
  • The nihilistic undertone of grunge was also expressed via the clothing worn by the people in the scene.
  • Grunge fashion is the antithesis of current fashion. Simple, larger goods from thrift stores are popular among those involved with the movement as an alternative to the over-the-top styles of the 1980s.
  • According to the New York Times: "The Seattle thrift store look ranged from manly lumberjack workwear to 40s-via-the-1970s feminine gowns." This thrift store look is central to grunge fashion.
  • Clothing in the grunge movement is more practical in terms of functionality. Combat boots (especially Doc Martens), vintage flannels, graphic t-shirts, oversized sweaters, and extremely worn-in torn jeans are all popular choices for the occasion.
  • The grunge appearance is approachable and unkempt, yet also effortlessly cool at the same time.
  • Grunge bands acquired prominence as grunge culture spread out of the Pacific Northwest. Their influence spread to high-end designers as a result of their success. Taking inspiration from the grunge movement, Marc Jacobs created his Perry Ellis SS93 collection.

Grunge music's influence on 90s Grunge Fashion

  • Kurt Cobain, the main vocalist of the highly popular band Nirvana, had a major influence on grunge fashion. He is one of the most important figures of the movement.
  • Cobain is regarded as the epicenter of grunge and its impact. His design sense was a fusion of female and male fashion
  • Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain's wife, was mostly acknowledged for the kinderwhore style, emulating numerous female bands throughout the 1990s.
  • Barrettes, tiaras, torn tights, slips, Mary Janes, and Peter Pan collared skirts were among the accessories included in the design.
  • Pearl Jam left its imprint on the grunge style background with corduroy jackets, leather jackets, shorts-over-leggings, kilts, torn jeans, and snapbacks, among other accessories. The rock band is also well recognized for encouraging the Doc Martens fashion trend.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties

Inspired by the grunge movement, many teenagers and young adults have polished and adopted their versions of the look. Nostalgia has become a major obsession among consumers today (especially given the massive popularity of shows like Stranger Things).

As such, 90's grunge is making a modest return in contemporary styles. People continue to draw inspiration from the grunge movement because of the subculture's effortless cool attitude, comfort, and accessibility.

90s Grunge Fashion Color Palette

Grunge designs are often made up of hues that are muted, unclean, and dreary. The hues brown, beige, grey, and black are the most prevalent. Colors that are more natural and subtle are used in place of vibrant hues of vibrant colors.

Men's 90s Grunge Fashion

The inspiration for men's grunge fashion comes from thrift stores. The look is characterized as disorganized and androgynous with a loose fit that de-emphasizes the body's form.

Grunge fashion for men includes shabby T-shirts and/or second-hand T-shirts with slogans and band logos on them. A plaid shirt is to be worn over the T-shirt and tattered or faded jeans would be worn with it. Combat-style boots in black, such as Doc Martens, would be a good addition to the set.

Women's 90s Grunge Fashion

In the style of 90s Grunge Fashion, less is more. Being dressed down is thus more accepted. Doc Martens and combat boots are the footwear of choice for women. It was common for women to also pair flannels, slip dresses, torn jeans, and plaid in many layers. Jeans with a low rise and shredded, wide-legged legs were also in style for women during the 90s.

Simple jewelry, like hoop earrings, chokers, dark and rich-colored lipstick, were worn to complement the clothes. When the baby-doll T-shirt and bell-bottom trousers from the 1970s came into fashion in 1995, they were huge hits. It was customary to wear flannels that were enormous, and when the weather grew too warm to wear them, they were wrapped near the waist. Hairstyles featured the half-up, half-down look and unkempt hair that gave the idea that nothing had been done to it.

90s Grunge Fashion Designer

During the early 1990s, when grunge became a prominent style trend, fashion creator Marc Jacobs was the first creator to introduce grunge to the luxury market. In 1993, Marc Jacobs was working as the visionary leader of women's fabrics at Perry Ellis. Jacobs then launched a spring collection that was heavily influenced by grunge music. Some of the most classic grunge pieces featured in the collection included printed granny dresses,  flannel shirts, knitted skull caps and Doc Martens boots.

Grunge fashion Today

Fashion designers at the last NYFW revealed their versions of Seattle's early 1990s boho-chic. With regards to collections, the Yves Saint Laurent version was younger and streetwear-inspired, while Dries van Noten's show was more mature and formal in tone.

The emergence of grunge fashion--on social media and runways--has resulted in a resurgence of 1990s grunge fashion. Grunge-inspired outfits are a mainstay among specific demographics of teens and young adults.


The grunge movement began in the 1980s in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Today, grunge fashion remains a popular style among teens and young adults. This is because grunge fashion embodies the incorporation of durable and timeless thrift-store aesthetics.

Furthermore, because of grunge fashion's emphasis on loose, androgynous wear, its styles are popular among non-binary fashion wearer.

Sign up with Fashinza to launch your own grunge fashion collection. Our B2B garment manufacturing platform can help make your production process hassle-free, quick, and transparent.


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