Keep hearing about the ‘90s grunge comeback but not sure exactly what it is? Step this way for the ultimate guide on how to look grunge and gorge, from the top of your space bun-topped head to the tips of your Converse-clad toes. We’ll show you how to rock grunge fashion and still look grown up, plus inspire you with a few grunge outfit ideas and simple tips to nail the grunge hair and make up look.
What is Grunge Style?
Grunge style emerged in the early ‘90s, ushered in by the era’s indie rock heroes (think Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder). Despite hitting the big time, everyone’s favourite shampoo dodgers made a point of rejecting designer threads in favour of retaining the “uniform” of the struggling artist – thrifted flannel shirts, battered Converse, ripped jeans and ill-fitting cardis.
As an “anti-fashion” statement, though, it wasn’t too successful: by 1992, Marc Jacobs elevated grunge clothing to high fashion status, putting a veritable army of ‘90s supermodels – from Kate to Naomi, via Helena, Christy, Yasmin, Tyra and Carla Bruni – in beanies, bovver boots and all-checked errthang on the catwalk for Perry Ellis. Whilst this move lost him his job, it won him the CFDA’s Designer of the Year Award. And the rest is history.
The ’90s Grunge Look Comeback
As we know, history often repeats itself – particularly when it comes to fashion. Over the past few years, designers, celebs and street stylers alike have been piling on the plaid like it’s (never) going out of style. Modern grunge outfits combine a too-cool-to-care mix ’n’ match vibe with a hint of understated sex appeal, all tied up in a nice comfy package (with a checked shirt around the waist, natch) which will leave you with neither frostbite nor achy feet after a couple of hours on the town.
So, what’s in it for you? Well, not only can you wave goodbye to those endless hours spent agonising over whether this top goes with that skirt (it doesn’t? Perfect!) but those ladders on your tights are going to look like a style statement. Need we say more?
’90s Grunge Style Icons
Grunge’s best loved poster boy, the Nirvana frontman remains one of the twentieth century’s most influential style icons. His ‘charity shop’ aesthetic spanned the gamut from vintage tea grunge dresses to tattered green cardigans – the most famous of which sold for $137,500 at auction in 2015, complete with original burn hole.
Not simply one of the most promising young actors of the twentieth century and an humanitarian award-winning animal rights activist to boot, but also one of the best ambassadors for the tartan shirt to come out of the ‘90s. More often to be found in a (vintage) blazer than a ratty cardi, River’s was a slightly more polished take on grunge fashion.
Super-stylist Kate Phelan recently described Kate’s 1993 Vogue cover story as grunge’s ‘big bang’ moment. “Corinne turned up with this little sort of bin liner with all these little sort of rags in the bottom of it and everyone sort of sat around smoking. It was a very different vibe, all listening to Nirvana and psychedelic fuzz and Stone Roses … so sort of unglamorous, but so interesting,” she says of the iconic shoot. Kate’s 1994 liaison with an Ed Wood-era Johnny Depp cemented her position as the decade’s unofficial queen of grunge.
The former E.T. cutie embodied ‘90s grunge style during her wild child days. From oversized double denim to that satin slip dress moment (doing Courtney Love better than Courtney Love ever did), she never failed to kill it.
Winona’s trademark mom jeans, band tee, boots and biker combo transformed her from ‘80s prom princess to ‘90s grunge clothes queen.
How to Get the Grunge Look
Want to find out how to look grunge – without ditching the conditioner? Read on…
One of the best things about the grunge look has to be the opportunity to rock what one might typically refer to as ‘festival’ hair any darn time you feel like it.
Take a tip from Frances Bean Cobain, following in mummy and daddy’s muddy, Converse-shaped footsteps with her grown-out pink dip dye (messy pigtails and/or double buns optional). To recreate her grunge look, try Bleach London’s temporary colour in Rose or Violet Skies, which will last 2-10 washes (or, for less mess, give their Hair Crayons a whirl). Non-blondes may need to pre-lighten.
Feeling a bit braver? An undercut is one of the ultimate grunge hairstyles for the 21st century women. Keep it subtle and you’ll still be able to flip it into a sensible-looking centre parting as and when required – clever.
Day(s) old hair and no time and/or inclination to wash it? Time to embrace the bandana. Or, if you’re really serious about the whole ‘90s thing, the scrunchie…
Grunge hairstyles may be more muss, less fuss, but, when it comes to grunge makeup, more is very much more. It’s all about the statement lip: from chocolate brown through cherry red to deepest plum, the MAC counter is your oyster (although actual black is probably best avoided).
Now, prepare to get excited, because this is your chance to break all the rules and team a statement lip with a smoky eye. Play it safe with browns and blacks, or go for broke with red and pink tones. Your mascara can be as clumpy as you like and, as far as eyeliner is concerned, perfect feline flicks are out. Invest in a good kohl pencil and remember – the smudgier, the better.
To carry off such a statement eye and lip combo, your skin is going to have to look pretty darn good, without looking too ‘done’. So switch your twenty-first century contouring/strobing/baking routine for a light dusting of blusher, but don’t be tempted to skimp on the foundation.
If you’re not quite sold on going full out grunge girl, start with small steps. In ultra sassy footwear. Grunge shoes can be roughly divided into four main categories. And guess what? You can wear any of them with – quite literally – any outfit, to inject an instant grunge hit.
You can’t go wrong with a pair of Dr. Marten’s finest – look out for unusual prints and colour ways to spice things up.
Hi-top or lo-top, in classic white or pimped out prints, Converse is your go-to brand. And don’t cry when you scuff them – it’s character building.
A favourite with London’s ’70s punk crew, the flatform creeper has remained a hit with succeeding generations of ‘anti-fashion’ fashion sets ever since. Found a creeper hi-top? You just hit the grunge shoe jackpot.
If you’re going to get your toes out, you need a suitably solid sandal. Tractor-soles are in; peep-toe courts are O.U.T.
Modern Grunge Outfits
Ready to give it a go, but in need of some grunge outfit ideas? You’ve come to the right place.
Switch up your go-to tee and skinnies for a crop top and mom jeans. And don’t forget your oversized tartan shirt – whether layered up a la Kendall Jenner, or tied round your waist like Willow Smith, it’ll bag you instant grunge style points.
Not a fan of the trad lumberjack look? Try a longline sleeveless shirt dress instead.
When in doubt, layer. The plaid shirt will always be your secret weapon, but don’t stop there – the world (well, Oxfam at least) is your oyster. Try switching your flannel for a kimono or layering a lace bralet over a plain tee. And never be afraid to clash, clash, clash.
And don’t forget the grunge dress. Even the girliest frock can be dressed down to perfection with a spot of judicious layering. Throw on a choker and your favourite pair of Converse or DM’s and you’re good to go.
How about that band tee gathering dust in the back of your wardrobe? Can you still get away with the groupie chic thing? Of course you can! Try to steer clear of jeans, though, and opt for cut-offs, dungarees or funky striped trews for an offbeat feel. Finish with statement shoes and a rock star fedora for a modern twist on the Converse ‘n’ beanie formula.
How to Dress Grunge Style: Your Essential Cheat Sheet
Not sure where to start? Check out our essential guide to the key items all twenty-first century grunge girls should have in their capsule wardrobes.
- A checked shirt – layer over anything and everything, from basic tees to floaty dresses.
- A crop top – pair a basic cropped tee with denim cut-offs or mom jeans, or layer a little lace bralet over a plain T-shirt or dress.
- Ripped mom jeans – think high on the waist, relaxed on the legs.
- Cut-off denim shorts or dungarees – layer over the most heinously laddered tights you can lay your hands on when the sun refuses to play ball.
- A Nirvana/Guns N’ Roses/Pearl Jam T-shirt – but only if you can name at least three of the band’s songs…
- A denim jacket or boyfriend cardi – and make it a big one.
- A pair of DM-style lace up boots or Converse-style trainers – team with virtually any outfit for your quickest route to grunge nirvana.
- A chunky choker or bolo tie.
- Berry or coffee-hued lipstick, black kohl eyeliner and bronze or rust-toned eyeshadow.
- Assorted pastel hair chalks (and don’t even think about picking up that root touch up kit while you’re there…).
Read more great articles on women’s fashion here at alexie.co.