Clothes Fashion

21st Century Grunge: How to Do Grunge Style, Sustainably

By Chantal Brocca

Yes, we all love grunge. More than in the style itself I’d say we’re enamored with the idea of grunge; the idea that it represents a form of rebellion against mainstream ideologies, that it was fueled by a deep seated need to counter strike capitalist-led materialistic values, and that it, like many subcultures before it, attempted to define itself as the struggle of individuality over the status quo, in a philosophy that translated into an authentic music scene and a real lifestyle. How to do grunge sustainably back then was never a question; it was sustainable by nature.

Grunge style, in fact, belongs to 90’s; it was created by Generation X. But its emergence is inextricably linked with the previous times that spawned it. If we think of the 80’s, we think of massive shoulder pads, bright block colours and in general, an OD of ‘flash the cash’ and ‘greed is good’. So grunge’s extreme anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist reaction starts to make a little more sense – youth everywhere had had enough with the 80’s obsession with money.

Grungers found a disregard for labels and overt displays of logos and wealth, marking a look that can only be described as ‘non-fashion’. Thrift shop and army surplus outlet finds like t-shirts with outdated logos and old floral print dresses were thrown together in an edgy, unkempt way. Hair was messy and dirty and came in weird colours that were maybe covered up with an ironic trucker cap or a knit toque. The cold temperatures of cities linked with the origins of the movement, such as lumberjacking Seattle and Aberdeen, meant that layers, woolen button downs and borrowed lumberjack attire were practical and unfussy enough to fit the bill. Faded, ripped jeans, often cut into shorts worn over black tights with Doc Martens boots, flannels and your mom’s old sweater were a favourite too – anything you could get your hands on that followed a more empathetic ethos.

Of course, designers such as Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, and especially Marc Jacobs smelled money and drew multiple inferences from the grunge get-up glossary for their collections over the years to signal to their audiences that somehow, there’s something rebellious about spending $500 on a polyester shirt made for 5 cents in Cambodia. But grunge has another up yours left up its sleeve – while it has virtually disappeared from everywhere else, it has yet again risen in refreshingly unique European intellectual vagabond circles and in the alternative, anti fast fashion Londonese and Parisian scenes.

Dressing yourself by yourself and not because Vogue is increasingly entering discussions among those that feel that old grunge principles still resonate strongly with them, be they old grunge babies or misfits that don’t relate to the modern world. The more attractive street looks have taken on a grittier, realer factor, away from idealized perfection. Sure; it’s idealized grittiness – but not if you do it right aka. Throw on an essentially you whatever and don’t lose sleep over it. It’s time to get real.

If you love reveling in iconic styles of the past, here’s 10 ways you can bring the spirit of grunge back into the 21st Century.

Nothing beats DIY…

CLEARLY. What better way to be true to an anti fast fashion movement than to live it? Pile on layers: tee, plaid shirt, jeans, boots, toque, jacket. Where to find said layers? The best place would be a vintage shop. But if you can’t bear to face an outdoor market this winter there are loads of online thrift and vintage stores – here’s a selection of my favourites:

  • Classic Ebay – get some original grunge styles right from concert Ts to jeans here
  • Beyond Retro – has it all, especially such a great selection of 90s hats!
  • Oxfam – look good whilst doing good. Great selection of oversized sweaters. Feel free to rip!
  • Amazon – yep, even mega retailer Amazon is in on the vintage game now. They’ve got some great vintage leather jackets.

If you’ve got a thing against hunting for vintage, ok, fine. I don’t really get that, but we’re all God’s unique little snowflakes, right? There are other ways to get a sustainable grunge look, don’t worry. Just look below.

1. Those Used to Be Jeans

Yes they used to, but now they’re ripped AF, traumatized from years of foggy nights out where denim becomes napkin, there’s random patches where you practiced your sewing technique at 30% effort and on top of that you lost the tag with the washing instructions and they’ve taken on a weird colour. Too ripped to wear without looking like a Kardashian? Chop those babies into shorts, and wear over black tights. Just do it. Looking for sustainable jeans with a 90s look?

Try: Joe’s Jeans, or Nudie, below.

Grunge Style


2. Obscure Graphic Tees

Ever heard of grunge typography? As the use of computers skyrocketed, the digital image was gaining aesthetic favor. Grunge brands loved using intentionally obscure references on album covers in unconventional, murky, collage-y, I guess essentially DIY-like expressive visuals. Find that on an old T-shirt you’ve got lying around and you’re golden. Alternatively, artisan tees, Etsy and your dad’s old stuff can provide a world of choice.

Try: Lawrenson and Cossac makes awesome organic tees with kick-ass slogans.


3. Lumberjacking Flannels

Welcome to the hearty outdoors! You’ve probably already done athleisure, because hey, spandex is comfortable, but have you ever tried a flannel shirt? Born more out of a utilitarian need rather than a conscious style choice, grunge was characterized by a lot of plaid, heavy buttoned shirts and other outdoor targeted clothing in layers, the best defence against cold, bipolar weather.

Try: People Tree and Patagonia have a great selection of organic cotton casual shirts and flannels


4. Combat or Biker Boots

Dr.Martens: the emblem of grunge ideology. To be perfectly honest, fashion totally ruined these for me. I don’t have the same cultural significance attached to them than a member of, let’s say, Generation X, and there was a period where they were EVERYWHERE. Thankfully, the more general combat boots have grown diverse enough and timeless enough to be considered the ultimate of staples. I recommend a good quality pair – Everlane has a great environmentally friendly variety – those things last forever, and the more worn the better.

Goes. With. Everything.

Try: Original Doc Martens, of course (they can be vegan!) or these great Saka boots by NAE (also vegan).


5. Baby Doll & Slip Dresses

A total staple. It’s a huge trend right now, but don’t for one minute think this is something new – this is a grunge revival. Don’t believe me? Just Google ‘Courtney Love Amanda DeCadenet slip dress’ and you’ll see how it was – and still should be – done.

Try: Reformation. Their slip dresses, made from deadstock fabric, are killing it.


6. Oversized and Retro Knits

This evolved into over sized shirts. ‘Slouchy’ is the natural effect of donning over sized, and this sits well with grunge. Oversized knits are just the winter version, and all the better if they’re eco-friendly.  

Try: Svilu, below, have a great range of sustainable knits in retro style.

Kordal Knitwear and eco-online retailer Amour Vert are a good place to browse.


7. Leather Biker Jackets

These should be a bit oversized and worn open over layers and layers of clothes to stay warm. Don’t worry – no cows died for the Sway’s leather jackets; they’re all made from reclaimed leather that would have been thrown out.

Try: The Sway at Reve en Vert.


8. Ironic Trucker Hats

Some used trucker hats with ‘ironic’ intention, others used them to advertise their musical taste or promote bands, whilst even others used them to cover up grimy hair. Trucker hats suited all these purposes and more.

Try: Zazzle has a great selection of caps, all vintage, all cool.

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Chantal is the girl behind Underneath My Silk, a thought catalogue on fashion, culture and style.

Follow her on Instagram here.

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