How To Do Grunge Fashion Sustainably

Wondering how to do 21st century grunge fashion, sustainably? Read on….

By Chantal Brocca

Yes, we all love grunge fashion. In fact, 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.

Image below: Calvin Klein

A Brief History of Grunge

kate moss grunge

Grunge style 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 stance starts to make a little more sense. Youth everywhere had had enough with the 80’s obsession with money.

Grunge fashion found a serious disregard for labels and overt displays of logos and wealth. The result? 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 Thrift shop and army surplus outlet finds like T-shirts with outdated logos and old floral print dresses were thrown together in an edgy, unkempt way.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. It was 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 Seattle, Toronto, Chicago and Aberdeen, affected grunge fashion. It 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 favourite too. Anything you could get your hands on that followed a more empathetic ethos.

A Quick Demise

Of course, within a few years, designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Anna Sui, Karl Lagerfeld, and especially Marc Jacobs smelled money. They drew multiple references from the grunge fashion get-up glossary for their collections to try to convince their audiences that somehow, there’s something rebellious about spending $500 on a polyester shirt made for 5 cents in Cambodia.

Once designers got on board, grunge, like punk before it, was dead. Kind of. 

Today, grunge fashion 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 fundamental grunge fashion principles still resonate strongly with them, be they old grunge babies or modern day misfits that don’t relate to the current mode. Throw on an essentially you ensemble, and don’t lose sleep over it. It’s time to get real.

If you love reveling in iconic grunge style of the past, here are 10 ways you can bring the spirit of grunge fashion 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 thrift 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!
  • Reformation – yep, even ethical dressmaker Reformation 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 style don’t worry. Just look below.

How To Do Grunge Fashion Sustainably

1. Those Used to Be Jeans

Yes they used to be, but now they’re ripped AF, traumatized from years of foggy nights out. There are random patches where you practiced your sewing techniques at 30% effort, and on top of that, you lost the tag with the washing instructions and they’ve taken on a weird colour. Perfect grunge fashion, my friend! Too ripped to wear without looking like a Kardashian? Chop those babies into shorts, and wear over black tights. Just do it.

Looking for new, but sustainable jeans with a 90s flare? Try these brands below.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Try an organic cotton jeans brand like Joe’s Jeans, or Madewell jeans, below.

grunge fashiongrunge jeans

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, 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. Pair with jeans, as in point 1, above.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Etsy or the ASOS marketplace for great vintage tees.

vintage coke tee

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 fashion was characterized by a lot of plaid, heavy buttoned shirts and other outdoor targeted clothing in layers. The best defence against cold, bipolar weather.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: People Tree and Patagonia have a great selection of organic cotton and/or vintage casual shirts and flannels

Grunge Fashion

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 in, the better.

Goes. With. Everything.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Original Doc Martens, of course (since they can be vegan!). Bonus grunge fashion points if you wear yours with fishnets. Oh, and if you want a vintage 90s bag to go with those boots? We like looking for used stuff at Tresor Vintage

Image credit here.

punk plaid pants

5. Baby Doll & Slip Dresses

Lingerie as outerwear was a total grunge staple. It’s a huge trend right now, but don’t for one minute think this is something new – this is a grunge style 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.

Pair your dress with a (vegan) leather jacket or lumberjack shirt. Or, if you’re going out, get extra fancy a throw on a (cheap, dollar store) tiara. So ironic.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Mastani makes incredible, hand-loomed slip dresses from peace silk. Too pricey? Try Reformation. Their slip dresses, made from deadstock fabric, are just killing it, and basically define grunge fashion.

grunge style

6. Oversized and Retro Knits

‘Slouchy’ is the natural effect of donning oversized anything, and this sits very well with grunge. Oversized knits are just the winter version, and all the better if they’re eco-friendly. Need some info? Search ‘Kurt Cobain MTV unplugged.’ Classic.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Go for a recycled wool knit cardigan by Reformation.

oversized sweater

7. Faux Fur & Leather Jackets

With faux fur, the idea is to look halfway between homeless and a Led Zeppelin groupie, cerca 1970. Perfect for throwing over your slip dress when the chill is on. Not feeling it? Try a classic, Ramones-style (vegan) leather jacket. Bonus points if you write on it with Liquid Paper/White Out.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Maison Atia makes perfect faux furs for grunge style. No surprise, since the owner is the wife of Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan.

grunge style

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.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Genuine vintage is always best. Can’t find it? Zazzle has a great selection of caps, all vintage, all cool.

Grunge Fashion

9. Sneakers, Of Course

High top, low top, it doesn’t matter. What does matter for grunge style sneakers is white laces. That’s it. Wear them with everything.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Converse canvas and rubber shoes are the classics. Make yours extra grungy by writing on the white bits, or sewing on badges.

Image found on Pinterest

grunge fashion shoes

10. Lingerie As Outerwear

The perfect top to wear under your lumberjack shirt or leather jacket? A tiny cropped top, pretty bra or cute little cami. Kate Moss and Winona Ryder were the queens of this look. And it still defines grunge style today.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Search thrift stores for lacy lingerie. Or get it from ethical lingerie companies like these.

Image credit:

lingerie as outerwear

11. Knit Hats

Call it a toque, a beanie, a gorra or a hat. Whatever. Nevermind. These will always be a grunge fashion staple. Looks best atop weirdly coloured hair.

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: Anian MFG makes beanies from recycled wools.

Image credit here.

grunge beanie

12. Vintage Dresses

Courtney love made the baby doll dress famous. And the slip dress. And vintage dresses. Which may or may not have fit right. Too small? Don’t worry – it’s fine to show your bra off. (See point 10).

How to do this grunge fashion sustainably: This is a grunge style that’s best got through thrifting. Or granny’s closet.

coutrney love

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

Follow her on Instagram here.

Chantal Brocca
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