The Grunge Aesthetic - A Complete Guide

Posted by Dylan Harper on

What is the Grunge Aesthetic?

The grunge aesthetic is a type of aesthetic that emerged from the nostalgia for 1990s grunge culture. It embodies edgy fashion, shrill music, and neurotic introspection -- often through a darker lens.

Common motifs of the grunge aesthetic involve Nirvana (specifically Kurt Cobain), cigarettes, fish nets, boots, the color black, flannels, distressed denim, and grime (not Grimes, grime).


Shop Thrifted Grunge Clothes


Though we’ll take a deeper dive when we look into the history of grunge, it’s important to note that Grunge originated in the 1980s and grew to popularity in the 1990s. The grunge aesthetic, however, emerged in the 2000s -- really as an homage to famous bands like Nirvana and SoundGarden. 


Being an aesthetic now, grunge has become a way for people to outwardly express a part of themselves, and it is still a sub community for people to be a part of. 


Arguably, the idea of Grunge hasn’t changed very much because it’s still unifying a group of people who align part of their identities with the edginess and countercultural beliefs those in the grunge community harbored in the 80s and 90s. 

The biggest difference between Grunge and the grunge aesthetic is that the internet allows grunge aesthetic to reach a larger community of people, and it gives those who resonate with the grunge aesthetic an ability to compartmentalize that part of their identity. 

In other words, people whose identities align with the grunge aesthetic are able to flash grunge when they want to and where they want to -- because of the internet and social media. 

This differs from the originators of grunge because it was pretty hard to section off parts of your identity in the 80s and 90s because the internet hadn’t emerged as a prominent tool.

However, this shouldn’t be taken as a form of criticism among those who adhere to the grunge aesthetic. It’s actually safer that people have this ability because they can still be proud of their identity and show the world who they are even if they’re in an environment that doesn’t approve of that part of their life. 

That being said, let’s dive into a very quick history of Grunge.


The History of Grunge

Grunge is a genre of rock music and subculture that emerged during the mid 80s in Seattle, Washington. Seattle’s Sub Pop label effectively marketed Northwestern Punk in the underground music scene as what we now refer to as Grunge music. The genre soon became a punk and metal hybrid style of music.

By the early 90s, Grunge rose to popularity, with grunge bands appearing in California, then in other parts of the United States and in Australia.

Grunge was commercially successful in the early to mid-1990s, due to releases such as Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, Alice in Chains' Dirt and Stone Temple Pilots' Core. These bands boosted the popularity of alternative rock and made grunge the most popular form of rock music at the time.

Which in turn dissolved the anti-consumerist philosophy the movement once had. Oddly enough, that very philosophy reemerged as the grunge aesthetic reached the late 2010s. We see traces of this anti-consumerist philosophy in grunge fashion as people seek to build their wardrobes using thrifted clothing. 

And for those who say that buying from thrift stores still falls within consumerism, you might be right, but it still beats shopping from Hot Topic!! 

Grunge Fashion

We can talk for days about grunge fashion, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it brief. Please check out our blog post about Grunge Fashion for lookbooks and more information about the fashion side of the grunge aesthetic.

In fashion, the grunge aesthetic is often characterized by dark or muted colors; faded and distressed denim; dirty or tattered clothing; soft textiles (flannels) and hard materials (leather); boots and platforms, and metal accessories like chains, locks, and piercings. Flowers and nets are also often included in the aesthetic.


Shop Thrifted Grunge Clothes


The aspect of fit is also important to the visual identity of the grunge aesthetic. More often than not, baggy is the best way to go when attempting the grunge aesthetic -- with the exception of tights. 

Baggy or large fitting clothes is most likely a result of the time period from which Grunge reached its peak in popularity. Fashion in the 90s often incorporated larger-than-life clothing as it moved away from tight-fitting garments of the 80s. 

It might be worth mentioning that the influence of modern style on today’s grunge fashion has introduced tighter fitting clothing to the aesthetic -- mostly in the form of skinny jeans, mini skirts, and tiny graphic tees. 

As you can see, the fashion aspect of the grunge aesthetic has shared characteristics with original grunge, but there are some traits that have changed due to the general fluidity of fashion. 

The fluidity of identity is also a factor that has transformed grunge. 


Types of Grunge

The wide-spread adoption of the internet led to the emergence of smaller sub communities within Grunge. Though we won’t go into detail for each one, it’s worth listing a few different types of Grunge. 

  • Soft Grunge
  • Pastel Grunge
  • Rainbow Grunge
  • Punk Grunge
  • Cyber Grunge


Grunge in Media

Before we close out this blog post, we want to share some honorable mentions of Grunge in TV and media. Here’s a collage of our top picks!

We hope this guide is helpful. Make sure to check out our Grunge Aesthetic Lookbooks for inspiration for your personal aesthetic!

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