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While the ‘Seattle grunge’ music scene ushered the grunge aesthetic into the 90s, with bands such as Nirvana and its frontman, the iconic Kurt Cobain, it laid down roots in the 1980s.

Musos and bands such as Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins formed in the 80s, further forming the sound, the look, and the attitude of grunge. 

80s and 90s grunge had a carefree ‘sloppiness’ to it, with light influences from rock, punk, and goth. Grunge encompassed a range of aesthetics, from well-loved leather jackets to the iconic plaid shirt worn with baggy jeans and a roomy cardigan.

Female grunge was varied and had flashes of sweet femininity with florals, lace, and soft silky fabrics. The look has made a major comeback in recent years, however with a far more glam-focused revival. 

Welcome to our guide for how to incorporate 80s grunge into your 2020 style book. 

Baggy plaid pants, lace-up boots, and a plain tee  

Celebrity inspiration: plaid pants can be attributed to many fashion styles, especially British punk, but they also live firmly within the bounds of grunge.

Bella and Gigi Hadid have taken the punk-meets-grunge look in their modelesque strides many times, pairing with big chunky combat boots, a plain tee or crop, oversized denim jackets, and cropped leather jackets.

To differentiate grunge from punk, go for baggier pants as opposed to skin-tight ones. Imagine you’ve raided your Grandad’s closet.

How-to: 

  • Fuse 80s grunge with 2020 glamour by pairing cropped, wide-leg plaid pants with stiletto pumps, an embellished tee (tucked in), and a structured blazer 
  • Try a pair of loose-fit plaid slacks with a slouchy white linen shirt, heeled ankle boots, and high-shine gold jewelry

Florals, pearls, and Doc Marten boots 

Celebrity inspiration: Florals were big in the grunge world, and really kicked off in the 1990s. The flowers in question were a fusion of boho and grunge, with muted-tone floral prints on loose, boho-style maxi dresses, slouchy blouses, and skirts.

Molly Ringwald throughout the 80s (in her movies and as herself) could be seen as demonstrating hints of grunge fused with feminine touches such as pearl earrings, florals, and lace. 

How-to: 

  • Pair ripped black skinny jeans with a floral blouse, pearl stud earrings, and chunky Doc Marten boots 
  • Look for a spaghetti strap maxi in muted florals and pair with chunky boots and a slouchy denim jacket 
  • Layer a leather a-line mini skirt with floral-print leggings, studded heeled ankle boots, a worn-in graphic tee, and a leather jacket. In other words, grunge-meets-feminine-meets-punk-meets-2020, what a combo!

Ripped acid-wash jeans and a sleeveless tee 

Celebrity inspiration: Kim Gordon of ‘Sonic Youth’ was a 1980s and 1990s music icon, showing that women can rock just as hard as men. Her style was varied but had a constant vein of rocker grunge running through it. 

Sometimes she would wear a mini dress and boots and oversized sunglasses, while other times she would rock ripped acid-wash jeans and a sleeveless tee. Kim is a master at fusing grunge-punk staples such as worn denim and leather with feminine textures like lace and sheeny metallics. 

How-to: 

  • Pair ripped and frayed acid-wash jeans with a sleeveless tee or sleeveless shirt and accessorize with a studded choker for a punk injection
  • Refine the look and achieve juxtaposition by switching out the tee with a silk blouse and heels with your tatty, acid-wash jeans 
  • Keep your hair loose, stylishly messy, and tousled 

Waistcoats with ripped denim shorts and stockings

Celebrity inspiration: Patti Smith is another music icon who swept the 1980s with her sounds, style, and attitude. We saw her in cigarette jeans with loose boots, a tucked-in shirt, and an oversized blazer. We also saw her in slouchy white tees, black turtlenecks, and shirts tied at the waist with the top buttons undone. 

An image that really struck us shows Patti Smith wearing frayed denim shorts over stockings, with an oversized blazer layered with a grey tee and checked waistcoat.

This look was reminiscent of clothing we wore as students a good decade ago when money was short but eclectic fashion was key in our city. Little did we know, we were channeling authentic 80s grunge-rocker style. 

How-to: 

  • The waistcoat, shorts, and stocking combo is a Winter look, but you can make it Spring and Summer appropriate by leaving out the tights and swapping the blazer for a lightweight chambray sleeveless shirt or jacket
  • Adjust the look for evenings out by swapping denim shorts for leather or faux-leather shorts, tights, heeled ankle boots, and an embellished blazer worn over a V-neck tee and satin-lapel waistcoat (grunge meets showbiz, anyone?)

Slip dress, cropped cardigan, plaid shirt, and boots 

Celebrity inspiration: plaid and tartan can careen more toward the preppy school look depending on how it’s styled. However, it can be all-out grunge-slash-punk with the right styling. 

Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis released unforgettable editorial photos and a runway show in 1992 (feeding on from the 1980s) that flopped. The infamous show was grunge through and through, and many people weren’t happy about it. It showed mix-and-match patterns, textures such as plaid dresses with sheer floral cropped cardigans, with chunky combat boots and leather chokers. 

Supermodels walked the runway dripping in edgy streetwear, no heels or tight mini dresses in sight. The show was panned then, but it still fed into the decades forth, with a major revival today. If you ask us, the collection was awesome. 

One image we love and see as working beautifully in 2020 was of Helena Christensen in a plaid-like patterned midi dress with a cropped black cardigan over the top, with high-top Doc Marten boots, tousled hair, and deep brown lipstick. Also Kaia Gerber in a polka dot mini dress and boots Doc Marten boots.

How-to: 

  • Look for bias-cut midi dresses in cotton or silk plaid or tartan, with spaghetti straps and a V-neckline to fit seamlessly under cardigans
  • Try a black knit wrap cropped cardigan cinching just under the bust, and layer chokers and necklaces 
  • If chunky combat boots aren’t your vibe, try Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots or low-heeled cowboy boots (go on, bring back the cowboy boot!)
  • Try layering different textures and prints you wouldn’t usually consider and see what unique combos you can rustle up 

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