Looking the Part
- Wear flannel and boots.Nothing signals the grunge look more quickly than a lumberjack-style shirt and a pair of work boots. These are typically available at second-hand stores quite cheaply, a few dollars each. The shirts work well for men and women interested in cultivating a grunge look. Other unisex items that are good for your grunge wardrobe include old leather or jean jackets, band shirts, long shorts, and old, oversized cardigan sweaters.
- For girls, maxi skirts and dresses, and tights patterned with dated or otherwise "ironic" patterns are a smart investment.
- Shop at thrift stores.Look for items that are comfortable and practical rather than looking for clothes that are traditionally stylish. People who consider themselves grunge value thrift and utility, rather than style. Anything second-hand is automatically more appropriate and more desirable.
- Embrace opposites.For a woman, a famous "grunge" look is a used babydoll-style dress with thick, chunky work boots. If you like to wear a flowy floral skirt, combine it with a leather jacket. The most famous grunge look for a man is to wear long, feminine-style hair with tattered flannel shirts, jeans, and boots. If you've got a pair of bright shorts you love wearing, mix it with a wool blazer-style jacket and boots for a grunge look.
- Any clothes that look ratty or otherwise rundown can be part of a grunge wardrobe. It's more about communicating a particular worldview and aesthetic than a brand or style of clothing.
- Accessorize. Sunglasses and tall socks are an often-seen grunge look. Get buttons from your favorite bands and bedeck your backpack or jacket with them. Wear dated snap-bracelets or cheap jewelry.
- Spend little time doing your hair.Messy and greasy hair are both calling cards of the grunge look. For men, ungroomed facial hair and long dark hair quickly signal grunge. For women, consider dying a section of your hair a muted pink, blue, purple or ombre. Beyond that don't focus on "perfecting a hair look." Instead throw it up in a bun or ponytail or leave it down with its natural kinks. Don't worry about frizz or matting.
- Makeup should be a mix of natural and bold.Using some makeup can augment a grunge look, but generally you won't want to use too much or spend too much time on it. Try using some bright red lipstick without any foundation or eye-makeup, or do up your eyes with dark shades and leave your lips natural.
Acting the Part
- Protest the mainstream by opting out.The fashion and music we associate with grunge culture were the outward displays of a prevailing attitude of frustration and apathy with contemporary culture. The social prejudices and increasing wealth inequality of the 1980s led some of the most jaded members of Generation X to reject the concept of a "9 to 5 career" and seek other alternative lifestyles.
- The early 90's saw a rise in the concept of sustainability and organic agriculture that, in some ways, is a direct result of this rejection of traditional career choices and lifestyles by members of the grunge subculture.
- Learn to appreciate unpopular things.Students of grunge learn to develop and interest in culture, music, art, and dress that would traditionally be disliked by the mainstream. For you, cultivating a grunge image may have nothing to do with flannel shirts, combat boots, and a band that's older than you are. Grunge philosophy is larger than any proscribed set of clothes or values.
- Make your hobbies your life.Grunge culture is also closely linked with the do-it-yourself (DiY) aesthetic and philosophy: you don't need a theatre to play a show, just a basement. You don't need to read Rolling Stone, you need a hand-stapled zine your friend made. You don't need a career with life insurance benefits, you need a part time restaurant gig and to make some extra cash selling produce at the farmer's market so your band has enough time to practice.
- Avoiding the traditional idea of upward mobility by going to college, getting a job, and retiring is, in part, a grunge sensibility.
- Move to the city.What we associate as grunge was largely the result of small-town kids who moved to the big city and carved out a place for themselves in neighborhoods with cheap rent and who created an international scene. Consider moving to a city and taking advantage of the resources there when you're old enough.
Listening to the Music
- Do your research.Grunge was invented by Nirvana in Seattle, right? Well, kinda. Kurt Cobain and company made grunge internationally famous, but the genre itself is most commonly associated with bands signed to Seattle-based SubPop records, and the music has roots in the early metal sounds of Black Sabbath and the loose scuzz-rock of Scientists, who are from England and Australia, respectively.
- SubPop's flagship band was Mudhoney, not Nirvana. They formed from the ashes of the aforementioned Green River and are still active today, releasing great music.
- Cobain and Krist Novoselic, founders of Nirvana, are both from Aberdeen, WA and were living elsewhere when their big record, Nevermind, made them famous. Dave Grohl, who doesn't play on the first Nirvana record, is from Washington D.C.
- Learn what you're listening to.Grunge music is generally notable for its loose song structures, its extremely loud, overdriven, and fuzzy guitar tone, and its growling aggressive vocals, all of which belies a deeply melodic undertone. Cobain loved the Beatles, Johnny Cash, and ABBA, as well as contemporary groups like R.E.M., and the tension between loud and soft, ugly and pretty, dissonant and melodic, is at the core of grunge music.
- Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin are often cited as influences of grunge. Less frequently cited are the grungy guitar workouts of Neil Young when playing with his backing band, Crazy Horse. Also hardcore punk bands like Black Flag or Minor Threat were greatly influential.
- Get familiar with the essential records and bands.The canonical masterpieces of grunge and the best most accessible places to start are arguably the three studio albums of Nirvana (Bleach,Nevermind, andIn Utero). Follow those up with Soundgarden'sBadmotorfingerandSuperunknown, the albumsTenandVs., both by Pearl Jam,Superfuzz Bigmuffby Mudhoney, andDirtby Alice in Chains.
- Listen to the records and form your own opinions. Big grunge fans might have some argument with any list of favorites, or think Bikini Kill's first impossible-to-get EP is the only grunge album worth listening to. That's ok. Check out these and find out what you like, and don't listen to what you don't like.
- Go deeper.When you've exhausted the mainstream hits, check out the rosters of other labels like Kill Rock Stars, and other bands like the Melvins that are more challenging and received less mainstream popularity than Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Find out who the members of the bands listened to. Research their favorite grunge acts, and find out what bands influenced their sound.
- Dead Moon, Tad, Love Battery, Screaming Trees, The Afghan Whigs, Hole, Babes In Toyland, L7, and Mother Love Bone are other grunge bands worth checking out.