Discussing the ongoing use of "grunge" in fashion

Unlike so much else that came from the grunge era, the fashion of the those times remains popular. Or at least continues to be marketed and discussed as grunge. My tour intentionally follows a path that includes stories of the so-called fashion of the grunge era. For those who shopped in thrift stores especially during the 1980s and ‘90s, it wasn’t about the look so much as the price of what was available. And the continued marketing of the grunge-y look undoubtably causes some mocking awareness. What’s always been worthwhile talking about is how flannel shirts and combat boots became such identifiable cliches. The bottom line being in part that the “acres of flannel” (a term I’d like to copyright) found at the Goodwill stores and Value Villages and less identifiable second-hand stores of Seattle fielded the cheapest crop of looks for those with the most limited budgets. The look of grunge, for lack of a better term, wasn’t invented in the Pacific Northwest. Punks all across the world can scream that fact at you. But good luck telling that to the larger world that assumes it was required for entry into the scene here in Seattle.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the look hasn’t gone away. And what got me thinking about the fashion of the era yet again this week came from the NYTimes’s amazing chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman. She reported from Milan’s Fall Fashion Week shows about the continued presence of “grunge” fashion on the runways of Versace and Agnona (among other fashion lines). Friedman even pondered in print what to call the current trend of “luxury grunge” looks for next Fall - whether “lunge?” or “gruxury?” - while offering her trademark dissection of where it all comes from while analyzing where the winds may be blowing. Marc Jacobs has by far the most scandalous mix of such retreads. He even called his 25th anniversary line of grunge looks “Redux Grunge.” For anyone who knows the backstory of his brilliantly disastrous 1993 Perry Ellis grunge line, his attempt at “redux” surely shouldn’t shock. The Cobain family and surviving members of Nirvana beat me to the punch of filing suit against Jacobs for trademark infractions. One look at the logo he stole from Nirvana and you’re sure rule for the plaintiff. Next up - my grievance for stealing and trashing the good name of my tour.

I simply believe that continuing to re-fashion grunge amounts to creative laziness. I would like to think that most fashion consumers are aware when they are stepping over the line into self-mockery. Or are they? Jacobs got destroyed (lost his job, mocked for decades) for designing flannel shirts that would sell for hundreds of dollars back in the early 1990s. What about those same basic designs selling for much more today? Nobody struggling to pay rent or afford a night out in the clubs could ever hope to afford one of these new faux grunge looks from a fancypants fashion house. Nonetheless, I still love a good flannel. Especially those with provenance like the ones being made in the U.S.A. for the first time in decades by American Giant.

That’s a whole other layer of dissection of form and function…don’t get me started on my broader work on where fashion comes from…and certainly not the point of this no-longer-so-simple post. I just wanted to mention that we spend some time out on the streets of Seattle pointing to places like the Army/Navy Surplus store on First Avenue in Belltown as places with legitimate history dating back far beyond the grunge era.

As I wrote here in my most recent post, I’m going to lob more subjects on this ongoing blog to broaden the overview for my Grunge Redux tours. Along with the podcast (!) I’m developing. If you have questions about what I cover out on the streets of Seattle, holler back. Or just join me for a tour. I promise we’ll have a good time revisiting a fascinating era of the region’s cultural history. And there’s no dress code required.