The History of Leather Part 28 – Grunge

Posted on 06/08/14

Come as you are (mid 1980s)

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the 1970s to 1980s saw a stark shift from love-and-peace hippies to safety pin-and-swastika punks. By the mid 1980s, the gloomy youth were ready to step forward and establish their own subculture at long last – the grunge movement.

If punk wanted to differentiate itself from mainstream culture, then grunge had the unenviable job of trying to alienate from the punk alienators, as well as the mainstream alienatees. The key differentiator? Gloom and apathy by the bucket load.

If you thought Travis’ “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” was a funereal dirge, then wait until you read grunge lyrics. They read like they’ve been ripped straight out of the back page of a 15 year old’s geography exercise book.

From the first verse of Nirvana’s “Lithium”, off their seminal second album “Nevermind”:

Im so happy cause today

Ive found my friends

Theyre in my head

Im so ugly, but thats okay cause so are you

We broke our mirrors

Cheery stuff, isn’t it? It’s no wonder, then, that to paraphrase James Truman, editor-in-chief of “Details”, that if punk was antagonistically anti-fashion, then grunge was apathetically un-fashion. Punks wanted to make a statement in their refusal to conform to fashion and traditional good taste, while grunge devotees couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to do that. The only statement that grunge wanted to make, was of not making a statement. “Which is why”, Truman laments, “it’s crazy for [grunge] to become a fashion statement”.

Instead of relying upon customisation and confrontation, grunge’s followers wanted to not to draw attention to themselves – turning to leather jackets and combat boots, ripped denim, band t-shirts and the liberal application of flannel shirts. Utility in clothing was valued much more than an outfit’s ability to attract attention. A leather jacket was long lasting and able to withstand an onslaught of sweat, beer and probably worse than that if modern concerts are anything to go by. Combat boots let you hold your own in a mudbath moshpit – the list goes on.

To quote Jean Paul Gautier, “grunge is nothing more than the way we dress when we have no money”. In that sense, grunge fashion is timeless. It almost transcends fashion and grunge itself. At almost any point in history, there will be those that could have been “grunge”. Any time someone finds a worn old leather jacket at the back of their parents’ wardrobe, or a muddy pair of boots at a second hand military store, that’s grunge.

Though Kurt Cobain claimed that grunge was over not long before his death, in many ways, grunge will never be over. It’s a state of being we can all relate to, unless we’ve been lucky enough not to have to worry about paying our bills. As such, the components that make up grunge fashion will endure just as much as grunge itself. Leather jackets aren’t going anywhere soon, neither is denim. Grunge is here now, entertain it.

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