What Gen X Got Right: Elements of Grunge in Classic Clothing

What Gen X Got Right: Elements of Grunge in Classic Clothing

The coming-of-age fashions of Gen X have proven to be hugely influential over time. There are certainly 90s throwback fashions trending today, but more importantly, specific elements of the Grunge aesthetic have mutated into clothing classics that are absolutely wardrobe workhorses for almost everyone. The cultural impact of Gen X and the Grunge movement bear a separate discussion, so for now let’s concentrate on concrete elements of Grunge style that now coexist quite happily in the fashion pantheon alongside timeless classics like Pea coats, twin sets and Bermuda shorts.

What Makes a Classic?

Classic clothing pieces are the items that fashion returns to again and again. Every few years, they trend again, sometimes with little tweaks and sometimes with a touch of nostalgia, but always with an air of good taste and fashion authority. In between those returns, classic clothing is eternally acceptable and attractive, calling more attention to the wearer than to itself. Whenever you don a cashmere sweater, a polo shirt or a wrap dress, you know you’ll look great and be appropriately attired for almost anything. Classic pieces can confer maturity and elegance on the youngest wearers, bestow insider status on the newest adopters, and grant effortless cool to anyone in a matter of seconds. Classics are all about knowing that styles change, but style doesn’t.

New items of clothing can earn this special designation, of course, but only after a consensus is reached. When everyone from toddlers to pensioners wear a style, when it is present at every level of fashion, available at every price point and in several iterations, a classic is being born. Fascinatingly, several elements of Grunge style, so beloved by Gen Xers coming of age in the 90s, quickly moved into the pantheon spurred by wide adoption and acceptance.

Thank Grunge Style For:

Chunky Boots

We—for I am one of you—favored Doc Martens, but any sturdy style from combat boots to Chelsea boots with a lug sole count these days! While Xers needed those boots for moshing, everyone soon saw the wisdom of wearing sturdy, supportive boots at any given time. Women’s boots are now commonly available in chunky styles my foremothers called “heavy” or “ugly”, but we know they work with everything from leggings to casual dresses and allow us to move through the world confidently and securely.

Flannel (Plaid or Not)

Flannel has been around forever, but wearing a plaid flannel shirt as a light topper was a Grunge style signature. Now, it is likely to be worn over leggings and a turtleneck rather than a Nirvana tee, but the look became ubiquitous in the heyday of Gen X and has never left the collective fashion consciousness since.

Thrifted Pieces (We Call It Vintage Now)

This isn’t one item, but it’s an important element! Grungy Gen Xers flocked to thrift stores (and their grandpas’ closets) to get the well-worn, oversized flannels and cardigans key to the aesthetic. Embracing the tattered and eschewing the recent over-the-top fashions of the 80s drove that desire, and then the Hippie-influenced ideals of simplicity and sustainability took hold. Young people who wouldn’t have been caught dead in a thrift store five years before suddenly depended on them for their regular shopping excursions. What that did was bring thrifting, and more importantly shopping for vintage pieces, into the basic belief system of an entire generation. Now, everyone is on board with reusing everything we can, and no one minds having a dress or sweater that someone else wore previously. Vintage pieces are prized. You’re welcome, Mother Earth!

The Classic Designation Grows

Part of what makes classic clothing a cornerstone of any well-curated wardrobe is that classics never fade and new pieces earn the title every few years. Each generation adds a few items to this class of clothing, but few groups have had the distinction of making such a tremendous contribution to classic clothing. The pieces mentioned above are just a tiny sampling of the Grunge styles that are now enduring classics, and whether you lean more toward Birkenstocks or biker jackets, you can thank the Grunge movement for their now-timeless appeal. 


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