Saraia Driver does not wear cutesy dresses.
Instead, the first-year neuroscience student’s closet consists of Dr. Martens, chokers and fishnet tights, which she likes to layer under shorts. Her outfits are heavily influenced by the grunge style from the ’90s era, she said.
Grunge culture originated from the Seattle music scene, which included bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana, before designers such as Marc Jacobs popularized the fashion style in the sartorial sphere in the early ’90s, said Glenda Ronduen, a library reference specialist at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles.
The style was associated with a sense of rebellion and anti-establishment. In the ’90s and the decades prior, people were defined by what they wore and the values their style embodied, Ronduen said.
Driver said her grunge style fits her dark personality and humor. She dislikes dressing up and feels most comfortable in muted colors. Even blue jeans are too bright of a hue, she said.
“It’s comfortable because I’m comfortable in it,” she said.
Grunge is also an outlet for her to express a fresh style. In her first two years of high school in Arkansas, she was required to wear a uniform to school, one that her mom would try to dress up with different socks and cardigans. However, after moving to California in 2014, Driver found she could wear whatever she wanted.
“If you see someone whose outfit is different from yours, you appreciate it,” she said. “It’s not a judgement.”
First-year English student Molly McMillen went through a similar transition. For her, college was an opportunity to reinvent herself and her style.
It was a departure from the stereotypes and labels in high school, a time when she wore more feminine and casual attire, she said. McMillen uses her grunge style, such as distressed jeans and black combat boots, to subvert people’s first impressions of her.
“When people see me, they think I’m a lot younger than I am because I look like a baby-faced 12-year-old that’s super innocent and cute,” she said. “It’s a good way to show that I have edgier sides to my personality.”
McMillen went from more casual, feminine attire to grungier clothes since she felt more comfortable expressing her musical tastes and personal style in college, she said. She has incorporated band T-shirts from artists such as Nirvana and Blink-182 – her favorite band – into her wardrobe.
The post-adolescent period of self-discovery is one of the driving factors of fashion cycles, Ronduen said. People in their late teens and early 20s are interested in trends that were popular before they were alive, as opposed to adults who have already lived through them.
The resurgence of grunge today is in part due to adolescents wanting to be a part of the past as well as their ability to freely test new styles, she said.
“For those who weren’t able to live it the first time through, it becomes something romantic and nostalgic,” Ronduen said.
Although fourth-year English student Katherene Quiteno grew up in the 2000s, she was still affected by ’90s television that spilled over into the new millennium such as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” She appreciates the aesthetic qualities of grunge clothing, such as the contrast between her velvet leggings and denim jacket, as well as the boxier fits that aren’t tight-fitting.
Students today wear the clothing because it’s trendy and nostalgic, as opposed to wearing grunge for the rebellious reasons in the ’90s.
“It’s in. It’s aesthetic. And we’re consuming it,” she said.
First-year art student Rachel Lester-Trend doesn’t define her look as grunge, but she adopts elements from the style. She wears loose button-downs, baggy gray pants and black sneakers.
Lester-Trend developed her style during her junior year of high school, after testing out different looks, including a more acute iteration of ’90s dress with pigtails and layered tank tops and skirts. Now she said her style is more casual and toned down.
Most of her clothes come from second-hand thrift stores since she prefers clothing that is oversized and well-worn, she said. Her color palate is comprised mostly of blacks, grays and browns, but sometimes she includes a small pop of intense color like neon.
Thrift stores are a prime source of clothing from a couple decades back, Ronduen said. The prominence of thrift stores for vintage clothing parallels that of the ’90s, when people searched for grunge clothing from the ’60s and ’70s.
Although specific items, such as combat boots and flannels, are borrowed from the ’90s, they are worn with a different intent. The original grunge style stemmed from a rebellious spirit against glamorous fashions, Ronduen said.
“If it was an anti-fashion statement then, it’s more of a fashion statement now,” she said.