How Kurt Cobain Defined the Grunge Aesthetic


When I was a teenager, I had an entire wall, filled from top to bottom with Nirvana posters. When I was about twelve or thirteen, I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time and it immediately sparked something inside of me. Listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind opened my eyes to a whole new genre of music. I related to their music more than anything else I had ever come across. In a way, Nirvana’s music helped me to make sense of my often perplexing, hormonal teen angst and newly discovered disillusionment. Within a couple of years, I owned Nirvana’s entire discography. I had read all of Kurt’s journals, biographies and had watched every single documentary I could find about the band. Nirvana changed the entire musical trajectory of my life. ‘Nevermind‘ was released on the 24th of September, 1991. This month almost 26 years ago. By 1999, the album gained Diamond status by selling over 10 million copies, establishing Nirvana’s legacy. The band were only around for a short period of time on the musical timeline but have undoubtedly left their mark on a generation.

Kurt Cobain cover of the face

While Cobain wasn’t the first musician to wear ripped jeans and converse, he is probably the most iconic. Many believe that Cobain defined the grunge aesthetic. Underneath his layers of tattered plaid shirts and disheveled cardigans, he often wore t-shirts of other musicians whom he admired. This included artists like Sonic Youth and Daniel Johnston. He could rock out on the guitar in a floral dress or wear something that looked as though it’s been plucked straight from his Granny’s washing line and without a doubt, it would still look so fucking awesome.

His natural effortlessness is something that ironically, many strive to achieve. While we pay good money for pre-ripped jeans and artificially distressed clothing, Cobain’s clothes were likely purchased for a dollar at a charity shop or found behind a sofa during the aftermath of a Seattle house party. His shirts were ruined because of too many high energy gigs and rough nights, stained by spilled ash trays and alcohol. His choice to wear clothes like this during interviews, music videos shoots and concerts came from his personal need to make a statement. Kurt Cobain was a pioneer of the grunge culture, long before the eventual commodification of teen angst. Cobain expressed his anarchist, anti-conformist attitude through his fashion choices. To me, he will always be remembered as the personification of the grunge sensibility and aesthetic.

Monkey see, monkey do. I don’t know why I’d rather be dead than cool.‘ – lyrics taken from Stay Away (Nevermind, 1991)

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