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Alternative Fashion Trends That Ended Up Turning Mainstream

Sometimes, it's difficult to be different. In a world where everybody is striving to achieve their own unique sense of style, alternative fashion trends can end up sticking and becoming popular. It almost seems like the more we strive to be individual - the more we end up becoming the same. After all, in a world where everyone is special, nobody is - right? 

OK, so maybe that's a bleak outlook on things, but it's a pretty pertinent point when we consider that some of the most popular alternative fashion trends of the last 40 or so years have actually managed to cement themselves in the realms of the mainstream.

It's an unavoidable fact that fashion designers and clothing manufacturers will always borrow from indie designers, street styles, and trends (I should mention that the term 'borrow' is putting it politely here). Nothing is sacred, and as soon as alternative trends become popular, they will inevitably be reproduced in one way or another. The rise of Steampunk style in mainstream fashion is a perfect example of this happening quite recently.  

But as trends become popular with the masses, they often lose their appeal. This is simply the nature of the beast; fashion is constantly evolving, dying and then reinventing itself as something compeltely new. But what about the once alternative trends that have stood the test of time?

Let's take a look at some notable fashion trends that started out in the alternative sphere, but somehow ended up turning mainstream.


It's almost difficult to believe that about a few decades ago, tattoos were largely regarded as an alternative fashion trend. An art-form normally reserved for prisoners, sailors, members of the military or gang members - tattoos were, arguably, a motif to show allegience to a particular sect or group. They were a way of marking oneself as part of a tribe, and this inevitably became a was of showing oneself as part of the 'anti' or counter-culture. Now it seems that just about everyone has a tattoo - and there's a tattoo to suit just about everyone.

Micro tattoos for those who don't want to fully commit, white ink tattoos for those who want something more subtle, even UV blacklight tattoos for people who want something a little different. It's become so mainstream that some might argue that getting a tattoo has lost its edge. Mattel even released a tattooed Barbie doll in 2011, and nobody really batted an eyelid!


Body Piercings

Just like tattoos, piercings (at least piercings anywhere other than through the ear lobes) are a once alternative trend that has now  become undisputably mainstream. But how did they end up going from sub-culture to pop culture?

While body piercing is by no means a modern phenomenon, it was uncommon for most western cultures to have anything pierced other than the ear lobes. This changed around the 1960s, when it is thought that the Hippie movement introduced the trend of nose-piercing, drawing on traditional Indian customs.
This later evolved during the Punk era of the 1970s and through the '80s as punks, rockers and goths adopted nose piercing (and other piercings) as a symbol of defiance. It was an outward expression of the rejection of conservative values; as 'counter-culture' as you could get.

But since then, body piercing in all forms has continued to move past being a symbol of rebellion and has become fixed firmly in mainstream fashion. 

Punk, Metal and Studs

The aforementioned Punk era wasn't just responsible for raising the popularity of piercings. It was a movement that has been instrumental in shaping modern trends that are still relevant today. Modern punk, cyber punk, gothic punk - all these are derivatives of the original 'fashion' which was actually (somewhat ironically) a rejection of popular fashion itself.

Perhaps the most notable surviving Punk rock era motif is the use of studs, chains and metal embellishments. Metal studs are still going strong - and are a welcome addition to many a chiffon blouse or leather jacket, in order to give an otherwise simple clothing item appear more edgy.

Alternative fashion trends: Punk

Grunge Style

Authentic '90s grunge style was another one of those fashion phenomena that arose as a symbol of rebellion. The grunge style  and attitude was very much about being understated, scruffy or even unkempt. Basically, the less effort you looked like you'd put into your outfit, the better.

The grunge era was all about flannel shirts, combat boots or Dr. Martens - and a general 'I don't give a F*CK' attitude. But since then, it's given birth to subgenres of the original style, most recently Pastel Grunge. This interesting style blends the gritty, unkempt and downright 'ugly' elements of grunge with the complete opposite - the cute and Kawaii.


Gothic Style Clothing

Remember when dark clothing, skulls, crucifixes and leather were definite symbols of the counter-cultrure? Not any more.

Much like the use of metal accents and studs coming from the punk era, it seems everything has a skull printed on it these days. Gothic style influences can be found everywhere in mainstream fashion; from dark lace dresses, to leather boots, to emo-style t-shirts and even skull printed leggings.

Gothic style originated in the post-punk era, and combined an antiquated style with the more edgy elements of punk fashion - wild makeup and edgy accessories to name a couple. But today it is very much a mainstay of fashion, constantly reinventing itself to remain fresh and relevant; with new trends like Pastel Goth looks (very similar to Pastel Grunge) becoming popular.

Bright Colored Hair

These days, it seems like it's more challenging to find someone with natural hair color. But while people (especially women) have been dying their hair for years, the more recent trend of brightly colored hairdye seems to have gained popularity and it looks like its here to stay.

Now it's more common to go for the 'unnatural' rather than the 'au naturale'. Basically; rainbow hair is everywhere.

Green, blue, purple - no color is off limits. While there was a time when brightly colored hair was reserved for the counter-culture (yep, those punks again) bright colored hair is now a staple of modern fashion. It seems like there simply aren't enough colors out there to keep things fresh and exciting, as more and more elaborate colored hair trends keep popping up  - such as the recent unicorn hair craze.

Remember: Style is Personal

While it might well seem like nothing is sacred, and that as soon as a new, uniquely original alternative fashion trend gains popularity it will somehow end up turning mainstream - don't sweat it. As mentioned before, fashion is fluid - constantly being reborn in new ways, so the most important thing to remember is to have fun with your style.

Don't dress just to be different - dress according to how you feel. If you want to rock a trend - go for it. Don't worry about it eventually becoming mainstream. Remember; your own personal style will intevitably evolve too. 

Tear It Up: How To Style Distressed Clothing


Both the punk movement and the grunge movement are rooted in DIY fashion. Enter distressed clothing, which is hardly a new look on the scene. For decades, fashion rebels have intentionally damaged clothes to make them appear naturally aged, simply because it’s an anti-fashion fashionable statement and symbolizes rock and roll.

Distressed clothing for a grunge and punk rock style!

(Photo Credit:

And even though the popularity of distressed clothing has evolved and become more mainstream, crossing over to various music genres, including pop, soul, hip-hop, and the sounds of country, the question remains: How can I wear distressed clothing without looking lame?

Fortunately, there are tons of looks you can come up with! Let’s look at some ways you can style distressed clothing, including jeans, dresses, leggings, and tops, while staying in tune with the authentic vibes of punk rock fashion and grunge fashion.

Distressed Jeans

Jeans, which remain one of the most coveted types of distressed clothing, can be abraded with chemicals, bleach, friction, and most notable, fabric rips and tears. An awesome aspect associated with wearing ripped jeans is the sense of freedom you have; there is no right or wrong way to wear ‘em! It’s all about finding key pieces that communicate your personality. You can go androgynously grunge in true Kurt Cobain style with a graphic tee, plaid button-up or jacket, and combat boots or Converse. Should you want to show a bit more of your feminine side, a simple change in shoes will make a difference without breaking the coolness of the outfit. A pair of buckled stiletto black booties can turn up your daytime outfit into a sexy evening!

Distressed Dresses

For ultimate comfort and ultimate style, don’t shy away from a distressed dress! From dramatic runs throughout the dress to subtle holes here and there, this type of clothing item has “anti-fashion” written all over it. It can be worn over solid, contrasting colors that peek through, racy lingerie if you’re into that sort of thing, and distressed leggings or tights if you want to show your overall allegiance to grunge. Because a distressed dress is a major statement as is, consider just one or two key pieces of edgy punk or steampunk jewelry to wear with it. Unless you’re a “more is more” type of chick, too many add-ons could potentially distract from your dress! As for shoes, a pair of black or colored combat boots is always a go.

Distressed Leggings

Leggings – a thicker style of tights that nearly every chick lives in – don’t have to be boring! Sure, a basic pair of black leggings is always in style, but to make that rebellious statement, it’s all about adding that extra edge. And big ‘ole rips, holes, and tears will definitely do that. You can wear a white graphic tee and black leather jacket for a solid punk rock appeal, which always works with creepers or stiletto black heels. Another option is wearing a backless dress and floppy hat with your distressed leggings for a more ethereal, boho vibe. Also, makes for a creative Spring look with lots of depth!

Distressed Tops

Distressed punk rock tops and t-shirts make for fun styling! Whether it’s a band tee with even rips throughout the shirt or a sweater that is totally shredded, a distressed top can be worn with jeans, goth pants, leggings for a casual, comfy feel. A pair of black, spiked sneakers or platform boots both work well with as footwear to sport with a distressed top. A messenger bag or a backpack adds a touch of grunge in a practical way, and a pair of oversized sunglasses adds a touch of glam punk to your style. As always, there is no right or wrong way to style distressed clothing. Rather, there are some really cool looks you can adopt to switch up your wardrobe! Distressed tops are definitely one of them.

Big Knits: Grunge's Influence On the World Of Fashion

By Daniel Hughes |11-02-2021



Often referred to as The Seattle Sound, in the early 80s to mid-90s, the Grunge movement took the world by storm with its colossal guitar groans, subversive melodies and an unlikely stream of rock stars.

I never wanted to be part of any scene, I never wanted to be a part of anything, I wanted to do my own thing. Those are the lessons I learned from punk rock. - Buzz Osbourne, The Melvins

Grunge, although arguably short-lived, influenced generations of frustrated youngsters across the globe, giving them a voice as well as a look.

Yes, like all essential subcultures, Grunge influenced the world of fashion as well as music history.

A Brief History of Grunge

Back in 1983, a small yet potent band called The Melvins started making waves in the Washington underground scene with their hard-hitting mix of metal and punk.

Around that time, Seattle was in the midst of shedding its hippie image while clutching onto its city-wide values of non-conformity and sticking it to the man. It wasn't long before this rebellious mindset paved the way for the first wave of grunge bands - influenced by punk as well as the sound of The Melvins - the likes of Green River and Soundgarden.

Influenced by The Melvins, these bands began to pick up some serious momentum in Seattle, and the grunge scene was born.

Youths across Seattle and beyond began to get on board with the music, the attitude and the clothing, spreading the message across the pond, with Sub Pop Records producing and distributing many of the most iconic sounds of the time.

Between 1988 and 1990, a tight-knit clique of Seattle bands did a lot of member-trading and band transforming - and eventually, out of this emerged Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Little needs to be said to introduce these two big-hitters and the rest, as they say, is history. And although the original grunge scene is dead, it lives on in the youth of today through music, literature - and of course, clothing.

Grunge Fashion

Kurt Cobain sporting stereotypical eclectic grunge fashion

So, what is grunge fashion? Well, the first thing you need to know about grunge fashion is that grunge, by its very nature, rebels against fashion. Also, the word grunge relates to dirt and grime - so to sport an authentic grunge look, being immaculately groomed is not an option.

The grunge generation, born from hippies and raised on hard rock, metal and punk, sported what can only be described as a unique post-hippie, post-punk, West Coast look. The grunge look was seen as slack, slovenly, grimy, thoughtless, disjointed and uncoordinated, but with an unmistakable edge.

It was about expressing your emotions through the medium of fashion and essentially saying, we don't give a damn what you think.

Classic grunge fashion items were ripped, torn and faded jeans (often loose fitting), flannel shirts or big woollen pullovers - often Pendletons (a Seatlle-based knitwear brand) - strewn on top of dirty T-shirts and black combat-style boots like Dr. Martens.

This lo-fi, low budget aesthetic meant that to get that raw worn look, many grunge fanatics would flock to thrift stores to get their best garments before heading out to gigs or local bars.

Grunge and The Big Knit

One of the most interesting components of the grunge outfit are the big knits - and there's a functional reason they became so popular.

As the temperature in Seattle can rise or fall by 20 degrees in the same day, it was convenient for grunge enthusiasts to have a long-sleeved woollen button-down shirt or big chunky knitted sweater that could be removed with ease and tied around the waist. 

Very quickly, big knits tied around the waist became a grunge staple, and it was popularised by the likes of a certain Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain.

Among all of the heroes of grunge music, without a doubt, Kurt Cobain wore a big knit the best - and here are the three most iconic of them all...

Grunge Fashion: The History Of Grunge & 90s Fashion


If you were a teenager in the late 80s or 90s, then you know that the grunge look was everywhere. Neil Young (who is known as the Godfather of Grunge), Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden had gained huge commercial success and their style was influencing fashion. People who dressed in grunge were seen as the ultimate rebels of their generation. 

When I was a teen in the 90s, I had no idea that grunge would ever be considered retro! But like many styles, grunge has found a new generation to appreciate the culture surrounding the fashion.  It has also spawned a new subculture known as soft grunge, which takes elements of grunge fashion and mixes them with cutesy items and pastel colors.

History of Grunge Fashion

Grunge fashion was developed by Generation X and is a reflection of their frustration with the side effects of the eighties economical upswing. This explains why grunge is mainly fashionable in first world countries. Many were beginning to see the effects of capitalism and didn't support it. They refused to believe in societal classes and were annoyed by the idea of human value being defined by money and property. They didn't approve of ”serving the machine” aka career-oriented lifestyle. In their opinion, human life was being sacrificed too much for something pointless like a 9 to 5 job. 

Music, fashion, tv, and movies; all reflected a sense that the generation had no desire to participate in the status quo.

Features of Grunge Fashion

Generation X's disdain of conformity shows itself through grunge fashion. Messy hair, careless makeup, flannel shirts and vintage items are staples of the grunge wardrobe. Floral dresses paired with combat boots was the uniform of Riot Grrrls. Shirts with slogans and band t-shirts images were paired with torn jeans. Grunge fashion is all about going against the norm.

The grunge lifestyle is about individuality.  It is filled with people who want to be known for their words and work instead of adhering to what is expected of them. Through their style they express this philosophy. They avoid spending too much time on grooming and favor looks that break the molds of society.  They mix new pieces with retro or vintage styles and avoid chasing commercial trends in an attempt to remove themselves from the pitfalls of capitalism.

Grunge Inspired Fashion

Of course, there are those who wear the styles made fashionable during the grunge era without a clue about the ideology that developed the look. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that either. Part of the grunge mentality is allowing others to live as they like. We are all blessed with brains that we can freely use and ideally, fashion should not be the top ranking topic for debate.

For the alt crowd, grunge is probably the most memorable style to come out of the 90s. The cozy and purposefully understated look was especially popularized by Kurt Cobain, though there was no shortage of grunge bands throughout that decade. The staples for grunge were big cozy sweaters or cardigans with a very distressed finish, but the occasional oddball combinations were also integral to the style. Converse Low Tops, as well as other sneakers, were popular across subcultures, however! 

Everything You Need To Know About Soft Grunge (Aka Pastel Grunge) Fashion


Soft grunge, also known as “pastel grunge,” stems from the original grunge movement in the early 1990s. With noticeable gothic and kawaii influences, the “cute” and deliberate soft grunge styles started to gain popularity in 2010, on social media. 

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And while the underlying sense of poetic sadness and isolation of early 90s grunge has carried over to millennial soft grunge chicks (the dominating sex of this subculture), there is a bit of irony in the relationship between the two.

Grunge was never about being pretty or being liked. It was about finding solace in one’s loneliness through the words and riffs from “anti-rock star” bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. So considering that 90s grunge was more of a masculine world (very different from the riot grrrl movement that was also at a height during that period), the girls who loved grunge were about maintaining that sense of edge and rebelliousness in the least pretentious clothing as possible. Think over-sized flannels borrowed from dad or brother’s closet, typically worn around the waist or over a baby doll dress from the thrift store. The concept of dressing “grunge” was very hippie-esque, as it was about using fashion to show what your view on the world. It was not about perfection.


So what about the soft grunge girls of today who epitomize edge and rebelliousness with septum piercings, pastel-colored hair, and metallic combat boots? Many are, in fact, top YouTubers and fashion bloggers who give tips on how to attain their look. But instead of poking fun at, or even showing judgment to the soft grunge goddesses of today, let’s keep in mind that it’s all rock and roll! When you’ve created a look that is linked to a certain culture or subculture, sometimes one can get caught up trying to look like the next. But we know the value of maintaining a sense of individuality in a sea of sameness. So in our age of superficiality as well as artistic expression, soft grunge looks to be more than just a trend.

Band Tees

The band tee is a total must-have! It’s one of the easiest and coolest ways to show your allegiance to the world of rock, in particular your favorite grunge bands. It’s a great layering piece that can be worn under a blazer, plaid button-up, or leather moto jacket on a chilly day. It can also be worn solo with a pair of black leggings and creepers for a simple goth-grunge appeal. And with both options…the more jewelry, the better!

Colorful Hair

The pastel grunge crowd is about looking pretty as well as pretty hardcore. Think soft, whimsical hues such as lavender, coral, and even silver, thanks to Japan’s kawaii influence as well as the pastel goth movement! Each soft grunge chick is unique, so while one girl may love sporting a full head of light purple locks, another is all about the ombre pastel hair. No matter what shade of pastel color you dye your hair, keep headwear in mind – especially in the summer! Because in addition to providing protection, it’s super-cute when pastel hair peeks out from under a baseball cap or a wide-brimmed floppy hat! 

Distressed Tights And Leggings

Distressed Leggings add a grunge vibe

Distressed leggings are a beloved fashion essential among tons of different subcultures, including the soft grunge movement. It’s a basic item that can be worn alone as pants with a band tee or layered underneath denim shorts and mini dresses. In the early 90s, distressed clothing was a DIY project or an awesome thrift store find. Today, about 20 years later, finding the ripped or holey leggings you want are now just a click away, allowing you easy access to start creating your own pastel grunge statement. Whether you pair with boots, stilettos, or sneakers black distressed leggings are a staple that help maintain an edgy quality.

Shapes And Symbols

The shapes and symbols of gothic subculture have become intertwined with soft grunge fashion over time. This includes symbols of the occult, the rosary, and skull and bones imagery. These gothic shapes and symbols contribute to the intensity of pastel grunge vibe, which can be displayed through fashion in a number of ways. From rosary necklaces and chokers to skull leggings; let the dark and lovely aspect of your personality shine with special shapes and symbols.

Distressed Denim 

 Although, today, soft grunge is heavily based on grooming, both hardcore grunge fans as well as pastel grunge girls are committed to their love for distressed denim – one of the most anti-fashion fashionable looks of grunge. From jackets to jean shorts, cut up denim is a rebellious staple that makes an alternative statement in a mainstream world.

Metallic and Pastel Combat Boots

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There was a time when combat boots were worn for function over style – a time when this type of shoe was strictly worn by soldiers in the military versus rockers on stage. Eddie Vedder, the frontman of Pearl Jam, was a king of worn-in boots in the early ‘90s, while Gwen Stefani was the queen of steel toe boots as she rocked out with her band No Doubt in the mid-to-late 90s. Although No Doubt was not considered grunge, as they became famous for creating music off of their love for ska and punk rock, Stefani showed that chicks, too, can rock out in a tough shoe…and look really cute in doing so! So as combat boots continued to evolve as a fashion statement since the original grunge movement, flashier and girly colors and prints became more available. This includes metallic and pastel combat boots – pretty tough styles that contribute to the beauty of soft grunge.  

Pastel Grunge And Goth Are Perfect For Summer

Pastel Grunge And Goth Are Perfect For Summer

Since there's only so much floral print fashion that a girl can take, summer is a great season to go against the grain and flaunt your pastel grunge style. And, PSA, just because you're a goth girl at heart doesn't mean you have to wear all black all the time (even though we love it). Adding pastels to gothic fashion breathes new life into your summer wardrobe. Follow our tips to get the best edgy style that will keep you comfortable all summer long!

Crop It Up

Cropped goth tops are perfect for summer.

Get some fresh air and rock a crop top. Loose fitting, cropped silhouettes are perfect for summer since they won't cling to your skin and make you sweat (because who likes that?). For some extra coverage, wear a crop top with a high- waisted skirt or shorts. When you hit the beach, you can even rock your crop top as a cover up for a skull bikini or other goth swimsuit. Style and versatility? Oh yes. 

Keep It Short

Show some leg in a pair of distressed denim shorts on a casual day around town. You can make cute jean shorts your own by adding a belt, body chains, or iron on patches. Think studs, spikes, custom decals, logos, slogans, and embroidery. What better way to express your own interests than by incorporating them into your style?

Tip: Make sure to pack a lightweight cardigan or an oversize hoodie if you plan on going out for the day so you're completely prepared for cool, breezy nights. 

Go Graphic

Band t-shirts are a Must Have for summer grunge fashion.

If you can't tell by now, we really can't get enough of graphic tees and tanks. Seriously, there is always room in your closet for more (trust us). Stock up on band tees and tanks with your favorite slogans and designs for an easy, no-fuss outfit any day of the summer. You can easily pair a cheap printed t-shirt with jeans, soft shorts, skater skirts, and denim shorts for any casual occasion. Tie a flannel button-down shirt around your waist for style and function (to wear for later) and accessorize with mirrored sunglasses, belts, chain necklaces, and leather bracelets. And just like that, you have "with the band" style for any summer concert you go to (just finish the look with some printed VIP passes...but don't tell anyone we told you that). 

Let It Flow

Perfect for a more formal event or just on those days that you want to dress up, a sheer maxi dress is a great go-to. The lightweight sheer layer allows air to pass through the dress, which helps to keep your body temperature down on those humid, sticky days. You can dress your outfit down by wearing simple sandals and minimal accessories, or dress it up with a hat, a chunky waist belt, and eye-catching jewelry.

Play With Makeup

Ah, the medium with no limit to creativity... makeup! Makeup is an awesome way to pull together any outfit you choose and completely change up the vibe you give off. For a cool goth grunge look at work, choose a dark lipstick color and a smudgy, smoked out eye look. Summer is a great time to experiment with some outside- the- box colors, so don't be afraid to incorporate some sunset colors with warm hues of red, orange, yellow, and pink to your eye makeup. For a night out with your girls, you can wear false lashes to amp up the intensity of your look, or just keep it easy with mascara.

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