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Youth Culture and Fashion


Money Can't Buy You Grunge

By Roger Tredre

Picture by Ian RuffinTo the fashion world, "grunge" is the look of the moment. Since November, when Christian Francis Roth and Marc Jacobs, two American designers barely known in Europe, showed their new collections in New York, no catwalk has been complete without its version of the dressed-down Seventies' hippie style.

So are the New York designers cashing in on poverty by reproducing grunge in luxury fabrics with prices to match? It's certainly a long way from the low-budget philosophy of the original grunge movement, invented in the late Eighties to describe the style of rock groups such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden from Seattle. The grunge bands are deeply suspicious of this latest interaction between two powerful strands of popular culture.

But fashion has been here before. In the Seventies it took punk, another "anti-fashion" style associated with a musical movement, and turned it into haute couture.

Fashion commentators say that grunge is a genuine sign of change: a reaction against power dressing in the dress-for-success years. The musicians believe that it is simply a sanitised and snob version of their look.

In London, the youngsters who popularised the look are on the side of the musicians - if they accept that there is a look at all. In Camden market, north London, Jacinta Stringer, 24, unemployed and wearing a plaid jacket, ripped jeans and Doc Marten boots, said: "I'm not grunge. Is that what you think I am?"

Kerty Hagger, 21, a travel agent, in a shaggy jumper from Nepal and cotton trousers from Chipie, looked blank: "Never heard of it!"

Lorraine Macdonald, 20, a student from Inverness, wearing a big plaid coat from C&A, jeans from BhS, and walking boots from Berghaus, offered a definition: "It means wearing comfortable clothes that you throw on without trying to co-ordinate. It means not using make-up and not bothering about how your hair looks."

Pete Millac, 24, a chef, agreed: "Grunge, meant not worrying about your appearance and not spending any money on clothes. Now it's hip it's ridiculous. You read about it in magazines like Elle, and the clothes cost a fortune. Grunge is as low-grade as you can find. Or at least it was before the fashion people got their hands on it."

By the original definition, Mr Millac was out-and-out grunge, wearing a battered leather jacket which he said he had found, a check shirt that cost 1GBP in Brixton market, a 2GBP scarf from Camden market and jeans. What did he think of those who paid thousands to achieve a similar look? "If people want to spend their money on looking bad, that's fine by me."


  1. What is grunge style?
  2. How did grunge start?
  3. What do fashion critics think of grunge?
  4. What do wearers of grunge say about their style of dress?

  • To look good.
  • To follow fashion regardless of whether the clothes suit.
  • To do nothing for the figure.
  • To be hip (!)/trendy (!).
  • The new look (!).
  • To be tight-fitting/loose-fitting/low-necked/flared/baggy/heavy/clingy/comfortable.
  • To be made of silk/satin/fur/lycra/lurex/pure cotton.

DISCUSSION: dedicated follower of fashion
  1. Do you follow fashion? Why (not) ? What do you think of 'slaves to fashion'? Describe someone who is a 'fashion victim'.
  2. What particular fashion do you feel corresponds best to what you wear at the moment? grunge? punk? new romantic? Sixties? hippy? ethnic? feminine? macho? classic? Preppy? anti-fashion? How do you prefer to dress?
  3. Fashion shows cost a lot of money, both for the organisers and for the designers who show their clothes. What is the point of a fashion show and in what way do the designers benefit?
  4. What elements are most important to you in choosing clothes? Is it cost? colour? comfort? design? material? Stylishness? fashion? your friends' clothes? what TV personalities wear? what top models wear?
  5. The Italians spend twice as much on clothes as the Danes. Does this fact surprise you? How much do you think people spend on clothes in your country?
  6. What is the link between music and fashion? Give some examples.
  7. Describe your five favourite items of clothing.

  • In pairs, guess which countries spend the highest percentage of their income on fashion? Put these 14 countries into the correct order, beginning with the country you think spends the most:
  • Belgium; Denmark; France; Germany; Greece; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Luxembourg; The Netherlands; Portugal; Spain; The United Kingdom; The United States.

    Click here to find out the correct answers.

  • In pairs discuss which style you like best and what the differences are. You are now going to be fashion commentators at a fashion show and describe the 'look' that one designer is showing for that summer or winter. One of you describes the new 'look' for men and the other the new 'look' for women. Each pair takes it in turn to present their commentary. The class votes on who has the best commentary style.

appearance: how you look. barely: hardly. battered: in bad condition. blank: expressionless; vacant. bothering about: caring about. cashing in on: profiting from. catwalk: platform for models. co-ordinate: (make) match. Doc Marten boots: black, heavy boots with laces, very popular in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties! dressed-down: dressed casually. fabrics: materials. fine by me (!): okay by me (!); fine in my opinion. genuine: real. got their hands on (!): took control of. grunge: cheap fashion. hip (!): fashionable. hippie: from the seventies. interaction: exchange. look: image. low-budget: inexpensive. low-grade: cheap quality. out-and-out: true. plaid: tartan. popularised: made popular. power dressing: dress to impress. prices to match: very high prices. sanitised: clean; characterless. shaggy: baggy; big and fluffy. showed their collection: presented their designs. (on the) side of: supporting. strands: elements. throw on (!): put on quickly without planning. youngsters: young people.
From "Ideas and Issues" by Lisa Gerard-Sharp
Published by kind permission of "Chancerel International"

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