A Look at the Alt-Grunge Influence of Kurt Cobain's Style

A look back at the legend on his birthday

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Dude, where in the world would we be without having had Kurt Cobain’s existence in this place we call Earth? Sure we recognize Kurt Cobain as one the greatest to ever do it as the lead musician of one of the all time great bands to ever do it, Nirvana, but in the midst of being a 20th Century music icon, Cobain kind of accidentally became a style legend in the process. If you take a look at the previous decade in rock music, the style amongst the 1980s bands and artists was kind of “over the top” so to speak in terms of makeup and styling. What Cobain and his respective Nirvana bandmates helped to do amongst 1990s rock fashion was institute what we now know as the “grunge era.” To this day, a sort of Kurt Cobain style has become pervasive in so many aspects of fashion culture.

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Kurt’s signature Christian Roth glasses, ripped jeans, casual tees, and oversized sweaters/cardigans made him an alternative style icon, with many copying his looks not only during that time period, but in the years and decades that have followed since his passing as well. Additionally, there was his affinity for flannels, pajamas, and even painted nails. Cobain wasn’t afraid to break gender barriers, as at times he would sport women’s clothing, and you can also credit him with being a major driving force towards the popularity of Converse in the 1990s as well.

As you all know, the concept of the word “legacy” can be a tricky thing. For some, their legacy is achieved over the time period of many decades. For others, it’s as short as 27 years. And for a select few, it’s a rare combination of having both a strong legacy amongst multiple categories in a relatively short amount of time. Our friends, Kurt Cobain has more than earned his spot as being a part of that select few, and today we’ll be taking a look at how his style impact continues to thrive today. 

Nirvana’s Music Videos

Cobain’s style can’t be talked about without a deep dive into Nirvana’s music videos, many of which highlighted some of the band’s most epic style moments. Of course, you have the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which featured tons of 90s style Converse sneakers, and Cobain wearing a striped tee overtop a white long sleeve shirt, which he paired with jeans in smoky 1990s basketball gymnasium. Then there’s the 1950s/60s inspired video for “In Bloom,” which showed the group wearing the classic pinstripe suits of that era, a different look for the band typically decked out in grunge. 

Then you have the video for “Lithium,” which features Cobain in his usual but simple slightly oversized sweater and jeans as the band played a live performance. And who could forget the MTV Unplugged Video for “The Man Who Sold The World,” which was a simple performance par the course for MTV Unplugged sessions that saw Cobain wearing a cashmere sweater over top a t-shirt, which he paired with jeans and a chain. Simply put, Nirvana had a lot of videos, all of which demonstrated their laid back casual and cool style along with their unique artistry. Something that is dearly missed amongst today’s videos. 

There’s also been the presence of Cobain’s influence amongst fashion shows, with a model sporting a shirt inspired by the artist’s Rolling Stone cover at Vetements FW 2019-2020 show a few years back. There was also Sacai’s 2017 show which had heavy Kurt Cobain/Nirvana influences, and Gucci’s AW20 Collection which was alt-icon inspired with tributes to Cobain, David Bowie, and Marilyn Manson to name a few. There’s also sure to be plenty more tributes in the future. With that said, let’s take a look at some of our favorite Kurt Cobain style moments. 

1. MTV Unplugged

We already mentioned Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged a little earlier, but we figured we’d give you guys the story behind the outfit. For starters, many believed for years that this MTV Unplugged session was Nirvana’s final performance together before Cobain’s passing. In actuality, it wasn’t as two more gigs followed with their final performance taking place at Terminal Enix in March 1994. As for their MTV Unplugged, the performance was recorded on November 18th, 1993 and released roughly a year later on November 1st, 1994.

For those that don’t know, MTV Unplugged sessions were intimate performances that major artists would do in front of a small crowd, and those performances would be released on CD some months later (much like an EP). For the performance, Cobain was his usual grunge self, but a little more relaxed as he wore a cashmere sweater, t-shirt, and jeans. It should also be noted that MTV Unplugged recordings were normally done acoustic style, so this wasn’t your typical “rock out” Nirvana concert. As such, Cobain’s outfit matched the scene, vibe, and environment, which was something he was always good at doing. 

2. 1993 MTV Music Awards

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They don’t make couples like Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love anymore. They were a match truly made in rock n roll heaven. Most people get all glammed up to go to the MTV Video Music Awards. Not Kurt Cobain, who pulled up to the event in a striped tee, slightly baggy jeans, and sneakers. As usual, he had his signature oval glasses, this time in red, along with Frances Bean Cobain’s baby bottle as another accessory. Perfect “dad” moment from the rock star.

3. Frankfurt 1991 Photoshoot

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While this may not seem like a “big” moment style wise, it’s quite poignant considering 1991 is what many believe to be Nirvana’s breakout year due to the success of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Here you can see the group cool as ever, and it makes you realize that they stayed true to themselves through their entire journey. The Nirvana in this picture isn’t that much different from the Nirvana of 1993, and that’s what makes this photo special. Also, it should be noted that the group didn’t have that much money at the time of this shoot as they were only just starting to take off, so these were outfits that came directly from their closets and dressers. And yet, still effortless.

4. Kurt’s MTV Interview

Sometime around 1992/1993, Kurt Cobain sat down for an individual interview with MTV as part of the television special MTV’s Nirvana: Past Present Future, and we thought we’d include this moment not just because Cobain was an actual mood both style and personality wise the entire time he was being interviewed, but because it’s also pretty good insight into who Kurt Cobain was as a person and an artist. He was indeed somebody who was very much ahead of his time in terms of how he viewed the world, and his creativity was off the charts. Definitely a nice way to learn more about him.

5. Kurt Cobain Red Hair Moment

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While we all became accustomed to seeing Cobain as a blonde, let us not forget that at one point he dabbled with red hair too. Legend had it for a long time that the artist used kool-aid to achieve the color, and while that certainly makes the story more livelier than just using a plain old regular hair dye, Cobain did indeed use plain old regular hair dye. It’s unknown what the inspiration was behind the hair color change, but seeing as though Cobain was very much an artist in every sense of the word, we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him just having randomly woken up one morning and deciding he wanted to dye his hair red. 

6. Nirvana in Japan

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It’s quite a shame that we never officially got to see Kurt secure a sunglasses deal with a brand as an ambassador, or develop his own sunglasses line for that matter as nobody rocked them quite like he did. Nirvana’s visit to Japan in February 1992 is just one of the many examples of Kurt being, you know, a sunglasses icon.

7. Nirvana MTV Live and Loud 1993

Look at the suede jacket. That is definitely a look that has been circulated through the years when it comes to jackets and blazers.

8. 1992 VMAs

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And last but not least, that shirt. 

Long Live Kurt Cobain.

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