Fashion: See what crawled up from underground: It started with unmelodic tapes and sloppy teenagers, but it developed into a complete style. Roger Tredre reports on the grunge phenomenon

GRUNGE fashion used to be about dirty, positively grotty clothes for the dispossessed. Now it's being cleaned up and going mainstream. Grunge nouveau, redefined since the New York designers took up the theme at the catwalk shows last month, remains just as much for the young at heart, but freshly scrubbed and dry cleaned.

In the beginning, grunge was about music rather than fashion. It came out of Seattle, a city hitherto not renowned as a style-setter. Students tuned in to a local radio station, KCMU, that played demo tapes by local bands. The music was loud and guitar-based; low on melody but high on energy. By the beginning of the Nineties, the same local bands were attracting much greater attention. Now names such as Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are international acts.

Grunge has evolved into a mainstream cultural phenomenon, embracing music, fashion and the lifestyles of the twentysomething generation (who were missed out somehow while we were all busy watching thirtysomething and making babies). The quintessential grunge film, Singles, starring Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda, opens here next month: a timely tale of disaffected young people looking for love in Seattle.

On this side of the Atlantic, grunge is not so very surprising to anyone young living on a tight budget. The mixing of shapes and styles of clothing and footwear has been the basis of British street fashion for years. In Paris, designers such as Martin Margiela and Jean Colonna have been preaching the virtues of flea market chic and inside-out fashion for several seasons.

Grunge fashion is young, but not so young that it can be dismissed as a teenage phenomenon. The December edition of US Vogue devotes 10 pages to grunge looks, photographed by Steven Meisel no less.

There is heavy irony in the rapid assimilation of grunge by the film and fashion worlds. In its early stages, grunge was anti-fashion and anything but mainstream. Rather like punk, it has been reinterpreted and (some would say) sanitised for a broader audience. Colin Brown, US editor of Screen International, says: 'It was meant to be about individuals, but it's become just another fashion. All of LA is wearing grunge, and they don't know why.'

To look at it more positively, grunge has given a shot in the arm to mainstream music and fashion. The original grunge kids can grouch away in their Seattle cellars, but no cultural movement stays still for long. Underground always moves overground.

Here we present our twentysomething tribute to grunge: mixing it up with a stretch rib dress, patchwork fringe waistcoat and skull cap; going hippie with a long linen skirt, sloppy cardigan, ankle socks and clogs; and slobbing out in flares and fine jersey vest. The bare midriff and feet are optional.

Is grunge fashion more about styling than the design of the clothes themselves? Up to a point. As our photographs show, grunge is hobo-chic. It picks up a number of themes, from workwear to the dress-down fever running through contemporary fashion to the revival of the hippie looks of the late Sixties. It represents a critic's paradise of Post-Modernist references.

But there are individual pieces of clothing that have a grunge feel about them, particularly the knitwear. Sweaters tend to look home-made and hand-knitted. Look out for jumpers with blanket stitching details or touches of embroidery, and knitted waistcoats with patchwork effects. It need not be androgynous or sexless, as our photographs show: long ribbed dresses and fine-gauge jersey tops are body-conscious in the extreme.

We show the designer versions, but the nice thing about grunge is that it's open to all bank balances. Wear your favourite Marks & Spencer sweater inside out to achieve the right sort of effect. Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea, but if fashion is to change, then it needs something extreme from time to time. And grunge is it.

(Photograph omitted)

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