Saturday, April 16, 2011

The [Dis]parity of Grunge and Prep

Alexander Julian
Living in the land that begat grunge, I am happy to report that it is still DEAD, and if not dead, waiting for another silver bullet or swift coup de gras. I have to admit, when grunge music became popular in the late 80s / early 90s, I found myself bopping my head and banging my steering wheel to some of its wildy-popular anthems - all while wearing Ralph Lauren button-down oxfords pinched from dad's closet or my own Alexander Julian polos.

This month marks the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Rest in peace, Kurt, and rest in peace, Grunge. To both I am thankful, for they are given credit for killing the dreadful hair bands of the early to mid 1980s.

At first glance one might say that there is nothing in common with the grunge sensibility and the prep sensibility. Well, contraire mon fraire. There is more to these ways of life than meets the eye. Consider the following: 

Kurt Cobain
1967 - 1994
- Both have isolated beginnings, be it in the Pacific Northwest or the Atlantic Northeast.  This is real Darwin "Origin of Species" stuff, or more correctly, "allopatric speciation."

- Both have predecessors to which they openly pay homage and reference. Grunge has musical groups like The Who, Neil Young, and Led Zeppelin and vocational groups like lumberjacks and electrical linesmen from which they were influenced. Prep has institutions like the Ivy league, prep schools, and sports and hobbies like rowing, sailing, lacrosse, hunting, and fishing from which they were informed.

- Both wear utilitarian clothing.  Grunge: the lace-up boots, cargo pants (or shorts), flannel shirts, insulated underwear, stocking hats. Prep: the boat shoes, khaki pants, oxford shirts, and perhaps a hunting or sailing jacket. Each item may be used for multiple purposes, in a multitude of venues.  Which brings me to...

- Thrift. Both groups, regardless of socio-economic standing, see thrift as a virtue, hence, the frayed khakis or faded oxfords, or duct-taped combat boots or tattered flannel shirts. 

- Both have a "Come as you are" mindset, or to put it bluntly, an "FU" mindset. Not that either group is rude - quite the opposite - but each group has a quiet confidence in themselves which will not waiver in the face of ridicule. They are true to their clan, but accepting of others.

(But did the two ever co-exist?)

Niles Crane.jpg
Niles Crane from Frasier
1993 - 2004


  1. Haha, great analysis.

  2. Thank you, Sam. I know I was reaching, but that's half the fun. Cheers, Derek