As it stands, nostalgia is the single biggest beauty and fashion trend this fall, with the revival of Ballerina Sleaze which harkens back to our 2011 Alexa Chung-dominated Tumblr blogs, baby blue eyeshadow that had a chokehold on the early-aughts, and matte complexions that at one point had us carrying both blotting papers and powder in our bags. Of course, the trends of yesteryear are merely inspirations for trends happening now. Today, matte makeup is contrasted with glossy lips and dewy highlighter, and blue eyeshadow isn't applied with the included eyeshadow sponge, but instead diffused into a sculpted siren eye shape. It's natural for trends to resurface in a way that adapts to the current times, which is why the latest "subtle grunge" trend is actually so 2022.
Where We've Seen It
Now, we cannot even whisper the word "grunge" without paying respect to the people who participated in the trend back in the '90s like Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, and of course, Kurt Cobain. Stars and "normal" people alike turned the dial on their makeup looks to moody, with dark red and brown lipstick, grey and black eyeshadows, and, of course, matte complexions—all done with a lack of precision.
The grunge looks of the '90s were a more undone evolution of goth looks that surfaced in London in the late '70s and early '80s, where British youths wore all-black makeup and listened to Bauhaus to show off their morose side. '90s grunge was a way to bring these dark looks into the day-to-day that were a little more wearable for everyone—in comparison to goth looks that included harsh black lines pretty much everywhere on the face, '90s grunge was a subtle way to fit into the mainstream while still saying, "yes, I'm capricious, and my favorite bands are the Cocteau Twins and Slowdive."
Why Subtle Grunge is Coming Back Now
As with the aforementioned trends that are resurfacing in new ways, grunge now has a softer, more diffused appearance. People on TikTok are taking to cool-toned eyeshadows instead of the warmer hues that governed all beauty looks in the past decade, and dipping their toes into brown lipsticks.
Now, makeup is a form of expression, and it always has been, but, according to makeup artist, Jamie Greenberg, today's subtle grunge trend is more about expressing your fun side than traditional grunge, which was about rebellion. Greenberg says, "I’m obsessed with this grunge vibe happening. We started fresh and clean with our makeup looks, and Covid has gotten people back into makeup. We went for lips, and now we’re sticking our toe in the editorial looks. People like to express themselves with makeup, and this is a great trend to do that without going over the top."
Makeup artist to celebrities like Rachel Brosnahan, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lisa Aharon explains that the subtle grunge makeup trend is simply following in the footsteps of darker fashion trends that are reigning supreme this fall. She says, "Makeup often follows fashion, and I think the subdued grunge makeup look is doing just that—early 90’s trends but with a modern feel."
Meanwhile, Molly R. Stern, who has done makeup for stars like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Anne Hathaway, thinks that a subtle grunge makeup looks is a sweet reprieve from the concept of perfection. Stern states, "I think we have been seeing these 'perfect' looking makeup looks, with so much contour and highlighter that there is something refreshing about blurring the lines a little bit and keeping it feeling a little more real."
How to do Subtle Grunge Makeup
Firstly, you'll want to re-up on your favorite mattifying setting sprays and loose setting powders. Since a dewy, glazed donut complexion has taken center stage for the past few years, Stern is for a revival of matte makeup: "Turing away from all of the iridescent bounce and bringing back the more matte skin finish feels modern and fresh all over again."
Aharon mentions that softer versions of '90s grunge looks are "simply more flattering and easier to pull off for day-to-day." For a subtle eye look, you'll want to invest in some cool-toned eyeshadows to sculpt the eye without the need for harsh liner. "I love a mid-tonal range of smoke or depth on the eyes," Stern says. "It’s easier to wear and easier to maintain. Using softer colors to get a drippy eye makes wearing a lot of liner feel less dramatic."
Greenberg recommends using a pencil brush to blend eyeshadow under the lashline in lieu of liner, noting that the Sigma E30 Pencil Brush ($15) is a favorite of hers. Of course, if you won't give up your winged liner just yet, a thin, small wing can add dimension to your look without taking away from the eyeshadow's hazy effect.
And as far as brows are concerned, Stern mentions that "it’s imperative to have a groomed brow for any grunge look," since almost everyone plucked their brows pencil-thin during the '90s grunge trend. You don't have to go pencil thin for this trend, but plucking stray hairs for a more defined shape can help.
As for lips, Greenberg recommends opting for matte lipsticks with "neutral, brown, and rust bases. A darker lip line is always a good companion." To ensure that your matte lipstick is diffused, consider applying it with a lip brush and blotting off excess product with a tissue.
But, these are all mere recommendations on how to use your cosmetics this fall, since the true essence of a '90s grunge look (not just with makeup, but with every part of your style) is to express yourself. Playing around with different shades and seeing what works best for you is, TBH, the most grunge thing you can do—so have fun with it.