THE 10 ESSENTIALS OF NU METAL FASHION
Nu metal is back… Kinda! So many people are finally coming around to the polarizing genre, as enough time has passed to finally admit that it was actually pretty fucking awesome. Call it butt-rock, post-grunge, rap-rock, but any way you try to label it to lessen the emotional toll it has on you to admit out loud that you actually kind of like that one Limp Bizkit song won’t take away the fact that nu metal never really died. It was just resting. With artists like $uicideboy$, Bones, Ghostemane, Tallah and Tetrarch on the rise, the lines between metal, rap and grunge haven’t been this blurred since the initial rise of nu metal. But I thought it would be interesting to take a step back from the music itself and take a look at the subculture. We know what nu metal sounded like. But what did nu metal look like?
Perhaps there’s nothing else in the world that screams “90s” as much as baggy jeans do. In the late 1980s, rappers and break-dancers alike would wear baggy pants not only as an aesthetic tool, but as a way to facilitate their respective crafts. It was in the mid-to-late 1990s that other subcultures picked up on the niche, and skaters, punks and metalheads took a liking to making the jeans even baggier… and baggier… And eventually, JNCOs became one of the most iconic looks of the era, and in one of the 20th centuries biggest musical renaissances, nu metal.
Jonathan Davis, lead singer of Korn.
Photo credit: Kerrang!
Prior to the decade that birthed nu metal, body piercing never really took off in the West. Elayne Angel, a veteran body piercer, indicates the music video to Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” in which a young woman is getting her belly button pierced, to be the beginning of commonplace body modification among American youths. Would it be no surprise to anyone that just under a year later, one of nu metal’s most well-known and influential acts would hit the scene with a lead singer that sported not one, not two, but three eyebrow rings? And so, with the rise of the genre, came some of the most badass and aggressive looks of the 1990s.
I could have made an entire list on some of the most exemplary nu metal hairstyles, but I would be bound to miss out on some gems. Mohawks, dreadlocks, spikes, WAYNE. FUCKING. STATIC. While some were more outlandish than others, they all shared the one quality of uniqueness. This didn’t just stop with head hair though, as some of nu metal’s most recognizable characters donned some of the sickest, craziest beards that have yet to be emulated within the realm of pop-culture.
Wayne Static, lead singer of Static-X.
Photo credit: Audio Ink Radio
Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit
Photo credit: TMZ
Backwards Flat Cap
Red New York Yankees hat. That is all.
For all the (undeserved) flack Limp Bizkit got and continues to get from the popular press, the band’s frontman, Fred Durst, is arguably one of the most charismatic and magnetic personalities of the 1990s. They say that all press is good press, and when a simple piece of sports memorabilia becomes synonymous with your name, that statement couldn’t be any more true.
Most everything in a contemporary culture is either inspired or appropriated from one that came before. Rappers like LL Cool J and punk bands like Sex Pistols wore chains long before nu metal was conceived. The closest rap music and metal music came together by that point was Public Enemy’s killer 1991 collaboration with thrash metal legends, Anthrax. It’s no surprise then, that nu metal, a style that meshes so many other genres (namely punk and hip-hop) within it, would take aesthetic influences from the genres they echo. Whether it’s necklaces, bracelets, or wallet accessories, chains were commonplace among some of the genre's biggest players and the individuals who listened to them.
Photo Credit: Google Arts and Culture
While these two footwear powerhouses are by no means exclusive to the nu metal genre, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the genre played a huge part in the brands’ dominant portrayal in pop-culture in the 1990s. Adidas doesn’t need much of an introduction, as Korn’s 1996 smash, A.D.I.D.A.S introduced a legion of youths to not only a hilarious elementary acronym, but a music video that showed how cool being decked out in a complete athletic tracksuit could really be. While Vans doesn’t have the same direct ties to nu metal as Adidas, the overlapping of skate culture and the metal subculture in the 90s meant that skatewear, particularly skate shoes weren’t anything unordinary within the scene. Pair the cultural overlap with some sick fire decals, and Vans suit the territory just as well as an Adidas jacket.
We have the Hardy Boyz to thank for this one… and Christian… and Lita… and most attitude era professional wrestlers at some point, probably. Another cultural overlap for this one, as see-through clothing has crossed over many lifestyles throughout the years, but arguably rocked the most in the edgier, more fringe communities. New wave, goth, and rave culture were all hosts of mesh clothing for both men and women, and unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you ask) nu metal may have been the last to model it so predominantly.
Matt and Jeff Hardy, 1999
Photo credit: HTMSports
Oversized Graphic Tee
Question: What looks best when matched with ridiculously baggy jeans?
Answer: A ridiculously baggy t-shirt, of course.
Throughout nu metal’s short run in the mainstream, it was always somewhat ingrained with other pop culture from the time. Movie series like The Matrix incorporated bands like Deftones and Unloco into their soundtracks, pro wrestling was at its peak and the crossover in both mediums was undeniable, and Limp Bizkit was literally topping charts. Nu metal was pop culture in the late 90s in the same way that Marvel is pop culture today. If you wanted to rock a superhero shirt, you know it would look the raddest in an oversized, nu metal style-cut. A shirt commemorating a shitty 80s slasher movie? Oversized. If it was a graphic tee and two sizes too big on you, you were probably doing something right.
Aj Soprano, The Sopranos S3, E1
Photo credit: @ajsopranoshirts on Twitter
It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of fashion and music sometimes. Before I watched the Woodstock ‘99 DVD as a kid and saw Jonathan Davis yell “ARE YOU READY?!” at 400,000 people, I always associated kilts with Scottish dancing and drunken lullabies… Now I see a kilt and I think about “da boom na da noom na namena.” Before seeing Kittie on MTV and rocking crowds of the same people that made up that Woodstock ‘99 show, I always associated skirts with some kind of childlike innocence or a business casual office party. Nu metal was able to transform the meaning of certain items just by the allure of its art. I believe that’s part of the reason it’s so hated. It not only challenged the norms, it changed the norms. It truly was ahead of its time and people were not ready for it.
Self-explanatory, really, as by the late 1990s, many artists already had tattoos. So instead of claiming that nu metal was integral to the mainstream acceptance of tattoos, I’m going to argue that not one scene came close to rocking ink as iconic as our favourite genre. Chester Bennington's arm flames, Shifty's shoulder stars and Lynn Strait's "insecure" stomach all reflect nu metal's unapologetic radness.
You can argue all you want that these styles are all “outdated” or “cheesy,” but you would be missing the point. With the information age at full force, private security is at its most hopeless and stress is at its highest. I don’t know about you, but I choose cheesy over anxiety ten times out of ten. I think more people, particularly young people, musicians and fans alike, are realizing this too, and revisiting a genre that reflects a time of simplicity and carelessness. If a genre as “outdated,” as so many critics refer to it as, can come back and appeal to a whole new generation of fans, why can’t the fashion that accompanied it? Now excuse me while I boot up Halo 2 and download a P.O.D song from Limewire that’s featuring Slipknot, Linkin Park and Metallica.