90s Fashion: Kim Gordon’s Iconic Sonic Youth Outfits


Photo via Instagram, by Laura Levine/Corbis via Getty Images and Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

Has there ever been a cooler rockstar than Kim Gordon? Inspired by New York’s no-wave scene, Kim co-founded Sonic Youth in the early 80s. A decade later, the band had changed the course of alternative rock forever, bringing it into the mainstream with a new sound. loud and nihilistic. The pivot Reverie Nation and Go spawned anthems like “Teen Age Riot” and “Kool Thing” that brought noise rock to radio and even MTV. And, as a vocalist, Kim’s shrewd, sardonic lyricism, aloof contralto delivery, and freeform instrumentation lead the charge.

Obviously influenced by the singer’s “no-wave” roots, Kim’s style is decidedly anti-fashion. “There’s a certain generic thing that happens with fashion that gives you confidence, like you fit in. And I think there’s always been an element of me that wants to oppose that,” said Kim. Style.com in 2009. “I always thought that was why I never really had such a great sense of style.” Although we are inclined to disagree with the latter statement, we agree with the former. Kim is – and always has been – an anti-fashion icon. At the start of Sonic Youth, the musician wore a uniform of basics: jerseys, cardigans, bootcut jeans and striped t-shirts. She also had one of the most coveted t-shirt collections of the 90s (notable entries include a Rolling Stones bootleg that reads “Eat Me”. and the zodiac t-shirt worn on the cover of Girl in a Band). At the turn of the millennium, she was prepared for Marc Jacobs and Rodarte. Not to mention that Kim is the co-founder of cult streetwear brand X-Girl, which dresses 90s it girls like Chloë Sevigny and Sofia Coppola. With the upcoming release of Entry/Exit/Entrya new album of rarities from Sonic Youth, we take a look back at some of Kim’s most iconic outfits of all time.

Perform at CBGB’s, 1986

Raised in Los Angeles, Kim Gordon moved to New York at age 27 to pursue a career in the arts, writing for art forum and curator at the White Columns Gallery before becoming interested in the city’s no-wave music scene. “It was expressionist and it was also nihilistic. Punk rock was ironic, saying, “Yeah, we’re destroying rock.” Waveless music is more like “NO, we’re really destroying rock”. It was very dissonant. I thought to myself, Wow, this is really free. I could do that,” she said She in 2013. In 1981, Kim formed waveless band Sonic Youth alongside Lee Ranaldo and then-boyfriend Thurston Moore. Here, at the start, EVOLOn the runway at the legendary CBGB’s in New York, Kim wore one of her signature graphic tees, a leather fringe skirt and a skull-embroidered guitar strap.

Photo by Laura Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

In New York, 1990

Nearly a decade – and five albums – after forming, Sonic Youth signed their first major deal with the release of the iconic Go (you know the album cover) with DCG in 1990. Their accessible yet radical sound propelled the band – and alternative rock – into the mainstream. Today, it’s hailed as one of the most important alternative records of all time, one that paved the way for artists like Nirvana to reach the top of the charts. Here, the year of GoKim poses for a promotional photo shoot wearing a pink floral jumpsuit that speaks to her grungey-glam sensibility.

Kim Gordon on stage with Sonic Youth in a 90s striped dress 1991

Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns

On stage, circa 1991

This simple striped T-shirt dress was Kim Gordon’s must-have ’90s staple. According to the singershe wore it to every show of Sonic Youth’s 1991 European tour, which spanned from the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium to Reading in Britain.

Performance of “Kool Thing” on MTV, 1992

In the early ’90s, Sonic Youth broke into the mainstream, with “Kool Thing” leading the takeover of MTV. Inspired by an interview Kim conducted with LL Cool J, the single is a pointed and sarcastic meditation on gender and race, with Kim calling out the music industry’s misogyny while poking fun at her own countercultural beliefs. Here, Kim performs “Kool Thing” on MTV dressed in one of her early ’90s uniforms: cotton singlet, bootcut jeans and her signature black choker.

On stage, circa 90s

Here we see Kim in (what it looks like) a handmade t-shirt with the slogan “Girls invented punk rock, not England”. Throughout her career, Kim has valued and championed female musicians, while speaking out against the misogyny and double standards they face in a male-dominated industry. An upcoming collection, titled This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music and co-edited by Kim, will spotlight pioneering female artists written by female writers. Of the book and its subject, Kim wrote, “‘How does it feel to be a girl in a band?’ The oft-repeated question throughout my career as a musician has made me feel disturbed, a freak, or that we’re all the same. […] Hopefully this book begins to unravel the myth that if you’re a musician, you’re ready to go, easy to digest.

With Sofia Coppola for X-Girl, 1994

In 1993, Kim, along with stylist Daisy von Furth, launched X-Girl, a women’s streetwear brand and sister to boys-only skate brand X-Large. With his “sexy tomboy” aesthetic (think baby t-shirts, miniskirts and babydoll dresses), X-Girl became the benchmark for ’90s it girls, from Sofia Coppola to Chloë Sevigny and even Kim herself. (The singer memorably wore a ringer t-shirt from the label’s guerrilla show in 1994 in the Video “Bull in the heather”). Here, Kim and Sofia rock a pair of branded logo t-shirts while on a trip to Japan where they held another impromptu X-Girl fashion show.

Kim Gordon on stage at the Rock The Scene festival at Marc Jacobs 2004

Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

At the Rock on Scene Festival, 2004

“It’s one of my favorite dresses I’ve ever worn on stage. It’s a Marc Jacobs dress. You can’t tell from this picture, but it has all this sequins on it and it was almost as if it were a disco ball. she told Style.com in 2009. While Kim wore the dress to a festival show in 2004, the singer and Marc go back a long way: they collaborated together on the music video for the 1993 single “Sugar Kane”. The clip was shot in Marc’s showroom in New York and costumed with his designs. In this one, Chloë Sevigny — then an intern at sassy magazine – plays the role of a model who undresses on the catwalk. Talk about iconic.

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