That Tom-Tom Club bought all the Wack Slacks, Fuzz, Plats and Kickers!

Way back in 19 and 92, just over a year after Nirvana’s Nevermind was released – “Grunge” was declared a “Success Story” in the New York Times. The article was aptly titled… “Grunge: A Success Story.”

Written by Rick Marin and published on 15 November 1992, the feature story on the style and fashion of grunge  traces its beginnings as “a five-letter word meaning dirt, filth, [and] trash” all the way to Seventh Avenue in New York City where it became the focus of Marc Jacobs’ “spring Perry Ellis collection.”

Hence, the “success” can be explained by this mathematical formula:

expensive fashion designer + good-looking models + other people cashing in = SUCCESS

MarcJacobs Grunge

The article was also where, in a now legendary (in some circles) interview, a New York Times reporter asked Megan Jasper for some insight into “Grunge Lexicon.” Jasper, who worked at a Seattle record label, provided the reporter with a bunch of hogwash that she’d made up on the spot. Everyone in Seattle had a laugh when the grunge slang was published in the article, but as Stephen Duncombe argues in his work Notes From the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Underground Culture, “the real joke, however, may have been on the underground. For as Tom Frank, editor of the journal primarily responsible for spreading the news of the grunge hoax, pointed out, it really didn’t matter if the lingo was authentic or not. The New York Times got what it wanted: a story on the newest hip trend, the voice of the new generation.” (145)

One interesting thing is that many people that were looking for an authentic alternative to mainstream culture in the early 1990s could have potentially picked up on the grunge hoax as being something real and embraced it. The mainstream media had a much more extensive reach than the underground press. If one didn’t have access to the underground but could buy a copy of the New York Times on every street corner, the chance of a misrepresentation was likely, especially with a spin putting style over substance.  Then you have a bunch of “rebels” thinking that by having a ripped pair of jeans and a flannel shirt they are just like James Dean (or Kurt Cobain).

This makes the originators of the subculture rather perturbed.

Or you simply have the the usual fashion savvy suspects once again prove that fashion is the passion rather than anything of significance that might be underneath. As Duncombe points out, that’s a danger of “living in a commercialized society in which all culture – especially rebellious culture – is gobbled up, turned on its head and used as an affirmation of the very thing it was opposed to.” (142)

This also, of course, makes the originators of the subculture rather perturbed.

Here’s the article in the New York Times.

Here’s a clip of the film Hype! where Jasper discusses her interview with the gullible reporter.

And below, you’ll find some cool slang straight out of the “Grunge Lexicon,” yo. Now don’t be a cob nobbler or a lamestain and rock on!

WACK SLACKS: Old ripped jeans

FUZZ: Heavy wool sweaters

PLATS: Platform shoes

KICKERS: Heavy boots


BOUND-AND-HAGGED: Staying home on Friday or Saturday night

SCORE: Great



DISH: Desirable guy


LAMESTAIN: Uncool person

TOM-TOM CLUB: Uncool outsiders

ROCK ON: A happy goodbye

***NOTE: Yes, nowadays some of the above terms are used just like they are defined by Jasper (well, maybe three of them anyways). This could be because 1) People did use this slang before the article came out or 2) People adopted the slang after reading the piece or 3) a bit of both. I don’t really know because I don’t have a time machine, but I’m working on it.

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3 Comments on “That Tom-Tom Club bought all the Wack Slacks, Fuzz, Plats and Kickers!”

  1. Blair Says:

    Oddly enough buddy, the wack slacks, kickers and plats are all back in. Grunge, at least from a fashion standpoint, has had a decently healthy rebirth. This though, is only the observation of your friend who is out here, deep in the Tom Tom Club. Love the article bro!

  2. Great article, Rylan! SCORE… I’m pretty sure I’ve heard you say that once or twice. Maybe even a “rock-on?”

    I actually covered these sorts of topics in my Pop Culture class, and Mike and I had long, in-depth discussions in Sydney over where Converse shoes came from. It’s funny that they are (and were in the 70s and 80s) so punk, because they’re so rooted in athletics. (Is this a subculture adopting something kind of mainstream?)

    So overall, the media pulls images/movements/sounds etc. from subcultures, flushes it out to the world, and the mainstream followers eat it up. Thus the subculture begins to look like everyone else and loses their rebellious streak… but they shouldn’t fret, because mainstream culture WILL move on and the subculture will be left, again, with their own niche image. I drew a diagram to make sense of it all, and used rap music as a case study (they tried to put rap into McDonald’s ads with white kids… didn’t work out so well).

    Anyway… I really enjoyed this! Please, continue to write about fashion. CLEARLY, you already know much more than me.

    • Thanks Caroline! Haha yeah I say SCORE and ROCK-ON more than is probably healthy.

      So below you’ll find my attempt to discuss the points you raise to the gosh darn best of my ability. Despite what you’ve said about me knowing stuff, feel free to destroy my argument (if you notice one). Better here than in my thesis, that’s what I always say!

      So yeah, Converse sure is rooted in athletics, and now it’s even owned by Nike. There isn’t really anything less punk than Nike, except maybe for Ronald Reagan. I don’t know much about why an association ever developed between Converse and punk fashion or about why this is still the case, but I do know that the company jumped right into the whole “loser” grunge image via MTV.

      In Stephen Duncombe’s Notes from the Underground, he discusses a Converse advert broadcast on Music Television that directly told consumers “there’s a growing strength in our collective ugliness” and that “it’s frightening to some people, but we refuse to accept the standard television definition of what beauty is. We don’t want to live in a beer commercial…the point is not to be beautiful, the point is to be yourself.” (133)

      I couldn’t find the advert on youtube, but even just reading the description in Duncombe’s book the message is pretty clear: Converse was spinning their product as something people put on their feet if they wanted “to be themselves.” Converse was trying to make money off the latest youth trend and of course people latching onto the grunge image bought into it.

      As for if Converse had been part of the punk subcultural code before the company realized this and tried to cash in, I’m not too sure but I wouldn’t be surprised.(Did they talk about it in your Pop Culture class, or maybe you or Mike know?) The fashion within punk subculture, as discussed in Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: the Meaning of Style was to take meaningless objects from everyday life (such as the safety pin) and give it a new meaning. Plus Converse shoes look pretty comfy and would be a practical accessory for even the most hardcore of punk rocker.

      Once this subculture’s fashion (that had depth to it originally) is co-opted by the mainstream…the meaning behind it can be lost. And while the mainstream does always move on, the codes of meaning have still been irrevocably altered and because of this I believe they cannot be returned to their original significance.

      That’s because the subculture still carries the mainstream baggage. When Pearl Jam was playing a gig at the Gorge several years ago and it was REALLY HOT, Eddie Vedder made a joke that people shouldn’t see him wearing shorts as a precursor to a return to grunge fashion…it was just a bit warm outside. Vedder was just kidding of course, but it is still revealing that him simply wearing shorts because of the heat he would even think that people might link that to a cultural fashion statement.

      From what I can tell grunge fashion grew out of practicality and accessibility – the clothes they wore could be found in any thrift shop in the Pacific Northwest and came cheap, and furthermore you didn’t find any of the yuppies, those than had embraced 1980s’ conservative and materialistic culture, wearing a flannel shirt (but you did see punk rockers like the Minutemen wearing them).

      Then, when you see clothes once found only in a thrift shop or on genuine punk rockers instead in windows along Seventh Avenue in NYC, how can you go back to your own “niche image” once the mainstream has finally gotten distracted by the next flavor of the week? Can you just convince yourself that the codes didn’t change and the images still mean the same thing?

      Another example I can think of off the top of my head would be Rastafarians and dreadlocks. How can Rastas see dreads holding the same meaning if white people from the concrete jungle have them too?

      Does the sweet diagram you drew to explain what happens when rap is combined with white kids and chicken Mcnuggets cover this change in the subcultural codes of meaning? Do the rappers start going to Wendy’s or Carl’s Jr. instead?

      In many cases, I think you have to look past the visual aesthetic to see real meaning these days, because rendering judgement on a person because of what they are wearing is just too dangerous. You could have a yuppie in Converse shoes, ripped jeans, a leather jacket and a Mohawk, while a punk rocker is dressed in a suit and tie.

      But regardless of a deeper meaning or the lack thereof, you have to admit both of those people would still look pretty cool.

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