Is Clean Girl Beauty Over? It’s Time to Embrace Messy 90s Grunge Makeup

Is Clean Girl Beauty Over? It’s Time to Embrace Messy 90s Grunge Makeup


Have you heard? Netizens are officially saying goodbye to the clean girl aesthetic and hello to messy 90s makeup. Here’s how you can follow along and refresh your own beauty routine

As expected, the trend cycle between minimalist and maximalist styles strikes again. This time, the “clean girl” aesthetic we’ve seen dominate the past several years in beauty and fashion spaces is getting edged out by messy 90s makeup. Think smudged black eyeliner, bold lips, and mattifying powders—stylistic themes from a time when grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and Soundgarden defined the subculture. Read ahead to learn more about the enduring nostalgia for 90s-style aesthetics, plus new ideas on how to apply them to your own beauty routine.

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90s-inspired makeup
90s-inspired makeup; Photo: MEGA ARCHIVES

A trend revisited

The 90s are definitely in. But who is to say it ever went out? We’ve seen 90s nostalgia come and go over the past decade in fashion shows and editorials, but it’s now officially trickled down to the netizens and consumers craving a change of pace from the minimalist mindset. From the brown lip liners to the frosted eyeshadow, we’re now at the point where 90s grunge is the look to have. It’s permeated spaces on TikTok and Instagram where the clean girl aesthetic is declared dead and out of style, but what does the reimagined 90s grunge makeup look like now?

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When it comes down to it, 90s grunge makeup boils down to two main details: dark lipstick and smoky eyes. But it’s the “messiness” of it all that seals the deal. According to the internet, it means a black tight line and eyeliner purposefully smudged to look messy and slept in. It also pertains to a dark lip color haphazardly swiped on to contrast a matte natural-looking base. Netizens have even turned the tables on sleek buns and are raving about the classic 90s-era Pamela Anderson-esque updo instead, which is characterized by long messy curls piled high with loose tendrils sneaking out of hairpins. Likewise, instead of slicking back hair to keep it out of our faces, what’s in is big hair and a micro fringe.

Sabrina Bahsoon’s smoky look
Sabrina Bahsoon’s smoky look; Photo: PATRICK TA BEAUTY (via Instagram)
Rouge Coromandel, a deep reddish brown
Rouge Coromandel, a deep reddish brown; Photo: CHANEL BEAUTY (via Instagram)
Makeup on Camila Morrone by Ash Holm
Makeup on Camila Morrone by Ash Holm; Photo: YSL BEAUTY (via Instagram)

The messy grunge aesthetic falls under the overarching 90s nostalgia overtaking the beauty scene online. In 2022 and 2023, for example, the 90s grunge makeup look was dubbed the “Rockstar Girlfriend” à la Courtney Love and Kate Moss. There appears to be a label for each variation of the same formula, and now, in this season, we have two new 90s-inspired labels to consider.

The first is the “Office Siren,” wherein you soften the intensity everywhere but your lips and paint them in a sultry red to let them do all the talking. But if you up the drama in every detail and use more matte brown hues than black, then you’ve upgraded from the Rockstar Girlfriend to the “Mob Wife,” like Adriana La Cerva from The Sopranos

Abbey Lee for Gucci Ancora Notte
Abbey Lee for Gucci Ancora Notte; Photo: GUCCI BEAUTY (via Instagram)
Mac ambassador Danna Paola in Mob Wife makeup
Mac ambassador Danna Paola; Photo: MAC COSMETICS (via Instagram)

Of course, no matter how hard you try to 100% replicate a makeup look from a bygone era, it simply won’t match up—and maybe it shouldn’t. After all, some of these aesthetics romanticize lifestyles that involve crime, and the resulting makeup looks we glorify often result from harmful habits. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be inspired and create something new from it.

Modern touches

All that said, it’s also not totally accurate to say that the “clean girl” aesthetic is dead—not when the trend produced hygienic makeup practices and skin-healthy habits that are just too good to give up. So while others may rag on the younger generation now for trying to recreate slept-in eye makeup, it’s because we know better than to actually sleep with makeup on. However, rubbing your eyes harshly to get the worn-in look isn’t recommended either. It’s best to use precise brushes that can create the desired smudged effect, then smoke it out into a wing or blend in with matte brown eyeshadow for a more gradient effect.

Anna Buquid in 90s-inspired makeup for Anthony Ramirez SS24
Anna Buquid in 90s-inspired makeup for Anthony Ramirez SS24; Photo: ANTHEA BUENO (via Instagram)
Jella Joy in 90s-inspired makeup for Anthony Ramirez SS24
Jella Joy in 90s-inspired makeup for Anthony Ramirez SS24; Photo: ANTHEA BUENO (via Instagram)

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this makeup look either. For example, the lipstick shades that truly defined 90s red carpet beauty looks and the grunge subculture at the same time were deep brown and red hues, but the more modern edit is a nude shade lined with brown, as seen on young Hollywood figures now like Ariana Greenblatt and Camila Morrone. There’s an entire spectrum of nudes and brown-hued lip products we can choose from to complete the look, but that range widens even further when we consider that we’re not limited to 90s-esque matte finishes either. Nowadays, we also have our pick of gloss, lacquer, velvet, and satin finishes to account for a wide variety of tastes.

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90s matte glam on Christi McGarry for Anthony Ramirez SS24
90s matte glam on Christi McGarry for Anthony Ramirez SS24; Photo: MARK KINGSON QUA (via Instagram)
90s matte seduction on Ann Umali-Lontoc for Anthony Ramirez SS24
90s matte seduction on Ann Umali-Lontoc for Anthony Ramirez SS24; Photo: JELLY EUGENIO (via Instagram)

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All these elements have origins from generations before, like the micro fringe from the 50s and the dark smoky siren eyes hailing from the era of Kohl liner. In this age of social media, these beauty details are repackaged and called something new. But just because it’s not new in history doesn’t mean that it’s not worth exploring now. If anything, it goes to show that these trends started by those who came before us are truly timeless. What we can call our own are the techniques and products we use to accomplish the grunge look. Because rather than being truly messy, we are devoting ourselves to controlled chaos.

Featured Image: MEGA ARCHIVES

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