I Want to Be the Girl with the Most Cake

In the Nineties, when I attended university, grunge music was all around: it was part of our lives, it influenced our style and drowned the past with its wave of rebellion, angst and sadness. Singers like Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland became my heroines: I loved their voices, their music, the lyrics of their songs, and I was absolutely fascinated by their style and the kinderwhore imagery connected to it. Exactly who invented the kinderwhore image is up for debate, though it is widely accepted that Kat Bjelland was the first to define it and Courtney Love was the first to popularize it. Vintage baby-doll dresses, nighties and black dresses with white collars, combat boots, knee socks, Mary-Jane pumps, heavy make-up and colourful hair clips were the main features of a style which meant decadence, but which was also reminiscent of child dreams [1]. Kinderwhore style was so appealing because it was truly original, it wasn’t polished, it wasn’t the result of stylists’ work.

Bjelland and Hole started their careers at the same time, they even played in the same groups (Sugar Baby Doll and Sugar Babylon) for some months, but Love’s dominating personality did not fit in. Bjelland became the lead singer and guitar player of Babes in Toyland (some critics say it’s been the best all-girl group ever), while Love became the leader of Hole, married Kurt Cobain, achieved success in acting and eventually started her solo career in 2004. Love embodies the wild and showy side of riot grrls, while Bjelland is a more mysterious and darker character.

Here are Love and Bjelland in some rare pics: the first was taken in 1994, the most important and tragic year for Love (Cobain died in April, just four days before the release of Hole’s masterpiece Live Through This), and the second at the beginning of their careers. Their styles are very similar, and so is the blonde of their hair.

Bjelland and Babes in Toyland achieved their success with Fontanelle, released in 1992. Their live performances at Lollapalooza are among the most notable of the music festival’s history. Bjelland’s style was unique: she could be sexy (see the tight dress in the first pic) but not showy, or she could pretend to be the good girl, wearing conventional dresses and flats, the blonde hair swept on one side and a heavy fringe.

I love this pic, taken during a live performance. Bjelland is wearing a romantic dress with puffy sleeves that contrasts with her posture (her face is half-hidden by her hair, she was focused in playing her guitar). The wild audience behind her makes her look like a princess of some twisted fairy tale, untouchable and magical.

On stage Love sported the same style, which she transformed in something overtly sexy and captivating. The apron dress she is wearing in the first pic is paired to a frilly blouse, while in the second pic she has a white tulle dress with some lace on the neckline.

Bjelland’s blonde, flowy and curly hair is probably her symbol, which contrasts with the violence in her lyrics and her powerful voice. In the first pic, she’s wearing the infamous black dress with white collar, a sort of uniform of kinderwhore style.

Hole was the group which brought fame and success to Courtney Love. They released some albums together (Live Through This and Celebrity Skin are the most famous), before breaking up in 2002. Love was of course the centre of the group, with her aggressive personality and distinctive vocals. The good-girl dresses she wore in promotional pics and on stage soon became her trademark.  In the pic on the right she’s wearing a black dress with white collar.

Love has always loved vintage and second-hand clothes, like the white-collared blue dresses she wore respectively in 1991 and 1994. In the second pic a pearl necklace can be seen around her neck, another middle-class and good-girl symbol turned into a protest against social conventions and restrictions.

In 1992 Cobain and Love got married in Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (Hawaii). This pic, taken just after the ceremony, is one of the symbols of the grunge era: Love, pregnant with her daughter, wore a vintage dress previously owned by Seattle actress Frances Farmer [2], while Cobain was in his green pajamas, because he’d been too lazy to put on a tuxedo.

As for the black dress with white collar [3], it was seen on both singers, but it even appeared on Hole’s My Body, the Hand Grenade album cover, released in 1997. One of Love’s vintage dresses is put behind glass in a museum, as a reminder of her past. This is not coincidental, because with Celebrity Skin, Love’s style completely changed, and this was proven when she was chosen as the face for Versace in 1998. In my opinion, Bjelland totally owned this style and this dress.

Apart from Bjelland and Love, the kinderwhore queens, I also loved D’Arcy Wretzky’s style. She was the bassist of my favourite band, the Smashing Pumpkins, a blonde, quiet beauty who loved vintage clothes and gave a powerful yet feminine touch to Billy Corgan’s music.

I don’t know when the first pic was taken, but isn’t D’Arcy gorgeous with that lace wedding dress on? I also like the veil and the head band.

In 1996 the Smashing Pumpkins triumphed at the MTV Video Music Awards, where they won seven awards for their music videos Tonight, Tonight and 1979.  For the event, D’Arcy wore a vintage white dress, with embroideries on the front, a kinderwhore staple. She made it classy with white opaque tights, t-bar strap pumps and a silver necklace.

I like most of the Smashing Pumpkins music videos, but Bullet with Butterfly Wings by Samuel Bayer will always have a special place in my memory. The first time I watched it, I hopelessly fell in love with D’Arcy’s blue hair, and so I decided to get a blue streak done in my black and long hair.

The success of Babes in Toyland soon declined, and the same happened for other bands of the grunge circuit; Love’s music evolved and became more radio-friendly. I think they can be considered the last generation of rock singers who really imposed their own style and image, not being manipulated by public relation agents and stylists (this is not really true for Love, but it is for Bjelland). If I think about contemporary rock singers, there’s no one but Brody Dalle who can somehow fit in the kinderwhore aesthetic. I believe she has a stylist, but most of the time she wears what she likes.

She’s the perfect embodiment of rock and roll. She’s naturally blonde, but she sometimes dyes her hair black. Her body is heavily tattooed (tattooes were not present in the kinderwhore aesthetic), especially on her arms, which she exposes by wearing tank tops and short-sleeved t-shirts.

She’s apparently fearless and wild, just like Courtney Love (she’s often compared to Hole’s leader), but she also has a soft side. The second pic is lovely: she’s wearing a tulle tiered prom dress and a lace scarf around her neck. She’s posing with Perry Farrell, the leader of the alternative band Jane’s Addiction and the creator of Lollapalooza touring festival.

Before closing this post, let’s focus on the black dress with white collar again. It was the symbol of kinderwhore style, but we can sometimes see it on celebrities and on catwalks, because it’s truly a classic. Nicole Richie wore it for a Vanity Fair photoshoot in 2006, and Emmy Rossum wore a satin version at a Teen Vogue party in the same year.

If youd liked to channel Bjelland and Love’s look, you could turn to Miu Miu and Blumarine collections, which often include black outfits with white collars, dresses with round collars or romantic vintage-looking embroidered dresses. The Blumarine dress  in the pic below comes from the s/s 2007 collection, while the Miu Miu outfits are from the s/s 2008 collection.

And what about shoes? Mary-Janes pumps were a must for kinderwhore style, and it’s still a very appreciated shoe style. The most beautiful high-heeled Mary Janes can be found in Vivienne Westwood for Melissa collection (the ones on the left, all made of plastic, with three straps) and in Christian Louboutin collection (Lillian pumps are made of patent leather and have three straps; these shoes have recently been spotted on Ashley Tisdale).

I like high-heeled Mary-Janes, but I prefer the flat version, because it perfectly matches kinderwhore style. The best flat Mary-Janes are by Repetto (the patent leather Bellinda or the t-bar strap Ginger) and the Vivienne Westwood for Melissa three-strap shoes.

I always feel nostalgic when I think about the Nineties, but I’m sure with the help of fashion and music we can try and turn time back.

[1] The idea of beauty in Courtney Love’s music, for example, is much connected to childhood and child dreams. The recurring images of ballerinas in their tutus, beauty pageants, butterfly wings and glitter can be found in most of her music videos.

[2] Both Cobain and Love were great fans of Farmer. It is rumoured that their daughter, Frances Bean, was named after the actress. However this was proved untrue when Kurt Cobain explained she was named after Frances McKee, the singer for The Vaselines, an indie band from Glasgow.

[3] Love claimed she “stole” the idea for this dress from Christina Amphlett, singer of the Australian band Divinyls. She appared on the cover of Desperate, their 1983 album, wearing a black dress with white collar and white fishnet stockings.

Source, source and source.

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21 comments

  1. What a great entry! I have been reading an interview to Courtney Love on January’s Elle UK- she has ditched the kinderwhore aestehtic now!
    I’ve always loved the black dress with white collar, and am always on the lookout for one- I had no idea that it was riot grrls that popularised it and gave it that edgy revisitation- now I know thanks to you!

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you’ve liked it. I think Love actually ditched the kinderwhore aesthetic between ‘Live Through This’ and ‘Celebrity Skin’, when she acted in ‘Larry Flynt’ by Milos Forman. When she attended the Academy Awards in 1997, she was fabulous with her Versace satin dress on, but she was a brand new Courtney.

  2. brody!!! ma che fine ha fatto? che ne è stato dei distillers? non riesco del tutto ad associarla all’estetica kinderwhore… mi piace molto come personaggio, ma la vedo più sul tamarro🙂

    1. I Distillers ormai si sono sciolti. Brody ha sposato quel marcantonio di Josh Homme e hanno avuto Camille nel 2006. Ora è impegnata nel progetto Spinnerette, una band con cui andrà presto in tour.

  3. Hello.. I just wanted to say that your blog is great… Ive been scouring the internet looking for blogs and posts about hair care to find inspiration for my blog.. you have given me some great ideas so thank you.. keep up the great posts

    Julie x

  4. This was a wonderful read, thanks! I didn’t know anything about this phenomenon. It’s strangely inspiring in its originality.

    1. It was extremely inspiring in the 90s and I think it really is, because I still perceive it as an original style, not controlled nor created by stylists.

  5. Nice site.. however you missed something crucial. Courtney Love claims she stole the idea from Christina Amphlett of the Aussie band Divinyls😀

    I had a website awhile back with the “history of the babydoll dress” if you want I can send you the info from there it has all the influences from movies etc too.

    1. You’re perfectly right. While collecting info for the post, I found the reference to the Divinyls album cover you’ve posted in your comment, but – I don’t know why or how – I left it out. Thanks for letting me know.
      I’d love to have some info about the history of the babydoll dress, it’s so fascinating!

  6. Wow…this is great… i just began this love for grunge and kinderwhore style…. I just have to say this… When kinderwhore was invented i was in kindergarten… lol.. but yeah this is great…

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