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Despite 2024 marking exactly 30 years since Kurt Cobain’s death, the Nirvana frontman’s popularity is just as evident as it was in the 1990s when he first hit the scene. Last year, a Fender Stratocaster guitar Cobain smashed up was sold at auction for almost $600,000, almost ten times the original estimated selling price.

Apart from his music and philosophy, he has remained influential thanks to his sartorial sense. Although the singer-songwriter was known to eschew frivolity, he also used clothes for self-expression and rebellion. Besides the flannels, ripped jeans, and cardigans that Cobain often sported, eyewear played a big part in his style. Today, whether he intended it or not, his eyewear looks still shape contemporary fashion.

From Style Staple to Pop Culture Symbol

If you look at some of the most influential singers of the century, they all seem to have signature sunglasses. For example, Elton John has bejeweled shades, while U2’s Bono has tinted sunnies. Meanwhile, Cobain was most associated with his oversized bug-eyed sunglasses. This style of sunglasses is formally referred to as “clout goggles.” Identifiable by their wide oval frames with thick acetate arms, these shades cover a large portion of the face, so they’re meant for the bold. Traditionally, these more rounded and oversized silhouettes are linked with women.

Thanks to Cobain’s gender-bending fashion, they’ve since been adapted into more men’s sunglasses. To illustrate, some of the biggest designer brands today, like Versace and Gucci, have embraced larger frames with softer angles in their eyewear collections. As such, these shades exude a more androgynous vibe, much like Cobain did. 

Across his short but storied career, the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” singer was often captured wearing these clout goggles in different settings. During the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards, he stood out among the crowd of glammed-up celebs wearing a casual striped shirt, baggy jeans, and a cherry-red pair of clout goggles.

In the same year, photographer Jesse Frohman immortalized Cobain wearing a white pair of these sunglasses in one of the singer’s most popular photos. Speaking to GQ about the photoshoot, Frohman explained that he initially wished he had gotten the Cobain to remove his shades. However, after some time, and perhaps seeing the impact the images received, he later changed his mind, saying, “I think there’s something about this shoot that you don’t need to see his eyes.

Since the 90s, other musicians have similarly sported clout goggles as a symbol of defiance and mystique. Recently, artists like Offset and Lil Uzi Vert have been seen wearing these sunglasses on red carpets and onstage performances, prompting Esquire to tout this eyewear as a “hip-hop style obsession.”

Other performing arts sectors have embraced this sunglass style outside of mainstream music. In 2022, Balenciaga and the Royal Opera House came together in a musical production of Cobain’s life. Based on Gus Van Sant’s 2005 film, the on-stage adaptation is peppered with multiple references. According to the Guardian, this includes using white women’s sunglasses meant to stand in as “Kurt’s shades.”

Would Kurt Approve of His Eyewear Legacy?

Considering that Cobain’s body of work revolved largely on the criticism of society, there’s no telling if he would find the undying adoration of his style humorous or sad. In some ways, he might have appreciated how people now use his signature shades to express their creativity. On the other hand, he might’ve also found it all rather unnecessary. Regardless, much like other artists who leave a part of themselves with the public, Cobain’s clout goggles now have a following of their own, which true fans can happily participate in.

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