Julien’s Auctions, known for its sales of celebrity memorabilia, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a “Played, Worn, & Torn: Rock ‘N’ Roll Iconic Guitars and Memorabilia” auction. While items like Dolly Parton’s sequined capes and a crystal drop chandelier owned by Frank Zappa dazzled buyers, some of the most notable lots were far less flashy.

Kurt Cobain wearing the auctioned Levi’s

A pair of jeans worn by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain sold for $412,750, setting a record for Levi’s jeans sold at auction. Cobain might as well be the personification of grunge music and the subculture it defined. Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind quickly became a gold album, then reached No.1 on the Billboard chart, bringing the sound of 1980s – early ‘90s Seattle into the mainstream. The gritty, distorted music, dark and introspective lyrics, and lack of emphasis on technique resonated with Generation X youth. Cobain’s death in 1994 arguably heralded the end of the genre, with most grunge bands disbanding, but today, fans continue listening to the music and have introduced it to younger generations.

Kurt Cobain’s jeans. Photo courtesy Julien’s Auctions

Fashion, or the deliberate absence of it, is crucial to grunge culture. The genre was largely about things no one else wanted. Early bands had little money, so guitarists played offset guitars, which were unpopular with other artists at the time and, therefore, inexpensive and easy to get. Bands and their fans dressed in torn jeans, loose-fitting sweaters, heavy work boots, and oversized flannel shirts bought cheaply at thrift stores. The pair of Cobain’s jeans sold at Julien’s are torn and distressed, with patch repairs in clashing colors believed to be sewn on by Lori Barbero, drummer for the rock band Babes in Toyland. Their presale estimate was $10,000 to $20,000, which bidders surpassed by far.

Kurt Cobain’s vintage cardigan. Photo courtesy Julien’s Auctions

Another piece of iconic grunge fashion, a vintage cardigan worn by Cobain, sold for $13,000, doubling its low estimate of $6,000. It’s clearly a far cry from their likely origins as clothes discarded at thrift stores. Sometimes that’s where the value of an item comes from—who owned it and when.

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