In 1993, seminal fashion title The Face published its September cover, proudly featuring Kurt Cobain smoking a cigarette and wearing a floral tea dress, lashings of eyeliner and chipped red nail varnish. It was peak grunge; it was subversive; it was brilliant. He was not afraid of the femininity associated with florals and makeup, because a progressive attitude and fearless challenging of social norms was part of his identity. Or as Iggy Pop later put it, “I’m not ashamed to dress ‘like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.”
The decades leading up to Cobain’s cover shoot saw florals go on an evolutionary journey, with some of the 20th century’s most admired rock gods and Hollywood pin-ups in full bloom. Between the 1920s and the 1950s, Hawaiian shirts experienced a surge in popularity, influenced by Japanese kimono fabric. Initially created as a tourist’s souvenir for the island, the ‘Aloha’ shirt trickled into American pop culture, bringing with it a little island spirit; from Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. to Al Pacino in Scarface, by the 1980s loud prints and bold colours were practically a wardrobe requirement. Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles had been deep into the flower power movement of the 1960s and ’70s, with psychedelic floral prints, ruffled fronts and billowing sleeves giving them fluidity and movement on stage and off. John Lennon’s tailor Nudie Cohn was also instrumental in the blossoming trend, embroidering eccentric suits for Elvis, Elton and Bowie with colourful bouquets.
By the 1990s, floppy hair and intricate floral print shirts were being served up by River Phoenix and Leonardo Di Caprio in Romeo + Juliet; it was a youthful, care-free aesthetic that embodied romance and rebellion. Both wore theirs with dark blue trousers with a turn up, white socks and sneakers, and both would look great today. As Poison sang, though, every rose has its thorn and floral prints should be approached with a little caution.