7 of Kim Gordon's most iconic outfits

From X-Girl to bootleg band merch, the Sonic Youth front-woman had the coolest T-shirt collection.

by Zoë Kendall
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18 March 2022, 7:00am

Photo via Instagram, by Laura Levine/Corbis via Getty Images and Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

Has there ever been a rockstar cooler than Kim Gordon? Inspired by New York City’s no-wave scene, Kim co-founded Sonic Youth in the early 80s. A decade later, the band had forever changed the course of alt-rock, ushering it into the mainstream with a new, noisy and nihilistic sound. The pivotal Daydream Nation and Goo spawned anthems like “Teen Age Riot” and “Kool Thing” that brought noise rock to the radio and even MTV. And, as front-woman, Kim’s astute and sardonic lyricism, aloof contralto delivery and free-form instrumentation lead the charge.

Evidently influenced by the singer’s “no-wave” roots, Kim’s style is defiantly anti-fashion. “There’s a certain generic thing that happens with fashion that gives you confidence, like you’re fitting in. And I think there’s always been an element of me that wants to buck against that,” Kim told Style.com in 2009. “I’ve always felt that’s why I’ve never really had such a great sense of style.” While we’re inclined to disagree with the latter statement, we do ascribe to the former. Kim is — and has always been — an anti-fashion icon. In the early-Sonic Youth days, the musician wore a uniform of basics: singlets, cardigans, bootcut jeans and striped T-shirts. She also possessed one of the 90s most covetable T-shirt collections (notable entries include a Rolling Stones’ bootleg that reads “Eat Me.” and the zodiac tee worn on the cover of Girl in a Band). At the turn-of-the-millennium, she was geared up in Marc Jacobs and Rodarte. Not to mention, Kim is the co-founder of cult streetwear label X-Girl, which outfitted 90s it girls like Chloë Sevigny and Sofia Coppola. With the upcoming release of In/Out/In, a new album of Sonic Youth rarities, we look back at some of Kim’s most iconic outfits of all time.

Performing at CBGB’s, 1986

Raised in Los Angeles, Kim Gordon moved to New York City at age 27 to pursue a career in the arts, writing for Artforum and curating exhibitions at White Columns Gallery before becoming interested in the city’s “no-wave” music scene. “It was expressionistic and it was also nihilistic. Punk rock was tongue-in-cheek, saying, 'Yeah, we're destroying rock.' No-wave music is more like, 'NO, we're really destroying rock.' It was very dissonant. I just felt like, Wow, this is really free. I could do that,” she told Elle in 2013. In 1981, Kim formed no-wave group Sonic Youth alongside Lee Ranaldo and then-boyfriend Thurston Moore. Here, during an early, EVOL-era show at NYC’s legendary CBGB’s, Kim wears one of her iconic graphic T-shirts, a leather fringed skirt and a skull-embroidered guitar strap.

kim gordon posing in a floral jumpsuit and holding a magazine 1990
Photo by Laura Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

In NYC, 1990

Nearly a decade — and five albums — after its formation, Sonic Youth signed its first major record deal, releasing the iconic Goo (you know the album cover) with DCG in 1990. Its accessible yet radical noise sound ushered the band — and alt-rock — into the mainstream. Today, it’s hailed as one of the most important alternative records of all time, one that paved way for acts like Nirvana to reach the top of the charts. Here, the year of Goo’s release, Kim poses for a promotional photoshoot wearing a pink floral jumpsuit that speaks to her grungey-glam sensibility.

kim gordon performing on stage with sonic youth in a striped 90s dress 1991
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns

On stage, circa 1991

This simple, striped T-shirt dress was Kim Gordon’s ultimate 90s staple. According to the singer, she wore it to every show on Sonic Youth’s 1991 European tour, which spanned Belgium’s Pukkelpop Festival to Britain’s Reading.

Performing “Kool Thing” on MTV, 1992

In the early 90s, Sonic Youth broke into the mainstream, with “Kool Thing” leading the MTV takeover. Inspired by an interview Kim conducted with LL Cool J, the single is a sharp, sarcastic meditation on gender and race, with Kim calling out music industry misogyny while poking fun at her own countercultural beliefs. Here, Kim performs “Kool Thing” on MTV wearing one of her early-90s uniforms: cotton singlet, bootcut jeans and her signature black choker.

On stage, circa 90s

Here, we see Kim in (what looks like) a handmade tee bearing the slogan “Girls Invented Punk Rock Not England.” Throughout her career, Kim has valorised and championed women musicians, while calling out the misogyny and double standards they face in a male-dominated industry. An upcoming collection, titled This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music and co-edited by Kim, will highlight pioneering women artists penned by female writers. Of the book and its subject matter, Kim wrote, “‘What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” The often-repeated question throughout my career as a musician made me feel disrupted, a freak or that we are all the same. […] Hopefully this book begins an unraveling of the myth that if you’re a female musician you are ready-made, easily digestible.”

With Sofia Coppola for X-Girl, 1994

In 1993, Kim, along with stylist Daisy von Furth, launched X-Girl, a women’s streetwear label and sister to boys-only skate brand X-Large. With its “sexy tomboy” aesthetic (think baby tees, miniskirts and babydoll dresses), X-Girl became the go-to for 90s it girls from Sofia Coppola to Chloë Sevigny and even Kim, herself. (The singer memorably wore a ringer tee from the label’s 1994 guerilla show in the “Bull in the Heather” video). Here, Kim and Sofia wear a pair of the brand’s logo T-shirts during a trip to Japan where they put on another impromptu X-Girl fashion show.

kim gordon performing on stage at rock the scene festival in marc jacobs 2004
Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

At the Rock on Scene festival, 2004

“This is one of my favourite dresses I ever wore on stage. It’s a Marc Jacobs dress. You can’t tell from this picture, but it has all these sequins on it and it was almost like being a disco ball,” she told Style.com in 2009. While Kim wore the dress during a 2004 festival show, the singer and Marc go way back: they collaborated together on the music video for 1993 single “Sugar Kane.” The clip was set in Marc’s NYC showroom and costumed with his designs. In it, Chloë Sevigny — then an intern at Sassy Magazine — stars as a model who undresses her way down the runway. Talk about iconic.

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Tagged:
90S
style
7 Iconic Outfits