Heavy metal as a musical genre has been around for the better part of 50 years. But as a subculture, metal hasn’t always been as known for its sense of style as other subcultures like punk or disco, for example (with the exception of the “corpse paint” makeup, black leather and spikes of some of the more extreme subgenres of metal). But there are elements of the late ‘80s style sported by thrash metal artists and fans alike that have been popping up in indie, DIY and alt fashion more and more regularly.

Courtesy of Metallica via Loudwire.

Firstly, lets talk about the basics and get a sense for the history. Heavy metal traces its roots back to hard rock, blues rock and progressive rock in the late 60s and early 70s, and since then has continued to change and evolve as both a collection of musical styles and as a subculture. Judas Priest is widely credited with establishing in the early ‘70s some of the earliest mainstays of heavy metal fashion: Black and blue jeans, studded jackets and wrist bands, all black outfits, and lots and lots of leather. Long haircuts are also a must for nearly every metalhead’s head 

Then in the mid ‘80s, the subgenre known as thrash metal came about, as metal’s response to the evolution of punk into hardcore. That meant the thrash metal fashion sense also borrowed from hardcore style staples: tight jeans with ripped knees, flannel shirts, band tees, while also incorporating the militaristic styles of British heavy metal bands that influenced the thrash genre as well. Add some high top basketball shoes, some sweat bands, and cut the sleeves off of basically every t-shirt you own, and the result is some quality ‘80s thrashion.

But that was almost 40 years ago, so what are we bringing back?


Courtesy of Miley Cyrus

Possibly one of the most widely panned hairstyles for a good while, sentiments have started to change towards the dreaded ‘80s “business in the front, party in the back” ‘do. The 2021 mullet is particularly popular among Gen Z and can be found on some of the more exploratory fashion sides of TikTok, but its already begun seeping into the mainstream as Miley Cyrus has been sporting her version of the haircut along with the ‘80s rocker musical style of her latest album (though admittedly her mullet isn’t anywhere near as wild as her dad’s was).

Tight Jeans

This one might be a harder sell as the skinny jean trend is definitely on its way out if it isn’t already gone. So most of the young people still wearing skinnies will likely be rocking it with this throwback thrash look or otherwise some variation on punk and emo styles. For the full thrasher look, make them black and pair with a sleeveless black band tee and if you’ve got them, some crispy white basketball kicks. Pop on a flannel over top or around your waist if you’re chilly, and you’re ready to hit the mosh pit. 

Band Tees

Image courtesy of Tha Players Club on Tumblr.

Band tees, vintage or faux vintage ones especially, have been a huge trend for a while now, a trend that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. And nobody does band tees like metal bands. From imagery that’s campy and energetic to obscene, sacreligious or gruesome, there’s an unabashed intensity to metal artwork that, when done right, makes for an eye-catching statement tee. The shirts have been popular in streetwear and alt fashion for a few years now so a retro thrash metal look would be right at home.

High Top Basketball Shoes

This is one of the most important parts of the look because its what really sets the thrash style apart from other metal styles and the hardcore punk look that’s closely related. For such an anomaly in the rest of metal fashion, it’s crazy that all the biggest thrash bands at the time like Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer were all rocking up with all white air force one highs, jordans, or even converse one stars. Add that to the fact that the retro trend has even taken hold of the sneaker world with old school nike blazers and killshots being popular options, and your throwback look is complete.