Pin It
Courtney Love kinderwhore
Courtney LovePhotography Ron Davis via Getty Images

Kinderwhore at 30: How the 90s icon would’ve killed girlcore with hammers

It’s been three decades since Hole’s ‘Miss World’ popularised the Kinderwhore look – today we look back at the OG controversial girl trend that actually had some bite

Who remembers that one tweet? “Me and my friends would’ve killed ET with hammers I can tell you that much,” said @bennanoman on January 13, 2021, and the world was never the same. With that in mind, we have the distinct feeling that the 90s Kinderwhore would’ve done the exact same thing, but to the all-consuming glut of girlhood trends that have taken over our feeds in the last year.

That’s not to say that “girl” trends don’t have their place – lots of people find solace in the frivolity of its ruffles and folds, plus 2023 was the year of the girl, after all. It’s just that, before all those pink bows found their way onto Mary-Janes and gherkins, the Kinderwhore’s approach to the aesthetics of girlhood was a little bit different. But who was she in the first place?

It’s often considered a toss up between Courtney Love and Pat Bjelland when we think about originators of the Kinderwhore aesthetic. Before the musicians found respective fame in Hole and Babes of Toyland, the pair founded the band Pagan Babies as roommates in 1985.

The story goes that they shared clothes while living together, a compendium of babydoll dresses, Peter Pan collars, satin slips, ripped fishnets and white knee-high socks. Topped off with crimson lipstick, smudged eyeliner, and peroxide hair clipped back by barrettes, the Kinderwhore look was complete and ready to be unleashed on the world. After incubating in scuzzy punk clubs and LA dive bars, the look went properly mainstream after Hole’s music video for “Miss World” debuted, released 30 years ago on March 28, 1994.

Though Love and Bjelland both claim that the other had nothing to do with pioneering the look – a debate that’s still going on to this day – it was actually Melody Maker journalist Everett True who coined the specific term in a 1993 interview with Love and then partner Kurt Cobain. A portmanteau of the German for “child” and the self-explanatory descriptor “whore”, the word clearly isn’t without its controversial associations.

In his 1996 book Fashion as Communication, fashion professor Malcolm Bernard described the look as “a form of reversal,” that mixes two already existing identities that have been devalued in society – the girl and the whore – and the resulting combination “is proposed as a radical and challenging model of femininity.”

Unlike most modern ‘girl’ trends, the Kinderwhore’s conflation of these two disparate identities actively attempted to subvert pre-conceived notions of femininity, rather than simply basking in them – but this doesn’t come without its challenges. Elsewhere in the book, Bernard adds that “the possibility that reversing the status of existing identities and celebrating the result might prove to be a successful form of resistance to dominant ideas is not guaranteed.” In other words, by parodying the look of an oversexualised young girl, you might end up reproducing its negative connotations rather than resisting those connotations in the first place.

Despite pushback like this, Love had her own ideas about the aesthetic. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, though she did admit the look could potentially “[get] mixed up with the idea of a woman having to be appealing to get across,” there was more thought behind it than that. “I didn’t do the Kinderwhore thing because I thought I was so hot,” she said. “When I see the look used to make one more appealing – when I see a 14-year-old girl in a fanzine acting like she’s nine, it pisses me off. When I started, it was a What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? thing. My angle was irony.”

Love’s reference to the 1962 psychological thriller about a disturbed former-child actress is evidence that, for her, this aesthetic was created to upend girlhood, not to glorify it. Despite critique like Barnard’s, the Kinderwhore interacted with the aesthetics of childhood in a way that was obviously satirical – these were grown women dressing like this, after all. And while today we don’t begrudge anyone for sticking ribbons on gherkins or going to see the Barbie movie, it’s worthwhile remembering a period where the philosophy of certain “girl” trends had a lot more political bite.

To celebrate her unending spirit, we look back at five times the Kinderwhore infiltrated fashion, bringing her grubby, grunge edge to catwalks across the globe.