The disheveled grunge look that burst onto the fashion scene in the early '90s is back. The trend back then was inspired, in part, by the...

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LOS ANGELES — The disheveled grunge look that burst onto the fashion scene in the early ’90s is back.

The trend back then was inspired, in part, by the dressed-down look sported by the flannel-wearing Northwest band Nirvana and later brought into the mainstream by New York designer Marc Jacobs and others.

Now a similar look — think torn, frayed or faded jeans and shirts — has gained a new life among the hip despite being largely absent from the catwalk, said Sally Singer, fashion news and features director of Vogue magazine.

“Worn-in clothes is part of a lifestyle approach to fashion, it’s not runway fashion,” Singer said. “It’s more about how people live and what feels comfortable and casual, yet somehow unique or characterful.”

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Perhaps nowhere is the trend more prevalent than in Los Angeles, where dozens of boutiques offer purposely damaged garments at a huge markup.

The secret to shredding

Erik Hart started the Morphine Generation clothes line in Los Angeles three years ago with handmade ripped T-shirts that looked like they had been worn for decades.

His technique was a longtime secret, Hart said, but it’s now out since other designers have been doing the same and he’s moved on to cleaner lines and fabrics.

Straightedge razors were used to slice holes, rocks and stones were tossed in the washing machine to soften up the fabrics and acids were tossed in to discolor the clothes and give them a worn-in look.

“It started with me in my garage with razor blades, stones, washing machines and chemicals, cutting each piece by hand,” Hart said.

He later trained wash houses how to do it.

“They thought I was crazy going there and asking them to put holes in T-shirts and grinding them,” he said.

Hart said the line traces its roots to an old, sleeveless goth band T-shirt riddled with holes that an ex-girlfriend gave him. People offered to buy the raggy shirt off him, so Hart started a clothes line.

His holey shirts have been worn by celebrities such as Usher, Paris Hilton and Mischa Barton.

Trendy and spendy

On trendy Melrose Avenue, nearly every store selling new clothes includes lines from designers who have adopted the ultra-slacker style.

At a store called Jigsaw, jeans with holes have a $198 price tag.

At nearby Typhoon, a pair of jeans with frayed seams and beige patches from a label called Custom Rags sells for $79.95.

Franck Rakoczi, 36, manager of the store Trumanaty, said that clothes with a worn-in look have been his best selling since opening in February. Distressed jeans with rips and patches at his store also have patterns studded with sparkly baubles and sell for $130 to $170, Rakoczi said.

Rami Ruben, a manager at the Moist Women clothes store on Melrose, said the current incarnation of the grunge look is different from its Gen X predecessor.

“It’s more stylish,” he said. “It’s like when they take an old car and renew it. It might have the same body, but if you look closer and under the hood, there’s a lot of new stuff.”

Aysa Okcu sported a pair of jeans with at least three holes in them as she tried to woo customers to the Lookout men’s store.

“I’m a very classic lady and don’t usually wear that kind of stuff,” said Okcu, a native of Turkey. “But when I’m having a bad day I wear these kinds of clothes.”

So why has this trend taken off? Singer has an idea:

“People like clothes to have a certain feeling or sort of soul to them,” she said. “If you buy a sweat shirt that has a few holes in it, it looks like you’ve done something in them. Very few people have the time and energy to do the wearing-in themselves.”