The punk subculture emerged in the United Kingdom andthe United States in the mid-1970s. From the 1970s to today we can see how thepunk movement has evolved, from the underground raw roots to today’s commercialpunk that we see in fashion shows, music and the arts. It is interesting tolook back at the origin of punk, its influencers be it musicians, artists orworking-class youths seeking a form of individuality with the aim to provokeits audience.
We will explore these influences, the movement, the culture andthe style throughout the text.As suggested by Marxism; The punks can be describedas the individual, deviant rulers in society, the post-war youth subculturestyle as a symbolic form of resistance. They define the working-classactivities as deviant and in doing so they control them. Although Marx did notwrite about deviant behaviours, he wrote about alienation amongst the ordinaryworking- class people from society which can cause conflict resulting indeviant behaviour.
(Karl Marx, 1900) (Trueman, 2015) (Hebdige, 1979).1 2We can understand the working-class youths are nodoubt rebellious, refusing to conform to the norm, instead going beyond thegrain of the mainstream culture. The Evolution of the Punk movement created notonly a style, but an attitude to which working-class youths were deviant. MikeBrake describes how subcultures evolve in response to social issues that groupsexperience collectively, therefore identifying how individuals draw on collectiveidentities to define themselves.
(Brake, 1985).3Dick Hebdige, writes about thesubcultures of the punk era throughout the United Kingdom in his book,subculture ‘the meaning of style’. Punk style was taken by the fashion industryand sold on a commercial level globally. This evolution represents capitalismreacting to the savage working – class youth movement, counteracting the punksubculture. (Hebdige, 1979)4For Hebdige, Music is only one part ofthe stylistic ensemble of Punk, the most important part being the aesthetic orhow the group display the codes of the ‘Punk look’.The punk era inspired many genres whichwe can see still exist in today’s modern society. Subcultures give new generations a place ofbelonging to non-conform and embody a uniqueness.
What motivates people to dress in this manner, theroot I believe is the rebellious need for resistance, to provoke, agitate andrebel against the ‘norm’.How can we identify a punk? the group visiblydisplay codes of punk style; lots of leather, denim, fishnet tights, S&Msymbols, chains, a DIY ripped t-shirt held together by safety pins with a displayof offensive wording painted onto the garment to make a statement. Punkstransformed their hair style, most notably in men’s hair by going beyond theregular styles, the punk look was anti-system, extravagant hairstyle thatdemocratised hair for men in the 70’s for the first time. Similarly, to theclothing they too created DIY hair styles using water and sugar to invent the’punk look’. Although this style may look easily ‘thrown together without muchthought given to creation of the outfit, it was quite a time-consuming process.Through their clothing the group communicate that codes are to be used andabused, resisting the mainstream culture. As Hebdige describes the analysis of punkcreations, he believes the style was first developed among art-schoolavant-garde, rather than emanating from the dance halls and housing estates ofEngland.
(Hebdige, 1979) (Bennett, 2000)5The origin of Punk subculture in New York began inthe 1970s, the Punk subculture created in the underground movement, typicallybegan with working class youths seeking an identity of self-expression. Punk originatedas a reaction against conformity and capitalism, influenced by sex, music andart.In music, Punk could be easily identified as amovement youths were eager to be a part of, it gave them a sense of belonging.Musicians such a Debbie Harry, The Ramones, Talking Heads and the Sex Pistolsall embodied the Punk rock style and attitude creating icons of the time.
Places such as CBGB and the Bowery are known around the globe as the birthplaceof punk music.The Blondies’ Debbie Harry is famous for her Punkstyle with her platinum Blonde Hair (hence, how fitting ‘Blondie’) she was anicon, the first women in the punk music scene as lead singer of the band, Harrywas at the forefront of the pop culture in New York. Her voice, haunting andraw, captured the angst and youth of punk rock.Derek Ridger’s describes the Punk Era in New York; “Punkwas very exciting.
The music was loud and fast. The clubs were small, dark andsweaty and the punks themselves dangerous – or at least that was the impressionthey wanted to give”. (Vogue, 2017) (Larouci, 2017) Debbie Harry by Derek Ridgers, (1977) London Harry was recognised for her fearless, unapologeticattitude which transpired into her DIY style and music talent. It’s not onlythe attitude of Harry but her upbringing and life before the Blondies’ thatembodies the working-class identity of a struggling artist in North America.The realism of her previous life; growing up as an adopted child, being broke,free- living and rebellious embodied the Punk identity.She was often seen wearing unusual styles for example; an oversized t-shirtworn as a dress with boots, a men’s tailored suit with a ripped shirt, frombiker leathers to skinny leggings she maintained an edgy punk style on stage.In the 70’s, the denim market blew up and Harry could be seen wearing denim ondenim, or flared jeans teamed with her signature biker jacket and lashings ofblack eye liner, she was the epitome of seventies punk. As the Punk eraexploded, Blondie became globally successful and Harry was the star of theseventies, leading the way for the broken youths.
DebbieHarry, by Derek Ridgers, (1977) London Where did Punk Originate? From my research finding’sit is believed Punk first began in America but some sources question the originas America and the UK interpreted the style movement with a different attitude.Whilst England wasn’t the birthplace of punk it definitely had a huge influenceto inspire what we see even today, most notably in London. The movement had a profoundinfluence in England, truly visible in today’s society throughout the streetsof London and its creative classes.The music scene was full of rage and rebellion, theworking class in England were seen to be adapting to the punk aesthetic as the countrywas fraught with an economic depression. British punk was mainly inspired bythe events in New York, bands such as The Ramones became icons to the BritishPunks, who were seeking a new identity. In 1976, the first Punk rock band tomake it onto the British stage were the Sex Pistols. The invasion of punk rockera was feared by the general public, as punk rock bands were subversive.
TheClash followed the Sex Pistols onto the Punk rock stage, creating a DIY punkindependent scene throughout England. The famous Kings road and clubs such asthe Roxy were the hub of the 70’s punk scene in London. Vivienne Westwood andMalcolm McLaren had a boutique on the Kings Road called SEX, selling andexhibiting punk creations with a fetish, S/M inspiration.
(Ridgers, 2006) Derek Ridgers Capturing Punk RockLondon first hand in 1977 We can see a contrast in both British Punk vs AmericanPunk, British punk was somewhat more aggressive and dangerous than the punk movementin New York, which was less controversial. Perhaps it was the timing and theeconomic situation of the country, the lack of authority with more freedom tobe subversive, disrupt the law. According to (Hebdige, 1979)6Subcultures are objects of authentic expression only as long as they remainundiscovered by the market. For Hebdige, the point at which subculture style isincorporated into the market it is simultaneously stripped of its culturalmessage and becomes a meaningless object of mass consumption. (Bennett, 2000).
7We can argue, is punk is the same now as it was inthe 70’s, does it have the same meaning and is the movement alive? I believethe movement has evolved to a great extent, in terms of fashion as Hebdige believes,the commercial mass consumption of punk means the loss of its value &authenticity. Many fashion brands that have been influenced by the ‘punk look’.Some examples of designers that have incorporated the look through the years;Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent & Vivienne Westwood.
The revived ‘Punk Look’ seen at SaintLaurent Fall / Winter 2015 – 2016 Vivienne Westwood, the iconic designer who could beseen as ‘the mother of British punk’ is largely responsible for bringing modernpunk and new wave fashions into the mainstream. Fashion shows incorporated the ‘punk look’ withripped jeans, mini-skirts with torn tights and heavy chain accessories,head-to-toe leather with extravagant hairstyles, creating a moody &rebellious collection. Vivienne Westwood, DIY – Destroy T-Shirt,Provoking People with PUNK,Emblazoned with a bold red Naziswastika, an inverted image of Christ on the cross, the word “DESTROY,” and SexPistols lyrics, this anarchic 1977 shirt epitomised Westwood and partner Malcolm McLaren’s trailblazingbrand of punk politics. (Dazed digital, 2015)Today, the punk movement is no longer underground, theculture is very different in comparison to the 70’s, the economy has developed,media has reached a global platform and the fashion world is constantlyevolving. Although, we see punk interpreted through fashion collections andcatwalk shows since the 70’s. Punk led the way for creation, the new wave of the70’s to today has influenced singers such as Lady Gaga from her music to theway she expresses herself fearlessly through fashion, she is brave, rebellious andunique with an unapologetic passion for artistic expression.
Lady Gaga, January 2011 Throughout the years fashion designers have shown styleinfluenced by the punk era, it was an extremely important subculture that has madean impact in fashion since the beginning. As a style Punk is about chaos,anarchy and rebellion, the aesthetic of violence was intrinsic to the clothes,which were often customized with destructing the garments by ripping jeans,shirts with accessorising studs, spikes, zippers, safety pins, and razorblades. They created an armour or shield like uniform opposite from the’ordinary’, resisting the worlds politics and rules.In 2013; we famously saw the Metropolitan museum ofNew York hold the Spring Costume Exhibition, ‘PUNK: Chaos to Couture’.Celebrities wore recreations of the Punk pieces from the 70’s, some worerecycled DIY pieces from the 70’s and others hand made to measure haute coutureoutfits.
Punk rock has given a new way of thinking to designers, beauty doesn’tneed to be perfect, a DIY destructed garment can bring the ‘punk attitude butalso be beautiful. Miley Cyrus’ in Marc Jacobs at the 2013Met Gala Madonna in Riccardo Tisci at the 2013 Met Gala We can argue the importance of punkculture and which movement was more powerful, fashion or music? Or perhaps onewould not exist without the other, asdescribed by Malcolm McLaren “Fashion was much more important than themusic. Punk was the sound of fashion.” (Anon., 2007).8It is almost impossible to look at collections today and not identify a ‘punkstyle symbol’, existing in almost every fashion house. We see at the French fashionhouse, Balmain’ style of heavy metal embellished, studded jackets, partnered withleather trousers and baggy t-shirts, it’s the modern Punk! We can also see SaintLaurent inspired by Punk style, collections mostly black in colour, with lotsof chains, leather, embellishment and a ‘worn or dishevelled’ punk style.
Thebrands today are also very in tune with the music scene of our generation,similar to that of the 70’s Music & Fashion, of complementing each industry.In conclusion, the Punk era was highly influentialto the fashion industry even more so than the music industry, punk fashion liveson today through designers and anyone who wants to wear the style symbols. Therewill always be something to rebel against. Bibliography Anon., 2007.
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