Sex Pistols in Norway, 1977

One of the most defining youth movements of the past century has been the punk scene. The punk subculture began in the 1970s as a rebellion against establishmentarianism and for personal freedom. Since it first flourished forty years ago, punk elements have occasionally re-emerged in fashion. Most recently, punk looks popped up on a few runways for Fall 2012. This year’s Met Gala was punk themed, and attendees were encouraged to dress for the occasion. The runway shows in March this year were slathered in black, spikes, tartan and leather, proving that punk looks will be one of the most popular trends this fall. However, keeping in mind the ideologies punks of the 1970s and 1980s advocated, I can’t help but wonder if these values are being paid homage to by the fashion industry. Or, if the adaptation of punk fashion into the modern mainstream is akin to throwing punk self-expression onto a Givenchy runway and stomping all over it with a striped snake-skin boot.

Punk looks first began to develop in the early 1970s. A section of the youth culture found themselves concerned with self-expression and anti-authoritarianism, promoting freedom and irreligion. As the subculture grew, punk ideals were more widely expressed in aspects of culture, such as art, fashion, and music. The punk subculture was based off of DIY, independent, individualistic ideology, and punk fashion became a statement of this. Punk clothing was originally handmade, and many punk trends were inspired by the young designer Vivienne Westwood and her partner Malcolm McLaren. Together, the two designers opened a store at 430 Kings Road in London, which became the first go-to store for punk fashion. Offensive t-shirts (such as the popular “Destroy” shirt), leather jackets, military boots and motorcycle boots (or suede Puma Clydes and Chuck Taylors), torn clothing, custom blazers, slogans, blood and patches are all characteristics of the punk era’s fashion. Westwood collected inspirations for her designs from BDSM and fetish culture, incorporating fishnets, spikes, chains and bracelets into her looks.

As the 1980s began, punk culture and fashion became more established. Punk ideals evolved into anti-fashion and utilitarianism, and the looks evolved also. Punk hairstyles branched from shaggy looks into specific styles, such as mohawks, and was dyed bright colours. Dr. Martin boots became a punk staple, and clothing and jeans were intentionally torn, bleached and dirtied. Tartan, plaid and leather jackets all adorned with safety pins, patches and slogans were customary for any punk, and piercings and tattoos increased in popularity. Many of these styles are what people think of today when they talk about “punks”, and the trends have never died in some circles. As bands and punk music developed with the fashion, different types of punk-cultures were established (such as Celtic-punk and anarcho-punk). It seems, though, that as the art, ideals and music of punk subculture grew, the fashions of punks became limited, predictable and, dare I say, unoriginal. This, of course, completely contradicts everything believed by punks at this time.

Since the punk scene somewhat diminished after the 1980s, pieces of punk culture have popped up in fashion from time-to-time. For example, punk elements were adapted by the Goth culture in the 1990s. Many of the Fall 2012 runway shows exhibited elements of punk fashion (such as Thom Browne’s 2012 menswear show), but the Met Gala’s punk theme in May of this year really thrust punk fashion back into the mainstream. [Notable punk looks from the Met Gala were Sarah Jessica Parker's, Madonna in Givenchy, Miley Cyrus in Marc Jacobs, Christina Ricci in Vivienne Westwood and Jaime King in Topshop.] The Fall 2013 runway shows for both menswear and womenswear displayed a lot of punk inspiration and styles. However, the current punk fashions seem to be just that – only a fashion. Many of the punk ideals that died down after the 1980s (disestablishment, anti-authority, DIY-ing) don’t seem to be gaining a particular amount of social support lately. However, a few of the values upheld by the original punk subculture (individualism, free-thinking) have continued to grow in society since the punk withdrawal. Perhaps fashion houses are hoping to reignite a passion and fire in youth culture through the rebirth of punk fashion. Or, maybe designers are paying homage to the original and trailblazing fashion of punk culture. Regardless of their intentions, it already seems as though punk fashion has entered mainstream style, ultimately blaspheming the basis of punk culture through the destruction of its ideologies. Maybe this is just a perfect example of a trend in modern society: to recycle passed ideas and cultural trends.


This piece was written by Rebecca MacDonald, Fashion Columnist at Rhetoric Magazine. Come back for more every Thursday!