Fashion and Subculture: The Relationship Between Style and Community

Throughout past decades, subcultures have been significant in building communities for the marginalised, raising awareness for social issues, and even promoting political change.


The way that we recognise these groups, however, is often a result of the subculture fashion that we associate with them. Whether it be pencil skirts, Dr Martens, or the 80s mohawk – fashion is emblematic of the beliefs and attitudes of these communities.


With this in mind, today we will explore three such communities, and the way that fashion was (and continues to be) used to express the beliefs and identities of these subcultures.


Expressive fashion in 1960s hippie culture


As one of the most famous examples of fashion and subculture in the 1960s, hippies are often associated with bell-bottoms, tie-dye clothing, and (of course) the flower motif.


Whilst, on the surface, this fashion is visually iconic, the hippie style holds an important social and political statement – reflecting the communities’ views and beliefs in their unique choice of clothing.


In fact, the subculture fashion of the hippie was entirely conscious of the ecological and political climate of the time. This is reflected in the purposely unconventional and anti-conservative style that they embraced – a bold statement to make during an era of staunch traditionalism.


And, not only did this community dress to challenge the norm, but they were also political in their decision to make their own clothes and buy from flea markets, in protest against corporate culture.

So, through their unique and free-spirited style, the 1960s hippie movement used fashion to create a community of like-minded individuals.


In the political statement of their identity, the community expressed views that challenged societal norms. Ultimately, though, they raised awareness for important issues, like climate change, that continue to be prevalent today.


Queer visibility and subculture fashion


The relationship between fashion and subculture is particularly important in relation to the emerging visibility of LGBTQ+ people in the 1970s.


Style, whether it be gender-bending, appropriated, or expressive, became one of the most important ways for queer people to express themselves in a society that expected them to repress their true identity.


The clothing of gay men, for example, was often coded to communicate their identity to other queer people – meaning that fashion became a visual language for this marginalised community.


A recurring motif of gay men’s fashion during the 70s is a hyper-masculine style of clothing. This style adopted the attire of sailors, lumberjacks, and bikers, which gay men used to express their sexuality both within and beyond queer subculture.


A similar play on stereotypes could be seen amongst lesbian women, who often rejected (or adopted) the signifiers of traditional femininity in their fashion. Many dressed in traditionally masculine items, such as by wearing a tie, and therefore challenged expectations for women in the process.


So, within the queer subculture of the 1970s, fashion became a vital tool for expression and experimentation for LGBT people. Not only was fashion coded within the queer community, but it also gave queer subculture an identity, offering visibility within 1970s society.


The rebellious fashion of punk subculture


A huge movement in the late 1970s and 1980s, punk subculture is often associated with provocative song lyrics, a distinctive style, and media-driven moral panic.


The ripped fabric, leather jackets, drainpipe jeans – and not forgetting, the signature mohawk hairstyle – made the punk aesthetic instantly recognisable.


This famous style captures the defiant nature of punk subculture within the political and socio-economic climate of the 70s and 80s. Acting as a direct rebellion against the values of mainstream culture, the stand-out punk fashion certainly captured the attention of the masses.


Fashion and style became the biggest medium through which punk counterculture expressed themselves as a community, with their belief in individual freedom and rejection of control clearly evident in their unconventionally ripped and chained clothing.


Therefore, through attention-grabbing style, punk subculture was able to express opposition to conventional values through their clothing. This, again, reflects the importance of fashion in forming the community of a subculture, as a visual code for their beliefs and ideas.


The future of subculture fashion…


The relationship between fashion and subculture has always been significant and will certainly continue to be so in the future.


These subcultures, through their unique fashion and styles, were ultimately able to build an identity for themselves – representing their values, beliefs, and leaving their mark on culture forever.


Even now, it is plain to see the impact that subculture fashion has had on the larger fashion world – with many of these subculture fashions reappearing frequently – and many having never left.


Yet, in an age where fashion, community, and culture are dominated by the medium of social media, it will be interesting to see how subculture fashion will develop into the 2020s, and how these communities will continue to use fashion to build their identities.


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