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Punk Goes Pop: Subculture's Influence on Mainstream Fashion

Doc Martens, ripped tight jeans, facial piercings – these are all fashion trends you’d likely see walking down your local high street on a Saturday afternoon. However, each one of these aspects were popularised by the Punk subculture of the 1970-'90s.

The punk subculture was formed towards the end of the 20th century as a reactionary movement away from the powers that be, as a form of anti-establishment community. From this came their own fashion and aesthetics that centred around a DIY culture and an emphasis on individuality. Now, however, the aspects of this aesthetic have been absorbed into mainstream fashion, and punk fashion has become commercialised.

Designing punk

In the earlier days of punk fashion, as the culture first came together and found innovative ways to rebel against the norm - say safety pins and obnoxious hair - a little known designer going by the name of Vivienne Westwood was heavily influencing the scene.

Before she was a household name, Westwood popularised scandal-inducing erotic wear as part of the punk aesthetic, as well as the tartan print and shredded graphic tee.

While Westwood’s punk influence is still evident in her designs today – tartan corsets and t-shirts sporting the phrase ‘true punk’ – the essence of what the punk movement stood for; the idea of anti-capitalism and ‘sticking it to the man’ has been lost.

As punk fashion has become increasingly mainstream, its been increasingly commercialised and the DIY element that was once so crucial has been lost. Westwood has definitely learned to commercialise from the culture, as the aforementioned t-shirt retails just shy of £150.

Primark punk

The classic band t-shirt was a sure-fire way of placing someone into a subculture based on the band they were rocking. Someone in a Sex Pistols shirt held together by safety pins would fall into the punk category, whereas someone dressed in an Abbey Road tee was embracing Beatlemania. Or so this was the case.

Cut to 2013. One Direction are the biggest boyband in the world, and Harry Styles is spotted wearing a Ramones shirt. Over the course of the next few months every pre-teen girl in Britain is dragging their Mum by the sleeve to the branded t-shirt section in Primark. The iconic band tee, once a staple of Punk fashion, designed to be torn, pinned and tied, was sold for £9.99 just to end up in Oxfam 6 months later.

Taking one of the biggest celebrities in the world, and the face of mainstream pop music, and putting him in the merchandise of a band at the spearhead of the punk movement was like a nail in the coffin to it.

Rather than causing a resurgence of the punk within a new generation by drawing their attention to a new genre of music, this just caused a lack of authenticity in wearers of the classic band t-shirt. No longer was a Rolling Stones shirt an indicator of an avid rock fan because the iconic logo could be found in a multitude of colours on £5 t-shirts in H&M.

The death of the authentic

The punk aesthetic has become a casualty of fast fashion. High street retailers noted the diluted references to the punk subculture of the 20th century, and mass-produced leather jackets, band shirts with flattering cut-outs, fishnets, and tartan skirts until they were no longer directly associated with punk fashion.

The essence of punk therefore becomes lost – punk is not overpriced and manufactured – and even Dr Martens are losing their quality due to their over consumption. Punk is an attitude, rather than a collection of safety pins, and centralises doing things according to your individuality, and making a statement with that style. It’s about being aware of the socio-political climate and understanding how you can effect change.

While the punk movement may not be as directly political as it once was - especially the commercialised punk fashion that Westwood designs - it remains an important part of punk culture. This society was formed predominantly by the ‘outsiders’ of society, those who weren’t accepted by the mainstream, and this remains true to an extent.

Punk is for those people considered on the edge of society – outcasts and minorities – and therefore will always remain somewhat political. The emergence of punk trends within fast fashion therefore is in direct discordance with punk mentality, as it is lacking the political voice that comes with the punk movement.

Mainstream fashion may have adopted punk trends, but punk subculture has not accepted those mainstream traits.


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