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Self Expression and Belonging in the Digital Age

A look at how social media has facilitated new digital fashion communities

Community and fashion have become closely linked. For many, fashion, and the clothes we wear are a way of outwardly expressing personalities and interests. From this, subcultures and self-made communities within the fashion industry formed and continue to flourish.

What are fashion subcultures?

Subcultures in fashion generally refer to groups, or communities, of people who dress a specific way, unique to the subculture. Subcultures can often be easily identified, as the clothes worn by people within the subgroup, often emulate a specific style.

There are a multitude of subcultures within fashion. A few well-known examples of these within the industry are Goth, hipster, emo, grunge, punk, and hippie. It is a common theme amongst communities to have trademark aspects.

This could be a certain clothing item, the colour of the clothes, brand, through tattoos or a hairstyle. It could be genres of music commonly linked to the group. For example, popular rock band ‘ACDC’ being linked to the Rocker subculture. Through these labels, styles, and ideologies, a sense of community and belonging resides.

This aspect of subcultures and community is not a new premise within the fashion industry. Spanning as far back to the 1950’s in Britain, communities born through shared beliefs and expressed through fashion have been a part of society.

From ‘Mods’, or ‘Modernists, to ‘Rockers’ and ‘hippies’ in the 1950’s-1960’s. This idea of subculture communities spread throughout Britain. It eventually made its way around the globe and still influences fashion and trends to this day. In the ’70s the rise of punk and disco emerged, and the progression of subcultures continued.

Community through fashion subcultures is not a new modern aspect of the industry, it is, however, changing alongside the digital age of social media.

Digital influence

The rise of the digital age and social media has facilitated the rise of online fashion communities and the re-emergence of past subcultures. In today’s society, there is an ease when it comes to sharing our interests and outfits online.

Sites such as Myspace in the early 2000s, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and, most recently, TikTok, have allowed the development of online communities. Social media gives a platform to its users to express themselves to an audience and through this communities have grown.

In the past, groups communicated through limited means like flyers, music, gatherings, and styles. However, in today’s climate, social media allows the promotion and connection of these communities. With most social media apps specifically catered towards the sharing of pictures, the styles of these

subcultures are seen more often. Because of the simplicity of sharing images and videos online, it caters well to the trends. Subcultures can be appealing in terms of aesthetics, and when it comes to social media it is typically very imaged based.

This ideology of aesthetic based interest has aided the continued success of digital fashion communities. Images that reflect the trademarks of a certain fashion trend or community can be easily distributed for the audience to see and relay and so forth. Individuals can share their contributions and the community continues to grow.

New subcultures

It also promotes the rise of new subcultures and those that had started to slip from their past popularity. The mainstream app TikTok is currently a popular trend, where users can post videos for others to see.

Again, like other social media platforms this has become a popular way for individuals to express their beliefs, passions, interests, art, aesthetics, and their fashion styles to viewers.

Through this additional subcultures have arisen. The phrases ‘e-girl’, ‘e-boy’, ‘VSCO girls’ are used to label these emerging subcultures. Many of these labels borrow aspects from other subcultures to create a new one. Yet unlike others, the trademarks of these new subcultures are heavily digital based. The “E” in e-girls/boys stands for internet simply because their subculture revolves primarily around participation online.

The rise of ‘alt’ or ‘alternative’ TikTok has also brought the alternative/emo/ punk subculture back into the mainstream. It was generally popular in the ’70s with punk, then in the early ’00s with emo. However, at the time social media was not as widely popular as it is today.

With this new surge of attention, the community is now growing in recognition through social media. So, social media has not only facilitated the ease of sharing these digital fashion communities, it has also aided the growth of new subcultures and in doing so keeps the communities expanding.

Acceptance in community

There is an aspect of this that bears great significance, the positive impact of communities for individuals. Through the expression of the self, individuals have found people with similar styles and interests. These self-made groups have turned into invented families.

The shared interests encourage communication, expression of self-identity and can increase confidence and a sense of belonging.


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