punk attitude: expressing political views through fashion...
The documentary Punk: Attitude, by Don Letts, is an exploration of the Punk Revolution and the history of its beginnings and influences. Throughout the film we see footage of alternative musicians and former punk rock artists who give out their opinion on the development of the movement. For the purpose of this review, I will focus mostly on the fashion aspect involved in the development of punk and how ideologies are expressed via music and consequently fashion.
Punk: Attitude describes the punk rock movement as a fight against complacency. At a time where people were unhappy with the political and economic climate, they developed a cultural revolution. As described by the musicians in the documentary, there was a generation in agreement that the direction of the country was going wrong, as they didn’t agree with many current issues at the time: the treatment of people of color, going to war in Vietnam. Essentially, they didn't like being suppressed with their ideas about culture and wanted to be heard. Hence, they took to music and fashion as a way to rebel against the establishment.
We can see how Punk started as a musical genre derived form Rock, but ultimately transcended into an attitude, which was in turn expressed through the way people presented themselves. Fashion became a medium to make a statement, thus it became a way to support this Punk Rock personification. Throughout the film, we can see some specific examples in which we see musicians personifying this rebellious attitude through their clothing. In one example we are shown how the New York Dolls, an American band from the 70’s, decided to create some shock value by, at a time where people were afraid of communism, wear red clothes and provoke the audience, which ultimately resulted in unhappy crowds. This idea of pushing the boundaries and almost becoming intimidating started to be consistent in punk.
Another example is the “anti-fashion” concept, introduced in the movie when they talk about how people would rip their clothes on purpose and wear safety pins, as an attitude of indifference and reinforcing the rebellious aspect where people “don’t give a fuck about commerciality.”
Looking at how punk rock music transcended into fashion, we can make a parallel to how the beat and hipster styles emerged, as explained by Hebdige. Directly tied to music, “the hipster and beat subcultures were organized around a shared identity with blacks (symbolized in Jazz.)” Just like the punk fashion elements of clothing, like offensive t shirts, leather jackets, and bold hairstyles embodied the antiestablishment of rules and promotion of individual freedom, the hipsters fashion aided in expressing the subculture’s values. The zoo suits and lightweight continentals of the hipster embodied the traditional aspirations of moving up of “the black street corner man.” Furthermore, the beat, expressed a “magical relation to a poverty which constituted in his imagination a divine essence, a state of grace,” with jeans and sandals. In both cases, embedded in black culture, in black music, are oppositional values which served to symbolize contradictions and tensions played out in white youth subculture.
It’s fair to say that subcultures’ values, which are generally tied to a certain music genre (rock, jazz, hip-hop) are very much accompanied by their fashion. The aesthetics that are represented in the music, are directly transferred to the clothes, such as Jazz’s elegance and Punk’s rebellious attitude. The fashion helps to allow individuals to present themselves in a respective way of their desired cultural movement, and allows others to identify them as well - whether that is to shock everyone with glitter and oils on their bodies or wear tailored suits to evoke elegance and power, as well as being a part of the given community/subculture.
In terms of the documentary, Punk: Attitude provides a fairly good example of music’s transcendence into fashion. The film deals with the non conformist movement that became Punk, along with the art forms that came as a result of it. This film helped me understand perhaps a little more about the links between subcultures and fashion and how indirectly or not, the styles created by designers nowadays evoke some sense of particular subcultures (punk, rock, goth, glam). It is interesting to try and connect the emergence of the particular styles: although nowadays it is fair to say genres of music and fashion are combined in different ways. People tend to wear simplified subculture fashion, maybe conscious or unconsciously tending to a particular style/subculture.
Like Alexander Mc Queen said:
“It is a new era in fashion - there are no rules. It’s all about the individual and personal style, wearing high end, low end, classic labels, and up-and-coming designers altogether.”
I guess it’s my take away that all these emerging movements, starting from music, politics and social issues, to attitudes, actually helped shape fashion into what it is today - much like art.