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Bobby Hundreds, founding father of The Hundreds, declared that “streetwear is a culture, not just a product.”
A subculture is a group that often has beliefs or interests that varies with those of the larger culture usually involving recognisable fashion and music tastes. Many subcultures also despise and reject the mainstream and commercialisation of the majority. Subcultures are able to strengthen and intensify because of the need for people to feel like they belong to something greater than themselves, most notably seen in the youth.
It’s because of the youth being a great particular target market that a lot of brands / companies have taken notice of them and started to impose upon and profit off of the subculture’s music and fashion tastes. This can often lead to the downfall of the subculture’s original intentions and may kill off the group entirely.
In summary a subculture is a group that detaches itself from a mainstream society and that caters to certain people’s ideologies and preferences.
I am researching and writing on this subject topic because I am heavily interested in subcultures, from going up as a child with a father who was heavily involved in the punk scene I have always enjoyed looking at the culture and the way it behaves. Another factor that has given me interest as skateboarding and the street wear scene that is arguably one of the largest subculture of today through the means of large consumerism and extortionate prices.
Researching this will also give me great insight in to how I can involve my brand in being a part of a street wear subculture that we see with companies like Off-White, McQ, Palace and Supreme that dominate the scene today, but without they high prices or in a way that would prove beneficial to others.
This essay is about how fashion and design influence and also take influence from subcultures, and also focuses on how subcultures adapt through time and social change from the 70’s to our current date focusing largely on punk and the subcultures of today.
The punk subculture is considered to have been established in England. Following World War II England had experienced heavy economic downfall and huge social breakdowns. Punk took large influence from teddy boys and rockers. The conservative elements in British society rejected the subculture style of movements and left-leaning politics of the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, the British economy was stuck in a rut, and unemployment especially among young people was rapidly becoming an epidemic.
British punks displayed the sense of disappointment, hopelessness, and failure that many young people felt on their bodies for all to see. Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash were suddenly the centre pieces of a new British subculture that exposed the chaos, ugliness, and outrage of British culture in the 1970s. Punk was a chaos, The chaos became extremely evident in everything that punks had anything to do with such as their behaviours, in their aggressive attitudes and in the clothing styles.
Punk was a culture that was against the social imprisonment of certain people such as the working class who arguably started the whole punk culture, one of its main causes was a rejection of the mainstream, corporate businesses and its values. It continued to evolve its ideology, punk embraced a large range of anti-racist and anti-sexist belief systems. Although punks views were heavily left wing they did have rightwing views as well such as no remorse and apolitical views such as being misfits and not following order.
Punks were wearing anything that would make them look different. The Sex Pistols coined the catchphrase that summed up the British punk movement as a whole: No Future. Whereas the hippies and flower children of the 1960s sang about the coming of a new era of peace and love, the punks screamed about apocalypse, decay, and failure. In his seminal analysis of British subcultures in the 1970s Subculture: the Meaning of Style cultural theorist Dick Hebdige writes of punk: ‘Clothed in Chaos, they produced noise in the calmly orchestrated crisis of everyday life in the 1970s.’ The pandemonium, obscenity and transgression that was created by punk’s subcultural style outraged conservative British society, while being capitalised upon by record companies and the culture industry. Many punks fell out of love with bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, deeming them as sellouts and rock stars that had conformed to the norms of society by accepting such record deals.
Punk fashion was a counter-movement and backlash against the late sixties summer love and hippie ways like the waves, flares, drapes, peace and love clothing that they all adored. Punk came through and and demolished the sense of stye with super tight jeans, leather jackets, ripped tees, sweat and anger. “Soft lines were replaced with sharp cuts; 15 minute prog-rock jams struck down by two-minute distorted bursts.” Punk fashion was about very limited colour and the majority of the clothes were black and white often flares of communist red or union jacks stamped over the jackets.
A major contributor to the iconic look of punk was Vivienne Westwood a “punk guru”. Vivienne met Malcolm Mclaren, an art student and the future manager of the Sex Pistols. Through Mclaren, Vivienne started making jewellery on the side, this was the first time that she had been introduced to a new world of creative freedom and showed her the power that art had on the political landscape. “I latched onto Malcolm as somebody who opened doors for me,” Westwood said. “I mean, he seemed to know everything I needed at the time.” 
In 1971, Mclaren opened a store at 430 Kings Road in London and started filling it with Westwood’s clothing and jewellery. The name of this shop stayed in an almost constant fluctuation changing five times, though the store managed to prove itself in being an important fashion centre for the punk movement. When Mclaren became manager of the Sex Pistols, it was Westwood’s designs that were used to dress the band and help give it its identity. This gave way to the style that the punk movement would follow for its years to come. Many people call Westwood the pioneer of the punk movement giving it the look it needed to portray exactly what it stood for.
At the tail end of the ’70s, the biggest punk band in the world was The Clash, The Clash provided musical experimentation and showed the rest of the world that punk rock could be more than two-minute long songs and use more than just three chords. The Clash had all the urgency and importance of the Sex Pistols, however the musical differences between The Clash and the Sex Pistols were vast The Clash, though not very elegant instrumentalists, mades music crafted much better than that of the Pistols did. The music they produced let loose, the songs, full of threat and challenge, never mean to menace. They are rather, about anger and desperation, about violence as a condition more than a prescription.
The Clash sang straight to and spoke for a generation of working class teens that were cut off from the social mainstream and that were also disaffected from the smug, cushy sounds of most contemporary pop.
The biggest challenge that The Clash faced, was that they couldn’t keep the stance they had as rebels and anti- corporate whilst they were earning £1 million a year, leaving them stuck in a situation they couldn’t really get out of leaving many hardcore punk fans to abandon them.
Subcultures especially in the UK are commonly formed in times of social change and austerity usually being inflicted from the right wing conservatives this has given way to many subcultures seen in the UK, however the first really known subculture was the Teddy boys. Media containing music and films from the U.S were being brought across to the UK this gave teenagers who for the first time had money in their pocket to spend it on something that made them feel like they could belong to and a group and also create themselves a uniform that was individual to them and that people could look for and know what group or subculture they belonged to.
Now that the military was out of the equation due to conscription being eradicated for the first time teenage boys especially started to care more about their appearance, this created a gateway for marketing and the ability for companies to target specific ages and groups, this also helped to create the niche groups and let people start developing their own individual styles with expressions of freedom.
The Teddy boys uniform was pivotal in showing that a man could in essence be a peacock, it was about rejecting the things around you such as the new american influences by keeping things inherently British, the uniform most commonly consisted of a draper jacket and brothel creepers (heeled shoes), they used every chance they had to utilise accessories and make them selves more flamboyant. It was an edwardian style inspired by guard officers “ the ultimate english aristocrat”. The Teddy boy was a sharp look that the working class parodied with pink socks or lining in their jacket along with huge pompadour hairstyles to almost take a jib at the upperclass by taking their uniform and subverting it trying to “fuck up” the class system. “ you couldn’t change your house or your class but you could change your threads”.
Working class culture was about a very tight and carefully rehearsed look. Rockers wore leather jackets, string vest shirts, had motor bikes giving themselves a very utilitarian look, taking the american culture from films such as the wild ones and English-ising it. Rockers were the first to create a real generation gap wearing oil covered jeans, big boots and dirty leather jackets, with parents starting to ask question like what the hell are you listening to?
Media is fundamental to the formation of subcultures it gave people a set of ideas and inspiration for clothing from people that they have never even met. The medias role in creating subcultures is very mixed however, due to them always being hungry for the next teen sensation especially if they are able to pair it with violence such as the mods fighting the rockers on the beach front or portraying the punks as completely destructive, it’s evident that they do enjoy doing this, but this also gave government administrations to the chance to point the finger and say that they don’t agree with what is happening and they want to try and prevent it from escalating further before the movement gains more traction, however this is just promotion in most cases and gives the movement an epic increase in popularity which also isn’t what the movement may have wanted going from being niche, elitist and exclusive to all of a sudden incredibly popular, this can ultimately kill off the subculture.
Today in modern day society it’s easy to argue that subcultures don’t get a chance to create friction without immediately being shutdown and eliminated. They don’t ever even get off the ground before they are poached by consumerism and social media without the chance of there being a small niche group to actually form. “There are very limited factors that we can consider unique to the culture and time we are in now that make it almost virtually impossible to be able to create an authentic subculture”.
It’s also impossible to ignore the immediate gratification that the consumer desperately desires leaving even less room for sub cultures to exist with the likes of fast fashion that is provided by brands across the globe from Topman and H&M to Supreme and Palace, style changes so quickly now almost every season that it doesn’t give enough time to allow a subculture to evolve with us the consumers becoming almost vulture like and always wanting the newest things on the market. We now know what we want and we want it as soon as possible.
With brands becoming more and more prominent in our lives, wether due to extremely high demand such as Supreme with hordes of people queueing outside there stores and refreshing there laptops at 11am every morning or companies such as apple with their incredible amounts of advertising that are just impossible to miss it becomes quite clear the we as the consumer can create a culture of sorts with power lying in our hands leaving us with a freedom of choice of what to do we can become more powerful than any advert, because without out our want any brand can easily fade away. This culture that is created however can’t be deemed a subculture like those we have seen in the past because it lacks the opposition, fight and rebelliousness of those prior that wanted to change the world for what they saw as fit.
Using the brands that we see and wear combined with social media allows us to connect and see what people are currently wearing and constantly doing, this gives us the opportunity to make friends with people on the other side of the planet with a simple click of a button, however it also means that trends can die out just as quickly leaving them at just that… trends. Sub cultures are not given enough time to grow naturally meaning that the newly discovered sub genre is suddenly all over Facebook, Twitter and blasting out in a club by the following Saturday.
The real question is how is this happening, and it’s as easy as, if you have a question you would ask google, if you heard a song you liked you would use Shazam, if you want to talk to your mates you now have messenger, snapchat, texts and thats were social lives now exist on social media, this makes it quite ironic that through the easy accessibility of a subculture that its now harder than ever for them to get off of the ground. We also have to consider if subcultures have lost the shock factor that they once had, such as the ways that teddy boys distorted the class system, the way the punks and the skinheads would shave their hair, it’s just not as exciting knowing that our parents have done it all already.
Subcultures do live in in some forms wether thats that people have grown up still immersed in that subculture and are more than happy to keep pushing to keep it alive or the bands that still carry some of the ethos and core values of the sub cultures that we have seen in the past. It’s more than clear to see that Northern soul is still active in some forms scattered around with clubs such as Soul Shack and Stables soul club. It’s also not hard to find influence from rock in bands like the arctic monkeys and imagine dragons, and also bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Destruction Unit and Downtown Boys all try to help carry punk on in their own way it keep it alive you also have bands like Green Day who imitate bands from the past like
But sub cultures don’t just require the style and the music they need the driving force behind them which is the people and the people need a reason to fight back. But we now live in an era where information and events that are incredibly horrific spread through are mobiles, laptops and Ipads with incredible pace, everything now seems to happen too quickly we can have tragic world events and a week later no body cares this generation of quickly processed information has no apathy for the events surrounding them, we are all guilty of things like this, seeing a person who has to sleep on the streets should be heart breaking and we should naturally want to help people but we are all willing to ignore it and just keep walking, we show no concern for those around and always assume that they have done it to themselves through horrible means even though thats usually not the reality. And if we are people who can’t unite and help one and other first how can we expect to to come together and fight against social and political issues when we are guilty of being just as ignorant as they people in the big chairs.
Streetwear has a distinctive visual identity and also has ties to the hip hop/ rap scene, but that doesn’t make it a subculture because “streetwear doesn’t stand for anything aside from brand and product”. Streetwear isn’t combating any political issues and seems to be happy with the way that things are. The skinheads had their working-class pride they represented a rejection of the British class system. The punks stood in opposition to everything that polite society deemed right and proper. By taking an active and public stance against prevailing social values subcultures offer an alternative and encourage others to do the same.
Streetwear on the other hand, may represent an underground approach to fashion but that doesn’t separate it from mainstream values. The central pillar of streetwear isn’t really trainers or clothes, it’s consumption. “Brands cannot survive without turning a profit from their products, and streetwear cannot exist without the brands that comprise it. Streetwear drives consumption, which is the beating heart of consumer capitalism. As such, streetwear doesn’t contradict prevailing values, it represents them. “Realistically, streetwear is actually a market segment rather than a subculture”.
Stores and brands like Supreme and Santa Cruz started off with core values that allowed groups of societies outcasts to group together and and wear and be a part of the same group, Supreme was opened by a group of skaters how say they took influence in there style from punk music and values they were a brand that only the small collection of people whom knew of the store would go there, however it’s not hard to see that this changed dramatically and is now most certainly not a brand with punk values or even those of a skate store, but is now a company that showboats and flaunts their extremely expensive apparel and misc objects around with out a second thought of how they used to hold themselves and now seem to jump on the bandwagon of saying that they belong to the punk subculture with out maintaining any of their values to try and attract the disaffected and disassociated youths such as myself to their company to gain street credibility and a so called “HYPEBEAST” title.
I have created a questionnaire based around subcultures and the way that they worked moving through to how people feel about the new digital age that we live in and if it creates room for subcultures to or wether it denies the existence of them. I set the questionnaire up on survey monkey and posted it into groups on Facebook relating to subcultures such as punks and mods as well as posting it on my own twitter to see what a younger generation thought of them and also if they felt like they belonged to one. Link to the questionnaire( https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Y6X5GCW )
The results from this questionnaire have shown me that people in my generation are not concerned over lack of any sub cultures or them being small left over groups such as northern soul, they seem happy to be where they are and enjoy that they can just flip their taste in music and style with the click of a few buttons now. This is a far contrast however compared to what the people who have lived through subcultures stated saying – “I think it’s sad your generation doesn’t have something to look at and be a part of, it stops young people from going out to find things, it’s convenient that all your music is now all in one place and you have the ability to find what you want when you want it, but even then it’s all just throw away music…. its crap”.
I believe that people don’t assign themselves to the parties, although like The Clash for example, had very politicised lyrics, I do feel as though they did it for themselves to make a point about society at the time and not in a way of backing any political party however. The overall sense that I get from my questionnaire is that Both older and younger generations believe that sub cultures have died although appreciate that there influence can be seen through music today with bands like the Kaiser Chiefs who help carry the remaining dregs of values and style of the punks before them.
In my own opinion the sense of being able to form a subculture have been gradually fading away along side the unions. Subcultures started die after punk, they last dregs were acid house the country needs to be suffering from tension and needs young people to rebel my end opinion is we as a society have allowed the government dictate what we can and can’t do this has paused any sense of culture. Governments do what they want they couldn’t care less about the country but we allow it to happen. About the country 52% of the people in Britain wanted to leave Europe I didn’t but were all still sat here bickering about it and all we seem to be able to do is just complain on social media. I believe that we could see the rise of subcultures but only if we are able to come together as real united group and stand up for what we know is right.
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