What is Punk Clothing?

Alan Rankin

Punk clothing is worn by fans of punk rock music and its related subculture and also includes fashions inspired by that distinctive look. In the 1970s and 1980s, devotees of the punk aesthetic sought to break away from the manufactured and marketed trends of mainstream culture. To do this, they deviated from the mainstream in music, hairstyles, and all other possible ways, including the creation of punk clothing. Ironically, these radical styles were quickly co-opted and mass-produced, becoming a part of mainstream culture. Punk fashion and its mainstream imitators continue to exist in the 21st century.

Punk clothing consists of a lot of plaid and darker colors.
Punk clothing consists of a lot of plaid and darker colors.

In the 1970s, the anti-authoritarian radicals of Europe and America sought ways to express their displeasure with mainstream culture. They observed that the rebels of the previous decade, the hippies, had failed to create their proposed revolution. Instead, they were slowly integrated back into the common culture, leaving few lasting changes. The founders of the punk movement sought an even more radical rebellion against a culture that they saw as conformist and market-oriented. Congregating around the music of punk pioneers like Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, and Iggy Pop, they created a culture as different from the mainstream as they could make it.

Some punk clothes may be purposely splattered with bleach to make it look distressed.
Some punk clothes may be purposely splattered with bleach to make it look distressed.

This was the origin of punk clothing, hairstyles, and fashion. Much punk clothing followed a do-it-yourself aesthetic. Slogans were added to shirts and jackets with paint or markers, and thrift-store finds were adorned with safety pins, splattered with bleach or distressed with razor blades. Odd combinations were also popular, such as women wearing pink ballet tutus with army-surplus combat boots and men's work shirts. The punk aesthetic extended to hairstyles, often spiked into wild shapes such as the famous mohawk, and colored with store-bought hair products. Homemade body adornments were also popular; the safety pin as a body piercing became iconic of the punk movement.

In no time at all, clothing manufacturers were producing their own lines of punk clothing. Some young punks embraced these pre-made punk styles and saw no contradiction in purchasing punk clothing at the mall. Other punks reacted with horror at what they saw as the commercial co-opting of their rebellious aesthetic. These punks rebelled further, creating many offshoots of punk culture with their own fashion styles. Leather bondage gear; used work clothing and boots; and outfits held together with string, rope, or even dental floss were not uncommon.

In the 21st century, both the genuine punk aesthetic and commercially produced punk clothing remain popular. The punk movement has diversified into literally dozens of sub-subcultures. Meanwhile, punk styles have influenced mainstream fashion designers such as Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood. Punk fashions are visible in films such as Sid and Nancy and 1984’s Suburbia, and TV shows like The Young Ones. To observe the true punk aesthetic, however, it’s best to watch performance videos of legendary punk bands such as Black Flag, the New York Dolls, or the Dead Kennedys.

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It's all about the jeans, leather, lace and all clothes two sizes too small!

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