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The Influence of Punk on Society and Mainstream Fashion

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Punk rock music and style has subsisted for several decades since it originated. The punk movement opposed modern culture, not only through its fast paced music, but also through its fashion. The youths who proceeded to follow punk, were reacting to current social situations in the 1970’s and doing so by expressing themselves through music, clothing, and violence. Punk chose to fight for such things as anti-capitalism and anti-racism. Punk stood against everything that was conventional with its Do-It-Yourself (DIY) attitude towards fashion and music. Ironically, though punk was opposed to traditionalists, once it gained media attention for being outrageous, it quickly became fashionable to wear ripped clothes, safety pins, multicolored hair, and lurid makeup. Throughout my paper I will be discussing punk ethos, punks being anti-fashion, yet dressing punk being thrown into the mainstream, and the overall impact it has bestowed on our culture.

The punk movement began in the early 1970’s and challenged the social norms of society. Punk has its initial American roots in New York City; however, it is argued whether it was the scene or actual movement that began in the United States or Great Britain. Youths in the United Kingdom during the 1970’s suffered from a high rate of unemployment and entrenched social classes. Kids felt that there was no hope and little if no optimism for the future. With the continuing state of depression amongst certain people, the punk movement instantaneously captured the hearts of the lower and working class portions of society.

In the meantime, the American punk movement stemmed from frustration and anger from being treated as sheep and from the “politics of boredom”. The public was being spoon-fed music that corporations simply intended to make a profit from. Heartthrobs such as Donny Osmond ruled the charts and the initial backlash became known as punk rock. Punk rock started as a deliberate reaction to the mass commercialism of music.

The DIY way of thinking in the punk movement was to create their own way being that they were against any type of authority or system. Punk not only stood for the issues previously mentioned, but they fought for anti-sexism, anti-fashion, environmental preservation, animal rights, and basically, anything liberal. The punk support of anarchy fits in well with their belief that the government is oppressive and they call for individual freedom and control. The conviction of many punks is that the only way to achieve exact individual sovereignty is through the abolition of establishments which can create structure that restrict personal freedom. They feel that the government does not act in the best interest of people and therefore the individual knows what is best for them. Punks’ belief in anarchism is the cornerstone for the rest of the punk ideals. They felt that conformity was redundant and rejected on every possible front in order to seek the truth of to sometimes merely shock people. Being punk was being an outcast by choice, by habit, or by necessity. They were tired of the real values of the social order and carried ideas for damaging the image of what was seen as orthodox.

The same idea of tearing apart what was seen as mainstream in the music manifested its way into fashion in the same context. Similar to the music, the fashion in the punk subculture required taking articles of clothing with a specific meaning and redefining them. Their dress became a means of identification. For instance, while mainstream society was wearing three piece suites, the punk subculture was cutting up these suits and safety pinning them back together. Being working and lower class, they used anything they had including studs, chains, badges, and paint. The punks managed to shock mainstream society by creating styles that fell outside the social norms. Punks used anti-fashion to express their disgust at aspirations and pretensions of the middle and higher classes. They adopted clothing that was deliberately shocking and physically repellent. It was all do-it-yourself and that spelled rebellion.

While the scene in the U.S. remained small, the punk faction in Britain was being given considerable media attention. The media started to ignore the reasons behind punk actions and wrongly attached negative connotations to the subculture. Punk started receiving escalating media awareness only because it was thought to be outlandish and deplorable as to what was considered to be the norm. The punk movement received a bad reputation and had been characterized by self-destruction and violence. With more and more media coverage the music and the movement became increasingly popular.

The punks managed to create enough media interest that people started to question appropriate means of appearance and the fashion industry started to change. Fashion companies began to pick up on punk styles and sell them back into mainstream society. By 1976, Vogue infiltrated pages of their magazine with black clothing worn with aggressive accessories. In 1977, Zandra Rhodes unveiled her “Punk Chic” collection and Prada models walked down the runway with spiked hair. By the 1980’s, punks were able to buy punk fashions over the counter. As punk saw resurgence in 2003, designers such as Kenneth Cole, Prada, Bed Head, and Wella are using punk in their lines. Punk style that was once considered offensive was now considered high fashion.

Trendy stores began making millions off of “underground” fashions. This action in itself had defeated the punk ethic of anti-capitalism and anti-conformity. The punk movement with the intent to question conventionality through fashion soon lost its meaning when society had turned punk fashions into profit. Punk fashion harbored a love for the un-“natural” and by catapulting their look into exactly what they stood against was deemed to be insidious in their minds. The original shocking power punk once held through appearance dissipated once it hit mainstream culture. The marketing of the punk style contradicted the image of uniqueness and individuality.

Punk Rock, in its subculture, managed to break down many barriers of expression and language. It made an indentation in the commercial music industry, mainstream fashion and media, as well as our country as a whole. Punk, being so radical and appealing could easily and inevitable be turned into a lucrative marketing tool and be incorporated into mass popular culture. Though it seemed as though punks had little or no fashion sense, they were in a sense so anti-fashion that they made and even bigger avowal. In the past, punk made social statements mostly in regard to the authority of the establishment.

These days, it has lost much of its political meaning in the attempt to be commercially viable. The true backbone of punk is in the ideals of the people and the music. The entire lifestyle of punk is entangled into a culture of its own; from the people, to the fashion, and through the music. But most of all, punk’s legacy lies in its introduction of self employment and activism. It illustrated that anyone can do it themselves, without reliance on the mercantile media or the luxury of having financial profusion. Against the backdrop of mass consumer conformity, the punk rock movement made a statement of individuality that was heard worldwide.

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