Subculture of Punk: Wearing, Music, Values and Ideas

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Table of contents

  1. Stevenson, Ray. A photograph of Jonny Rotten, 1976
  2. Punks wearing Dr. Martens, 1983
  3. Conclusion

A subculture is a group of individuals with the same interests that oppose social norms in society. it is a culture division within a larger culture with separate values and practices unique to them. Subcultures can have an important role in an individual’s identity, through the connection between the subcultures and the dominant culture is likely one of authority. With the status of individuals within the dominant culture could give them the power to define aspects of the subculture through processes of labelling which can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Punk movement offers a different perception and significance to youths subordinate status reinterpreting the social worlds. Punks express themselves predominantly in the way they dress and present themselves, their lifestyle and music preferences. A subcultural capital creates an identity describing how a person’s taste can be swayed by their parents. The parent's social position will most often affect their children’s future personality and preference. The subculture capital is constantly beneath the elite and focuses on the proletariat. Thus resulting in a symbolic subcultural capital that imparts a ranking position within two classes of society. The subcultural capital characterises the culture through methods which are primarily fashion, music, literature. They conform to portray a certain image that society is enforcing unto them. I will be focusing on the punk movement in London. Punk was defying mainstream as an alternative fashion and anti-fashion. The punk movement revolutionised high-street fashion trends, media and politics.

The beginning of punk is widely attributed to the rebellion against the British government popularised by bands like Sex Pistols. In fact, punk rock originated from Lima, Peru over a decade before. The first punk band, Los Saicos was a group of 4 delinquents formed in 1961 which became the founding fathers of punk rock. Their song lyrics focused on demolishing, deaths of others and fights. Within a short span, they became widely successful within the country. Thirteen years later, the punk movement took off in England. The music itself derives from garage rock and made its way to London streets with Sex Pistols and Vivienne Westwood popularising the punk movement in Britain.

Punk questioned government authority incorporating their music, lively energy and a strong passion for an alternative way of music that represents the punk ideology in the musical form due to the dissatisfaction with the political positions filled with angsts and criticism.

An individual’s style, values and actions are a key way to identify the social setting they belong to. “Every object may be viewed.. as a sign” (Dick, Hebdige. Subculture the meaning of style. Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1979. Print.) For instance, the do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) clothing once served a purpose to up-cycle existing pieces for a new look, express one’s style and opinions but also a form of rebellion when taken into context with punk adaptation. Whereby the use of D.I.Y. in punk fashion was a reaction against 1970s postmodern consumerism. It provides an alternate way of living for people to thrive on. Contrary to before, subcultures of the present do not have easily identifiable consistency of style. Similar to every other alternative fashion, punk started as a response in questioning institutional power while possessing passion and liveliness in punk music a change in perspective that constitutes punk ideology.

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Punk fashion resembles 1950s Greasers, with tight fitted shirts, jeans and studded leather jackets but with a twist. Punk aims to challenge conformed norms of fashion and embrace androgyny. Fashion designers like Malcolm McLaren, who was also the manager of the band Sex Pistols, and Vivienne Westwood, orchestrated a stylistic revolution in the 1970s London punk scene. Vivienne Westwood drew most of her inspiration from sexual themes. Her t-shirts were plastered with sexual risque graphics and materials like leather, rubber and vinyl from bondage and sadomasochism (BDSM). She also incorporated elements of D.I.Y., which plays a major part in punk fashion, with tattered and torn jeans and shirts held together with safety pins and tape written with markers and splashed with paint. Tartan kilts, laddered fishnets and Doc Martens were worn by women to challenge androgyny. Extreme hairdos, body piercings and an aggressive stance all tested the boundaries of social acceptability. To be vilified for your stance was a badge of honour, not a condemnation. Hairstyles played a part with spiky Mohawks and vibrant colours were key in tying their whole look together. People within the Punk subculture often kept a part of their favourite band with them by attaching pin-back buttons or patches unto their jackets. People within the Punk subculture intentionally went overboard in everything they do, from choosing iron cross tattoos and Nazi swastika symbols while being anti-religious and anti-racist. The extremeness was all for pure shock content to disturb bystanders. People within the Punk subculture practice these methods in order to express mockery of traditional ways.

This way of behaviour wrecks the form and unity within the structured society and thrives from the shock value of its style. People within the Punk subculture wanted to make a statement with their choice of fashion and outward appearance to revolt against high fashion and the hippie subculture of that era.

Stevenson, Ray. A photograph of Jonny Rotten, 1976

The safety pin garnered attention when it became an emblem for the punk movement in the 1970s. Utilised by punk designers, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood began to include safety pins in their designs. The original use of safety pins was for functional reasons. For example to temporarily fasten 2 pieces of fabric together where it can easily be removable at the same time. However, people within the Punk subculture used it because they needed something to hold their intentionally ripped clothes. The safety pins slowly became a fashion accessory serving a role in the subculture. Setting apart from the

Safety pins were further on used as facial jewellery in replacement of traditional piercing studs. Punk began as a form for freedom of expression in one’s style and music without a look. Quickly formed its own recognisable style having the safety pin become its most distinguishable element that signifies punk. The safety pin became a symbol of punk’s unsystematic and D.I.Y. ethics. These D.I.Y. ethics are crucial in the punk subculture as punk music is a dominant part with the fundamental element of socialisation. The nature of a hands-on project enables a person to have a sense of accomplishment.

Joe Corre, the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren burned his archive of punk memorabilia to condemn the fashion system and consumer culture. “Punk was never meant to be nostalgic - and you can’t learn how to be one at a Museum of London workshop” “Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need. The illusion of alternative choice. Conformity in another uniform.” Questions the symbolic value of clothes.

Punks wearing Dr. Martens, 1983

Dr Martens aided a variety of British subcultures like punk and skinheads. First introduced over 50 years ago, Dr Martens have formed a physical representation of one’s character. Dr Martens has withstood decades and adopted different subcultures. Worn by policemen and celebrities to rebellious teens. Though just being boots, Dr Martens have been in countless different music genres, fashion and politics. Dr Martens was the first boots to come to England the maker, Klaus Martens was a doctor who had experience working as a clobber when he was younger. He received an injury while skiing when he enlisted in the German army. The common military boots that supplied was uncomfortable and pushed him to make shoes of a better standard.

The boot was made to serve a function but became to serves a style. Dr Martens was popular among factory workers for its sturdy but mendable leather making it comfortable yet heavy duty. Pete Townshend performed in Dr Martens boots and speaking highly of them, expressing love for its air-cushion soles that made dancing and jumping around a breeze. It passed on to punks adopting the style and as seen on bands like Sex Pistols which lead fans and punks alike to incorporate these boots into a key part their style. The Sex Pistols album cover of ‘God save the Queen’ single used an image of the Queen Elizabeth’s face in blue and silver 7” sleeve released on 27th of May 1977, two years after the song was originally released. The portrait was exploited in numerous methods. Tearing out the eyes and mouth to words that form the album name. There were many variations of the artwork by various people like Vivienne Westwood who added safety pins unto the lips and printed it on a top. The imaged was used in posters with the addition of the Union Jack flag. The signifier is the imagery of the Queen’s eyes and mouth covered by text and the signified is the Queen having no say, no power and indicating that she is incompetent. The song itself provoked controversy and was banned but it did not stop the high demands and topped charts. The punk movement is a significant affair that has remained throughout the decades. The original ideologies still hold it's value. Born of the dissatisfactory of youths who felt the need for their voices to be heard. They felt oppressed by authorities and held a strong sense of justice against the politicise cultural practices. Punk was different from other subcultures prior to it, by having a self-destructive element in their concept. Punk focused on androgynising and removal of beauty which mocked fashion and beauty industries going against them. The bold aspects of punk, fashion statements and behavioural attitude rejecting commercialism and conformity.


  1. How has Punk changed till today? (50-100 words) Punk has become an inspiration and a form of “art” today. It can be found in museums and became an attraction defining a part of British cultural history. Punk today is very subdued, totally different from the original concept of punk in the past. People today mainly mimic the clothes in a much tone down version. However the true essence of punk is not just about the aesthetics of clothing and style, it is about the expression of oneself, standing up for something you strongly believe in or going against a cause for something. Punk has been commercialised and many people are just after the aesthetics which loses the main essence of something so unique and different in youth culture that went out of it’s reach to voice out their opinions. Punk sold a lifestyle and spirit of energy that have seem to be forgotten and overlapped by the daring and bold appearance. People do not just listen to one genre of music like people of the past. People are exposed to many genres and enjoy each of them equally.
  2. Has Punk & the designed items influenced other cultures / sub-cultures? become mainstream? or is it a unique niche only within Punk (100 words) Punk has expanded into many micro categories e.g. grunge, steampunk, seapunk and so on. Dr Martens has resurfaced into following subcultures after punk like grunge. Dr Martens have also become a fashion statement to all sorts of people not solely a specific group or subculture. Owning a pair of Dr Martens does not make you a punk. Fashion itself has become very broad and more acceptable of pushing boundaries.
  3. Is the Punk subculture relevant today? What form does it take and have the designed items changed? Punk in the fashion industry has changed from chaos to couture. The punk style once opposed everything about fashion and it’s industry, now turns to punk for inspiration. Even in couture where it would never be possible in the past, something so bizarre and insulting like punk becoming chic and high fashion was unheard of. The safety pins are a great example of this, whereby the safety pin is a cheap small piece of metal that was used a a fashion statement in clothes and as replacement of facial jewellery. Now, the safety pin can be seen as actual jewellery and used as material to make an entire dress. The use of safety pins can be seen in works of designers like John Paul Gautier and Marc Jacobs. In 2016, the safety pin was used as a form of protest against the election of Donald Trump. The safety pin was worn by men as a sign to support the victims who were ostracised by Trump during his election campaigns.
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