Punk is the banner of iconoclasm. It is one of the most enduring trends that’s ever invaded the music scene, bringing with it a new kind of rebellion, political change and a way of life that’s extended to fashion and culture. Punk stripped rock music of its guitar solos and flashy clothes and made the music harder, faster and louder. It embraced underclass and left wing politics, and with it, destruction, drugs, and DIY. Punk music then branched off into so many different subcultures (hardcore, straight-edge, riot grrl, ska punk etc…) that the umbrella term punk seemed to lose it’s meaning. What is still punk?
Punk is elusive. It’s one of the few qualifying terms that still genuinely holds water and lends authenticity to a person’s character, a band’s music, or a person’s outfit.
What is it about punk that feels so authentic? Punk has been, and continues to be a major counter-culture that centers on individuals existing on the fringe of society. They defy the status quo, and seek to bring about change or improvement through their music, image or politics. Punks are the grassroots movers and shakers, the chaps who seek to lead by example. Punk feels authentic because it is.
The fashion is as well. Generally self constructed, or bought at a cheap price, punk fashion is usually an eclectic assortment of clothes that define the wearer. Sometimes it’s as in your face as the Mohawk and the spiked leather jacket, or as understated as Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat) in a white t-shirt and gym shorts. Image is self-expression, and self-expression is punk.
Three figures stand out due to their genuine courage, powerful dissident statuses, and ability to affect change and awareness through their image and music. The Ramones, The Clash and Bikini Kill are all giants in the culture, and icons for their fashion. In the striking and enduring uniform of the Ramones, the eclectic, politically inspired outfits of the Clash or the socially aggressive, satirical outfits of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, there is no question that these figures attacked norms, set trends and sparked a world wide counter-culture through their style and image
The Ramones are the original punk band. With songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Want to Be Sedated,” the Ramones stripped rock music down to its roots, sped it up and played it harder. They were catchy, fast and adventurous, burning “Hey, Ho, Let’s Go!” into the mind of every fan.
Their music was minimalist, as was their style. They donned a uniform of ripped jeans, Converse shoes, shaggy hair and the iconic leather jacket. This uniform made them appear more like a street gang reminiscent of The Warriors rather than the wild hair and flashy, flared, gaudy outfits of disco groups. The style was, and is, bold and striking with a dark, intimidating charm.
These were the men who made the leather jacket what it is today, and who were responsible for the immense popularity of Converses and ripped jeans (which come pre-ripped these days). Although they were hardly trying to be, these men are enduring fashion icons.
The Clash, led by the great Joe Strummer, sought to bring revolution pounding at the door of Thatcher’s England. They defined punk, as well as contributed to both Reggae and Ska. Their eclectic style, and highly politicized lyrics were reflected largely in their clothing. Joe Strummer caused a huge scandal when showing his support for the Brigade Rosse (the Italian Red Brigade) and the IRA (Irish Republican Army), two violent yet idealistic left wing terrorist organizations, by wearing t-shirts with their logos. Joe Strummer basked in controversy and his James Dean-esque good looks and rebel attitude made him and The Clash poster boys for Punk Rock. Much like their music style, the Clash’s fashion sense was eclectic.
Ranging from tailored suits and creepers to leather jackets and political patches, the Clash proved that originality is the backbone of punk.
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill is the rebel girl of the 90’s. A notorious third wave feminist and political/social activist, Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill are credited with the invention of the Riot Grrl movement. The movement challenged accepted gender norms and championed female liberty. In her manner of dress, Hanna strikingly dressed like a 1950’s housewife in combat boots with SLUT or INCEST written in permanent marker across her chest. Bikini Kill was as in your face as they come, seeing as Hanna had open feuds with many other musicians such as Courtney Love and Fat Mike.
I can’t write an article on punk and then go and tell you to buy something. That would be self-defeating. The mantra of punk is DIY, and so I will recommend that as an approach to fashion (and life). Work with what clothes you have, be adventurous in your pairings, stay away from large stores and sure, dive through thrift stores for something that expresses more personality. You can even go so far as learning to sew, and in that way alter what you have and build your own wardrobe from scratch.
Punk legends never tried to be fashionable. In fact, they tried harder to be unfashionable. They tried to visibly express their ideology or their lifestyle in what they wore. That would be my main advice: find something you truly believe in and do your best to express it in what you wear. In most scenarios you can say more with less.
These boots seem never to go out of style. They function well as winter boots and have a life longer than any other pair of clothes you’ll own. The more you wear them, the better they look. You can dress them up with a rolled cuff to accentuate the boots. For girls you can you pull a Kathleen Hanna and pair it with a dress, giving that thrift store find immediate credibility.
The leather jacket is an all time classic, and with so many different cuts or styles you can really control your level of investment in how punk you’re willing to look. The standard Ramones’ leather jacket (bought at least one size smaller) is the classic look.
Customize with patches and studs at will. The denim jacket can also be highly personalized: a neutral article of clothing which can be added to and tailored to fit your character. Large patches on the back, or pins on the pocket add a further edge.
Plaid seems to have worked its way into almost every subculture imaginable, though the punks certainly have the best claim to it. Originally worn in solidarity with the working class or as a mockery to the tartans of the old British aristocracy, wearing plaid used to be a statement—and it still can be. But try to pick a darker, more traditional plaid to pair with a leather jacket or personalized denim jacket.
The White T-shirt
Hardly any piece of clothing has ever come close to touching the impact this simplistic, neutral, inexpensive article. Punk legends like the Ramones, Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye help to evolve this classic from the rocker to the punk rocker. This classic looks great under a dark jacket, on top of jeans and black denim, and if you’ve already committed to tattoos (another, more permanent, punk rock accessory), nothing will make them appear more striking and vivid.
Skinny Black Denim