The Shape of Punk to Come

Pretty in punk. The punk playlist (one that would make Fat Mike spin in his oversized grave. If he’s dead yet…). ‘Add a touch of punk chic with blah blah blah’. I see it so often, it’s a wonder that the misappropriation and misdefining of the words punk, grunge and emo can even fill me with rage anymore. But, somehow, they do.Once upon a time, punk meant something. No, I don’t mean the sort of pseudo anarchistic bullshit put out by bands like The Sex Pistols (created by manager Malcolm McLaren with the sole intention of creating controversy, with Johnny Rotten leaving the band when he discovered that the band was as big a manufactured fraud as Leona Lewis), which is about as well thought out and meaningful as someone buying a V For Vendetta mask and deciding they’re a member of Anonymous.

Punk was never (just) about making a scene. The motivations behind punk vary from making a statement about gender (c.f. the asexual antics of Joan Jett, who refused to let the fact that she was female define her musical identity) to defying social conventions – here I’m thinking of the cathartic lyrics of Minor Threat and the birth of the straight edge movement. The medium of punk and screamo music may be distorted guitars and tight black clothes, but they are never the message.

From about 2000 onwards, all of that passion and meaning started being stripped away. When Versace released their collection inspired by Fight Club, they took something visceral and counter cultural and turned it into something devoid of substance. While I wouldn’t particularly recommend starting up a fight club or burning a lye kiss onto your hand (both of which men did in droves did after Fight Club was released) I will forever have more respect for those who did that than industry airheads who thought sewing razorblades into a shirt made ‘like, such a statement.’

While there’s something brash and Fight Club-esque about brands like The Ragged Priest (who, admittedly, I kinda like) buying up vintage denim, tie-bleaching it, putting some spikes on it and ripping out the labels, only to export it back to mainstream stores with a hugely inflated price tag, I hate the way it commodifies the DIY ethos of punk and skramz. Almost as much as I hate girls who wear Ramones t-shirts and don’t know any of their songs besides Blitzkrieg Bop.

A couple of years back, Vice published a piece about leather jackets. The piece really resonated with me because of the way each jacket seemed to tell a story, which is (to me) what fashion is all about. Yes, Jeremy Scott’s winged Adidas shoes are pretty out there, but I like them because they remind me of Hermes (that’s the winged messenger god, not the brand). They send an implicit message about the desire to reach new heights, and delivering divine messages. Yes, if I ever manage to scrimp together the cash to buy a pair, I’ll probably joke that they make me feel like a 21st century Hermes with a blog.

The current trend of buying studded…well, everything, completely undermines the impetus behind it. Manufactured studs, spikes and acid washes that come as standard are truly style without substance. And that’s not punk.


  1. Jake

    The power and speed of the high street means that any emerging subculture is being sold to the masses before it’s even fully emerged. Designer brands selling DIY clothing is quite infuriating. I only put two and two together and realised the other day that people buy ripped jeans to look as if they wear them everyday and do some form of manual labor. When you look at the prices of some of these distressed jeans it really has to make you laugh at fashion.

  2. Sian

    I had a goth phase a little while ago (well, not that little, about 14 years) so I’m a little bit over ‘dressing to shock’. I think the only people I ever really shocked was my parents anyway. But I did buy some studded shoes recently, and they’re pretty fabulous. It’s got nothing to do with punk for me, it’s more an alternative take on something usually so delicate (in this case, glittery ballet pumps).

    The only reason I buy things now is because they look nice. You don’t always have to be making a statement, even with spikes and studs, sometimes it’s just an aesthetic that appeals. Sometimes I just like stuff.

    • stu

      Hmm, spiky glittery pumps are kind of a different ball game. Their focus is more on being discordance (IS THAT A WORD?) than anything else.

      I think my slightly obsessive personality makes it difficult for me to just ‘like stuff’ – I usually find myself getting very ‘into’ the ethos and lifestyle that come with it…but, as ever, it’s just a personal thing!

      • Sian

        Yeah, I think I worded that badly. Obviously there’s more to it than ‘I like that’, but I’ve stopped buying and wearing things because I think it’ll make me ‘more punk’ or ‘more goth’. When I say I just like stuff, what I think I meant was that I choose to wear what I want to wear because I like it, rather than it’s what all of the cool kids are wearing.

  3. Kathryn

    Interesting post. Can’t help but disagree with you about the Sex Pistols/Malcolm McLaren though. Image/fashion was crucial from the start, and Johnny Rotten (and the other members) knew it. Punk was genuinely alarming and frightening to people, and the style was a large part of that. There was no takeover attempt by the mainstream fashion establishment (which didn’t exist in the way it does today). But obviously there’s a lot more to it than just studding some denim cut-offs.

    If you haven’t read ‘England’s Dreaming’, I highly recommend it, it’s an amazing book about the cultural history of punk.

    • stu

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, I believe that Rotten knew image was key – I think what he really objected to was the way he was exploited by McLaren. It’s weird that he went on to do all that experimental new wave-y kinda stuff though; implies his heart wasn’t in punk (whatever THAT phrase means…), which is what I’m getting at in this post.

      I’ll check out the book, would definitely be keen to read more on the subject!

  4. Violetta

    Yes! This trend of the DIY-looking mass produced clothes peeves me to no end. It’s an oximoron. I see DIY as a way to convey a message, to add some personal character or an unique emblem to a piece of clothing (uh, or sometimes as a way to recreate something that I just don’t have the cash for). Also, to create (or alter) something with your own hands gives you a sense of achievement and lasting satisfaction that is very unique.

    Oh, and I liked your example of punkness about Joan Jett and her resistance to let her gender define her musical identity. I think that’s the main reason why I never identified with either with this Riot girrrl bands or contemporary feminists: Gender equity is not going to be achieved by constantly pointing out “I do this and I am a woman” as if looking for some sort of special recognition for being female and good at something (usually something that is traditionally perceived as belonging to the “male field”).


    • stu

      Hey Violetta,

      Interested to read your views on contemporary feminists – I have to say that’s exactly why I’m not such a fan of the whole ‘women in tech’ movement, because it seems like it could come across as being patronising to women who are just ‘getting on with it’. But that’s just my two cents!