6 Popular Fashion Subcultures
Updated: May 2
Fashion subcultures are communities organized around or based upon certain features of costume, appearance, and accessories that make them recognizable as a subset of the wider culture. These communities are bound by common interests, such as a certain lifestyle, circumstances, or a particular genre of music. These interests, along with the societal influence, initiate trends that converge into subcultures.
These subcultures are also referred to as alternative fashion. Although they emerged as a way of rebelling against societal standards and trends, today they have inspired many aspects of popular culture and fashion. There are many subcultures, like punk, grunge, goth, biker, hippie, lolita, mod, rock, minimalism, pin-up, emo, hip-hop, steampunk, etc. Today we will talk about 6 of these subcultures, which have had the biggest influence on modern contemporary fashion as we know it now.
Left to right: Bondage suit, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, 1976, England.
Seditionaries ensemble, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, 1976, England
Punk is a subculture of fashion born out of anarchism in the United States in the 1970s. This was largely inspired by the punk rock music scene, and it wasn’t just considered a music genre or fashion, but a lifestyle and outlook on life. Early punk fashion was anti-materialistic and rebellious, with short hairstyles and dirty, simple clothes.
When Malcolm McLaren was in New York City working with the New York Dolls, he was influenced by the punk fashion scene and brought it back to London. He opened a shop with his partner Vivienne Westwood in London, called “Sex”, that sold fetishwear. McLaren launched the Sex Pistols punk music group, and soon, the duo’s often provocative and offensive designs became a sensation amongst the youth. Due to her pioneering designs in this era, Vivienne Westwood is considered “the mother of punk”.
The main elements of punk fashion include ripped denim, studs, badges, spiked hair or mohawks, torn T-shirts, safety pins, leather skirts, chokers, fishnet, and heavy makeup. We can see many adaptations of these elements in modern fashion, such as distressed denim and leather jackets.
Yohji Yamamoto Fall 2021
Gothic fashion is a style of clothing marked by dark colors and a mysterious, antiquated vibe.
Gothic fashion originally flourished from 1200 AD to 1450 AD. In the early period (1200-1350 AD), outfits were more graceful and sophisticated, with simple cuts and flowing draped fabric. Dresses were longer with deep necklines. In the late gothic period (1350-1450 AD) fabrics became much stiffer, and the main focus was the upper silhouette, with tight belts, padded doublets, crisp pleats, and leg-o-mutton sleeves being the main features of the style.
The contemporary goth scene emerged in the 1980s as a result of the punk movement. Goth fashion borrowed some elements from punk, such as the bulky black Doc Martens boots and shredded, DIY clothing. However, while punk was much bolder and described as “ultramodern”, goth was gentle and more romantic. It was inspired by Victorian and Elizabethan fashion. Some of the main elements of this style included black or dark clothes, pale faces, long dark hair, and dark makeup. Several designers also adopted elements of Traditional Goth in their collections, like Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen, and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Variations of goth emerged, like Haute Goth, Cyber Goth, Pastel Goth, and Gothic Lolita.
Emo is a genre of music that originated in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a style of post-hardcore music. It was then known as emotional hardcore and emocore and originated in Washington D.C. This music was characterized by emotional lyrics often dealing with the past, loss, and angst. My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Fall Out Boy are bands commonly associated with this subculture.
Emo, as a distinct subculture, emerged in the 1990s and has a distinct style. Often described as “geek chic”, emo clothing is often dark and casual, and is often several sizes smaller than the right size, to ensure as tight of a fit as possible. Black skinny jeans, graphic T-shirts with emo bands on them, and patterns like checks, stripes, and plaid are typical of emo fashion. Leggings and socks in loud colors and heavy eye makeup are also common. Arguably the most popular emo look is black hair, sometimes with bright colored streaks, with long sweeping bangs that cover one or both eyes.
Hippie fashion emerged in the 1970s, as a rebellious response to the strict social standards and values of the 1950s and 1960s. Hippies had a carefree ideology, with a “peace and love” attitude. The style was loose, free-flowing, and leisurely. It symbolized freedom and sexual liberation for the youth of the era.
Hippies often wore clothes with floral, bold, intricate, and psychedelic patterns. The fashion was often inspired by non-Western cultures like Native American, Asian, African and Latin American. Light and flowy fabrics gained popularity, like cotton, chiffon, and rayon. Hippie fashion often discarded gender norms, with men sporting long hair, wearing floral prints and loose silhouettes. Women wore skirts and dresses of all lengths, from maxi dresses to miniskirts. Bell bottom and flared jeans in denim, polyester, and velvet became quite popular, as did crafts such as crochet, tie-dye, and macrame. These garments were accessorized with excessive beaded jewelry, headscarves, and headbands.
People that were a part of the hippie movement endorsed buying second-hand from flea markets and thrift shops and making clothes themselves. The effects of this ideology and style can be seen even today!
5. Hip hop
Pharrell Williams and Nigo
Hip hop fashion, also known as urban fashion, is a distinctive style of dressing originating in the underground Black and Latino communities of New York City in the 1970s. Influenced heavily by rap music, it became a global art and culture movement for the hip-hop community to express themselves.
Hip hop fashion has continuously changed throughout its history. In the late 1970s and mid-1980s, it was a combination of sportswear and prep. Tracksuits and chains were popular during this time, made even more popular by the group Run DMC. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, hip-hop fashion began to reflect more of African culture. Clothing brands like Nike, Adidas, Fila started to collaborate with hip-hop artists. Hip-hop fashion also influenced high-fashion designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Chanel to incorporate urban elements into their collections. Artists like girl group Salt-N-Pepa and R&B singer Aaliyah created trends in feminine hip-hop fashion, like baggy pants paired with tight crop tops. In the mid to early 1990s, designer hip-hop fashion became more popular and became a part of the culture. A designer suit with sunglasses and a hat was a look that more and more people adopted.
In the 2000s, hip-hop vocalist Pharrell Williams partnered with Japanese designer Nigo to create the label Billionaire Boys Club (BBC). This combined elements of hip-hop fashion with street skating trends, creating the style known as streetwear. This marked the point where hip-hop became accepted as a part of the fashion world. Today, you can see hoodies, sweatpants, chains, baggy pants, and sneakers on the streets and the runway alike. This is the influence of hip-hop on modern fashion.
Yohji Yamamoto 1983
Minimalism originated as an artistic movement in the 1960s in New York when artists like Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, and Frank Stella decided to defy the stifling rules of fine art. In the 1980s, Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake became the pioneers of this movement in fashion. They used unconventional fabrics like polyester, PVC, Lycra, etc. By exploring large shapes and silhouettes and layering of distressed fabrics, they also challenged the gender stereotypes of the West and changed the global perception of fashion forever. Soon, European designers like Helmut Lang and Jil Sander and American designers like Calvin Klein and Donna Karan adopted this aesthetic, although each designer had a different take on it. It was in this era that Maison Martin Margiela pioneered deconstructionism. Margiela’s only focus was on the garment itself, and he transformed and modified it to explore the function and movement of the fabrics. He was lauded for his technical prowess and his anti-fashion principles.
Today, minimalism has become a way to focus on practicality and functionality. Minimalism is a more responsible way of shopping for clothes, as these pieces often stay in style for a long time. Therefore, minimalism has also become an important virtue in the era of sustainable and ethical fashion.
These are some subcultures that we can see the impact of all around us. It is important to note that they aren’t exclusive. On the contrary, many elements are borrowed from other subcultures from the past, or existing at the same time! Knowing about the history and important aspects of various types of alternative fashion can help us reinvent our style by picking elements of our choice from each.
- Maitreyee Joshi.