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Your lifestyle, your quirk
Walk down a bustling city street on any given day and you’ll be besieged by different styles – the guy with the baggy pants and major bling, the girl with the black skinny jeans whose tee makes an ironic proclamation, the couple with the dreads sporting psychedelic colors and hemp accessories, the androgynous person with numerous facial piercings and fishnet sleeves, and the list goes on (and on, and on). Even in my relatively quiet suburban neighborhood, it’s easy to see the cliques. The teens with oversized, safety pin-adorned jeans and backwards hats are sure to be hanging out behind the school after hours with their skateboards. A gaggle of girls in vintage garb all walk home together. Even the soccer moms are easy to spot as they congregate in their TNA pants, zip-up hoodies and New Balances, planning out the next week’s carpool schedule.
Those people are expressing themselves through their style choices, but while many are asserting their individuality from mainstream culture and style, they remain part of distinctive subcultures that share common characteristics. A subculture is a set of people with distinct sets of behavior and beliefs that differentiate them from a larger culture of which they are a part. A few examples of popular subcultures that the majority of us are probably somewhat familiar with are punks, goths, jocks, preps, hipsters, metalheads, hippies, and emos, but the list goes on, and there are probably many that most of us would not be able to identify. Subcultures may be distinct for many reasons, including the age of their members, or their ethnicity, class and/or gender, and the qualities that determine a subculture as distinct may be aesthetic, religious, occupational, political, sexual or a combination of factors.
Subcultures are nothing new. In the 1920s, dandy men and flapper girls prevailed in America – easily identifiable by their red lipstick, hair plastered to the head with lacquer and sequined dresses for girls, and pressed tweed suits with bowler hats for men. The youth of that day hung out in backstreet jazz clubs drinking moonshine and playing cards like something straight out of an old-school gangster movie.
Later, the greaser look and culture of the ’50s can be summed up by one popular film…yup, you guessed it: Grease (duh). It was all about tight jeans, tighter t-shirts, and slicked back hair for the boys, and coiffured hair and poodle skirts for the ladies. You could find products of the greaser culture hangin’ at the milkshake bar near the jukebox.
In the early ’60s, rockers were the rougher version of greasers. To be part of this club, you needed a mean-looking motorbike, long hair, and at least a little ink…plus some major attitude (think Hell’s Angels – a subculture that’s still going strong today). Later in the decade came the birth of one of the most iconic looks of all time (and one which is still popular) – the hippie. As seen at Woodstock, the laid-back hippie was all about flower power, color, peace and love, baby!
And who could forget the ’80s, with its over-the-top style being one of the most identifiable? The hair was big (for ladies and men) and synthesizers rocked the airwaves. The glam rockers were all about colored leggings and Fame-inspired legwarmers, whereas the New Romantics like Prince preferred a darker look, complete with black denim, makeup, and shiny shoes.
The ’90s music scene born in Seattle gave birth to a grunge subculture characterized by long, knitted jumpers and super-scruffy jeans (think Kurt Cobain) and an angsty attitude that was about being above the superficial.
More recently, rappers like 50 Cent and Jay-Z have popularized the gangsta style, with jeans getting lower and baggier than ever, and boxers commonly making an appearance. Clothing lines such as FUBU and Rocawear help provide clothes that are all about the street lifestyle that the gansta represents.
The fact that there are so many subcultures in our society are part of what makes it great – and it also creates a lot of fun, unique, and interesting style trends. In our Subversive Style series, I’m excited to explore a different subculture every week and break down not only their fashion, but also their ideals. So tell me, what subcultures are you most interested in?