Style and Rebellion

Before this class, I had read some excerpts of Dick Hebdige’s book Subculture: The Meaning of Style in a class on fashion history while getting certified in fashion merchandising at a community college. I thought it was interesting to reread the text in the new context of FemTech as opposed to within the fashion world, as it focuses more on the academic significance of communicating rebellion against mainstream through different subcultures. In the fashion program, I had learned that fashion has a long history (dating back centuries) of visually communicating an individual’s cultural experience to others. In Dick Hebdige’s book, style is connected to music, dance, drug-use, and political ideologies, to become a signifier of rebellion in English youth subcultures through the 1970s. His discussion of the evolution of the niche subcultures including Teddy boys, Mods, Skinheads, and of course punks can now be viewed in the retrospective history of music which has several bands, concert culture, and musical genres stemming from them. I remember learning about the connection between punk, ska, and reggae during this time period as the forms of music were often played together during the same concerts. It might be a surprise to some that ska and punk were raised in the same world as skinheads and punks during the 1970s because of the current division between the racially tied musical genres. Yet Hebdige, as well as the 1970s youth rebellion community, saw that these forms of subculture each had the same underlying frustrations and political ideologies about the hegemonic culture of the time in England. Although members of each subculture Hebdige examines might argue that their group is distinct from other subcultures, Hebdige connects them all through their style. He purports that these styles have the underlying messages of rebellion within the context of the subculture.

While reading Hebdige’s discussion on the diversion of subcultural style back into the mainstream, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the 2013 Met Gala titled, “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” which documents and celebrates the commodification of punk style into haute couture fashion.

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 In this video, Pat Mcgrath explains her own experiences with punk rock as a young girl in the 1970s, and how she got her start as a make-up artist. She is now considered the most powerful MUA in the fashion industry. For the Met Gala she exemplifies the process of subversion as she “…pulls inspiration from Siouxsie Sioux…Soo Catwoman, and a little bit of haute couture.” The orginal punk style created by the likes of Siouxsie Sioux Soo Catwoman was deigned to rebel against hegemonic structural fashion of the time, only to be replicated in the most significant event in the fashion industry just decades later.

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The fashion world has a propensity for subverting “street styles” back into the mainstream, a process the fashion world describes in economic terms as the “trickle-up effect.” There are several powerful fashion figures that made their way during the punk rock era, and pull from these subcultural styles for “inspiration,” which then triggers the process of commodification as the haute couture trickles back down into the ready-to-wear fashion market. Hebdige does an excellent job of breaking down this process of commodification in which subcultural style is at first rejected as threatening and ostracized by the mainstream, the recognized as “cool,”and subverted into the mainstream. This first brings positive attention and a larger community to the subculture, but quickly dilutes the “spirit” or ideologies of the subculture as mainstream industrial businesses take the style and mimic it in the process of commodification.

 

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