Dressing for Pleasure: Punk Fashion
by Jason Gubbels | May 27, 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's punk clothing exhibition ("Punk: Chaos to Couture") illustrates punk fashion's slow journey from the rough streets of New York and London to the glitzy runways of, well, New York and London. Maybe you're eager to see how Richard Hell's torn T-shirts made their way into fashion catalogs. Maybe institutionalizing punk rock makes you retch. In either case, why not investigate what the actual first-line punks (and their followers) thought about fashion, clothing and accessories?
Punk D.I.Y. was a combination of utilitarianism and irony, so it's no surprise few punks had any interest in fashion hierarchy: Johnny Rotten utilized safety pins to literally keep old clothes from falling apart (Patrik Fitzgerald and Wreckless Eric pay musical tribute to the all-purpose pin). Still, footwear was pretty popular, from red shoes (Elvis Costello, The Raincoats) and "Flares and Slippers" (Cockney Rejects), to NOFX hating on Birkenstocks (trousers run a close second for punk attention, whether baggy or Trevira).
Clothing also helped distinguish sellouts and poseurs from the old guard, as witness The Clash gently warning kids about "New Boots and Contracts" or Television Personalities identifying "Part Time Punks" by their weekend outfits. And you'll routinely encounter anti-fashion rhetoric, whether it's Billy Bragg outlining class divisions or Bikini Kill claiming the "Rebel Girl" on her tricycle has the best fashion sense in town. Check out Beat Happening praising a simple "Ponytail" over perms and wigs, Oh-Ok snickering over same perms ("Lilting"), or fIREHOSE offering praise unto everyday flannel. Plus, Chrissie Hynde brags about spending Saturday nights "Watching the Clothes" spin around in the laundromat. Plugging quarters into public washing machines -- how's that for punk haute couture?