♫ I am a poseur and I don't care
I like to make people stare ♪
I like to make people stare ♪
- I Am A Poser, X-Ray Spex
Someone recently suggested to me that, presumably, I don’t dress as a punk for ‘aesthetic reasons’.
I was wearing my trousers covered in band patches and my hoodie covered in band patches (and an Adventure Time patch).
I’ve always felt like my love for wearing band t-shirts and patches of bands was to turn myself into something of a cloth-billboard. To represent and give a platform for the bands that I appreciated. I wrote a blog about it some three years past.
Clothes have always been an integral part of certain parts of punk. The Ramones uniformity in their leather jackets helped further the myth they were all brothers, and helped stylised the ‘family’ aspect of their music, attracting the weirdoes, outsiders and misfits to their mutant pop. Of course McLaran and Westwood using punk to plug their SEX wears is well-documented in the history of the Sex Pistols. The Clash also enjoyed the sloganeering on their clothes. And this style filtered into the scene, who donned the array of safety pins, piercings, spiky hair and ripped clothes which then rebounded back into the music when those fans became bands.
The next wave of UK82 punk fitted the generic pattern of painted leather, Mohawks, piercings and patches. So what you get is a circular pool of style that rotates round. The style evolves as bands inspire fans who become bands to inspire fans.
There are bands that take their costumes to extended lengths. Devo’s post-punk discordant music is the soundtrack to their bizarre boiler suit appearance. Aquabats present as a super-hero squad, and the late great Frank Sidebottom playing all his gigs adorned with a gigantic head like a warped crown. Famously the Dead Kennedys lampooned the music industry with ties and shirts that portrayed $ signs. Nowadays bands like Yorkshire’s Snakerattlers and Nosebleed perform in Americana blues get-ups to reflect their musical sound.
There is also something interesting about a rejection of a costume. The Undertones local lads look of jumpers, parkas and jeans reflected their simple, but beautifully effective, pop-punk. This uncomplicated honest presentation seems the opposite end of the spectrum to the star-spanglyness of rock and prog bands of the late 70s. No time for glitter, go to pop down the park for a kick about.
Onstage, punks costume can signify unity and camaraderie (The Specials, The Ramones) or a spiky hotchpotch of influences and personalities (Rancid, The Clash). It can be a fierce don’t-fuck-with-me-ness using the body with unflinching agency (Bikini Kill, G.L.O.S.S.) or invoke other styles and ideas (Mischief Brew’s romantic troubadour visage). And of course, that is echoed outside of gigs in the ‘real world’.
The look becomes part of the act, it becomes visual as well as aural. It becomes a whole parcel of identity.
When I got into punk, I remember owned about 5 t-shirts I loved dearly for a good period of time. I didn’t put any patches on anything, I had a leather jacket and my love for the Ramones and desire to keep something clean and pure (like books) meant I didn’t want to paint it.
Eventually I went through a good few years really enjoying customising my clothes. I have a hoody devoted to queer and feminist bands (adapted from an Against Me! Hoody). I have a ‘nerd punk’ hoody, and folk-punk trousers. Just like my love for exploring genre and eras, I do like defining my clothes.
The confidence of this look comes from championing these bands (and politics). There’s a confidence that the Petrol Girls patch and Clash t-shirt and Sonic Boom Six hoody mean that the music has your back. Quite literally, it’s on your back.
Though I’m very fortune and privileged to have never been verbally or physically assaulted, I do feel like my clothes attract attention. I want this to be positive, as people clock some bands to check out. But, of course, this attention can also be negative. Let’s never forget the tragic death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007.
These days, punk fans tend to stick simply jeans and a t-shirt. There’s other aspects, beards and converse, but it’s often simple a sea of black with the odd colourful logo at the centre of your stitching.
There’s a layer of scorn in the punk scene if you don’t dress as a punk outside of a punk/gig context. As if you’re not maintaining the belief, the scene, the style. You’ll only wear your heart on your sleeve when your heart’s in it. But I like the relief of not always being in a turning-heads Punk Mode. A privilege not everybody has, but one I do exploit when I want to be ‘unpunk’.
There’s a toxicity to fashion, and we should always be wary of peer pressure to dress and present a certain way. But sometimes I just like black jeans and a classic t-shirt and some anonymity. Sometimes I like to be a watching quilt of bands. And actually, that choice is empowering and gives me confidence I have options and not just an uninspiring narrow blueprint.