Trying to give a thorough overview of what Alternative fashion is or it constitutes, is nothing but unrealistic. What we can actually discuss rather, is the subcultures, what alternative clothing the youth wore, as they followed a specific subculture, what other lesser-known alternative clothing style that branched out from these, and how it evolved until the modern time.
Alternative fashion and youth subcultures go hand in hand. And the intertwining connection of these two are strictly connected to their preference of music. The clothing styles of the ‘rebel’ or ‘societal misfits’, as they have often been considered because they never abide by the social norms, are mostly symbolic of what they believe in. It’s all about breaking the shackles.
The main youth subcultures from the 50s till date
Let’s begin with the 1950s. We believe that the alternative clothing styles, that are popular till date, originated from this decade. During this time, there was an interesting socio-cultural conglomeration taking place. The end of World War II saw the rich getting richer and the condition of the war victims deteriorated. But a few alternative styles became popular.
Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls:
Teddy Boys were usually the British boys listening to rock n roll, and the style was an unconventional mix of the dandy and rock n roll. Teddy girls too adopted the same look, which was quite an androgynous one. This style featured flat shoes, narrow trousers and trademark drape jackets.
The Marlon Brando and James Dean inspired look, Greaser style involved men sporting white tee, blue jeans, leather jackets and of course, motorbikes. Oh, and their hair had a quiff. They too were fans of rock n roll music.
A jazz subculture, this saw young men dressed in thick-framed glasses, white tees, buttoned shirts, and there was a predominance of black.
The influence of the 1950s in today’s alternative style
What still exists is a mainstream woman model of the ‘pinup’. Pinups were neither inspired from music nor belonged to a subculture. Yet it existed. The pinup figure and rock n roll got somehow mixed and is identified as today’s ‘rockabilly’ clothing style.
The rockabilly style for men involved blue jeans, suspenders, printed shirts, flattish caps and creeper shoes. For the women, the style characterised high waist skirts and capri pants, gingham, flare dresses, floral prints, polka dots and peep-toe shoes.
Over a decade, various new subcultures were born, across the UK and the US. Let’s check out the important ones, especially those which have been influential for the modern alternative styles.
Mods or Modernists, were young working-class boys and girls of the post-war British society. They were generally seen clad into tailor-made suits, ties, polos and fishtail parkas.
From the mods, the equally popular Skinhead subculture was born. The subculture which cared more about their look and the music, and were deeply connected to the working-class roots. They usually used to sport Dr Martens boots, tight jeans with rolled-up hem suspenders, and very short hair.
A movement that was born across the 1960s and 1970s, and was one of the reasons for hippies splitting into two. The hippies were travellers at heart and they were regular visitors to the music festivals, experiencing togetherness and altered states of consciousness: smoking pot and using psychedelic drugs such as LSD. They were usually seen in batik clothes, maxi dresses, bright colours, and floral motifs, long hair and flower crowns.
The influence of the 1960s in today’s alternative style
What still survives today is a non-categorisable skinhead cultures to neo-nazi inspired skinheads. The skinhead culture also, somewhat merged with the punk of the 1970s, making its presence felt now.
The Hippies slowly metamorphosed into what we now know as the New-Age movement. Tribal fashion, shabby chic and boho fashion are all sub-genres evolving from the hippie culture.
If identifying and categorising subcultures were hard, from the 1970s it started becoming almost indistinguishable. One subculture started influencing the next one, and it became difficult to trace the roots.
Punk is a mix of many subcultures and influences, skinheads being one of them. A lot of sub categories, like punk rock, hardcore punk, emo, nazi punk, pop punk, etc emerged shortly after.
The main style statements were mohawk hairstyles, ripped clothes, studs, tattoos and paint. They wore white tees, leather jackets, drainpipe trousers and brothel creepers. Their looks were never gender-based. Some punks also believed in going against the norm and didn’t believe in following any particular style.
Glam rock is the music genre that originated in the UK and influenced all other music genre that came after it. The glam rockers were androgynous to a large extent, were bold and theatrical. Their main clothing style included sequins, bright colours, playsuits, heavy makeup, platform boots, colourful hair and sometimes, feathers too.
The influence of the 1970s in today’s alternative style
The punk subculture still exists, and it often overlaps with the remnants of the skinhead movement that started originally. Punk never really faded away or died. Its presence is still very much felt in not only alternative fashion but mainstream fashion too. Skulls , tartans, colourful hair and ripped clothes are all reminiscence of the punk subculture.
Glam rock, however, is more or less dead, and has not let anything of the loud, bold and glittery colours.
The early goth bands were a part of the post-punk movement. In fact, they didn’t even call themselves goth. The goth subculture has survived for many years and has evolved in many directions, sometimes too wayward form the original.
There were a lot of music genres, who even being substantially different, belonged to the umbrella of ‘goth’- darkwave, ethereal wave, neoclassical, gothic metal and deathrock.
Each genre had a dressing style characteristic of itself, but there were some points that all followed- black eye makeup, pale face makeup, gelled-back combed hair and lots and lots of black in the wardrobe. Bondage clothing, lacy corsets, basques and many other gothic accessories also grew popular during this time.
The first heavy-metal bands were actually born a decade before. As the years passed, the sound of the metal bands became heavier, it got distanced from its origin, the psychedelic rock.
The main features of the metalheads were leather jackets, jeans (preferably ripped), studded leather pants, band tees, long hair, studs and motorcycle boots.
The influence of the 1980s in today’s alternative style
Goth, still, is a huge influence in Alternative as well as mainstream fashion. We still see crosses, studs, vinyl and leather outfits adorned by people on the streets. Black lipstick too is much loved, and it gives an overall goth feeling.
What happened in the later years is just a mix and match of the earlier music genres and the alternative clothing style. No new style was born as such, since the 90s. The fluidity of alternative clothing is what makes it more sensational.
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