Positive View of Street Style

The dramatic increase in the standardization of life after World War II (suburbanization, mass marketing, the franchising of restaurant and retail chains, the spread of television, and so on) may have increased the appeal of "alternative" lifestyles for individuals in search of "authenticity." The clothing styles of both the "outlaw" and those "from the wrong side of the tracks" became attractive as symbolic totems of escape from the bland (un)reality of what many cultural theorists have termed "late capitalism."

Important also was the astounding demographic blip of the "baby boomers" born just after World War II. As this generation grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they came to represent a new sociocultural category—the "teenager"—who, by sheer dint of numbers and the fact that, by and large, they had money to spend, became a significant focus of the economic and cultural worlds. Slow off the mark in its embrace of "youth culture" (and still determinedly upper class and elitist), high fashion had little to offer the average baby-boom teenager who saw street style as a hipper, more authentic, and relevant source of stylistic inspiration. Every street "look" (beat, mod, rockabilly, biker, etc.) brought with it an entire lifestyle package of values and beliefs, a philosophy and, it was often hoped, a new, alternative, community.

This admiration of street style was especially true of young males. Fashionable male dress reached a crescendo of blandness in the 1950s with the typical, middle-class Western male reduced to near sartorial invisibility. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that street style in the twentieth century was as biased toward men (hipsters, beats, teddy boys, bikers, mods, hippies, psychedelics, skinheads, glam rockers, punks, new romantics, goths, casuals, b-boys, etc.) as fashion has been biased toward women. The rise of street style represents the return of the peacock male from near extinction and this undoubtedly plays a key part in its rising popularity and importance.

Finally, mention should be made of the importance of street style as a facilitator of group identity and sub-cultural cohesion. Since the close of World War II, Western culture has seen a dramatic decline in the significance of the traditional sociocultural divisions such as class, race, religion, ethnicity, regionalism, nationalism, and so on in defining and limiting personal identity. While liberating and egalitarian, this diminishing of the importance of such traditional sociocultural groupings created a huge amorphous, undifferentiated, homogenous mass within which a sense of community—"People Like Us"—became more problematic. The "tribelike" groupings of, for example, bikers, beats, and teddy boys in the 1950s; mods, hippies, and skinheads in the 1960s; headbangers, punks, and b-boys in the 1970s; and goths, new age travelers and ravers in the 1980s, offered a much needed sense of community—especially for teenagers who, beginning to separate from the parental family but not yet having created their own family unit, feel this need most acutely. Significantly, while throughout human history sociocultural groups have always used dress and body decoration styles to signal and reinforce their group identities and their shared culture, now, for the first time, one's appearance and style became a sociocul-tural glue which, it was hoped, would bind together disparate strangers—most of whom would never meet but all of whom shared a culture encrypted in a particular style of dress and music.

From the 1940s through the 1980s street style coalesced into dozens if not hundreds of alternative "tribes"—each with its own complex, integrated subcul-tural system of style, values, and beliefs. Many of these evolved, distinguishing one from the other (hipsters to beats to hippies) while others developed in an antagonistic process energized by opposition (mods/rockers, hippies/punks). In the process, a complex family tree of "styletribes" has spanned (and in many ways defined) several generations.

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