Youth Subcultural Styles

The British context. Despite assumptions to the contrary, working-class youth subcultures, based around distinctive, dissenting styles, were not confined to the period after World War II. Geoffrey Pearson, for example, in a study of the "history of respectable fears," notes the presence in late-nineteenth-century Britain of the troublesome teenage "hooligan" (an Australian equivalent of the same period was known as the "larrikin"). Notwithstanding some regional variations in style between the

Peaky Blinder Clothing
Rastafarian family in Jamaica. The distinctive clothing and hairstyles of Rastafarians constitute a fashion subculture. © David Cumming; Eye Ubiquitous/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

different hooligan groups—the Manchester "Scuttlers" and the Birmingham "Peaky Blinders," for example— there was adopted a quite distinct uniform of large boots, bell-bottomed trousers, a loosely worn muffler or scarf, and a peaked cap worn over a donkey-fringe haircut. The whole peculiar ensemble was set off with a broad, buckled, leather belt.

There were six or more intervening decades between the demise of the original "hooligans" and the emergence of the more familiar and clearly documented British youth subcultures of the post-1945 era—the teddy boys, mods, rockers, hippies, skinheads, and punks. Yet Pearson sees no fundamental difference between the way the Victorian gangs constructed clearly recognizable styles by appropriating elements from the range of fashionable sources available to them and the attempts by the more recent "spectacular" youth subcultures to create new, opposi-tional meanings through the recontextualization of raw commodities from the market—a process that the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, England, termed "bricolage." Hence, the working-class teddy boys of the early 1950s appropriated the long lapeled neo-Edwardian drape suit from exclusive London tailors who aimed to bring back the pre-1914 look for upper-class young men. But the teds combined this item with bootlace ties (from Western movies), greased-back haircuts, drainpipe trousers, and thick creped-soled shoes.

CCCS writers such as John Clarke and Dick Heb-dige had adopted an analysis whereby subcultural styles were "decoded" or read as a text for their hidden meanings. Hence, the fastidious and narcissistic neatness of the mods, with their two-tone mohair suits, button-down collared shirts, and short, lacquered hair, could be interpreted as an attempt by young working-class people in menial and routine employment to live out on a symbolic level the affluent, consumerist, and classless aspirations of the early 1960s. By contrast, the skinheads who emerged later in the same decade typically sported very close-cropped hair or shaven heads, Ben Sherman shirts and suspenders, and short, tight jeans or sta-press trousers with Dr. Martens boots—a combination of elements that signified a "magical" desire to return to the puritan masculinity of a rapidly disappearing traditional proletarian lifestyle. By the end of the 1970s subcultural fashions had become less easy to decipher in this way. Hebdige, analyzing punk style in his classic text Subculture, was driven to assert that the punks' "cut-up" wardrobe of bondage trousers, school ties, safety pins, bin liners, and spiky hair signified meaningfully only in terms of its very meaninglessness, as a visual illustration of chaos.

American and Australian examples. In Britain during the early 1960s, the natural enemy of the cool, clean-looking, scooter-riding mods were the leather- and denim-clad, insignia-decorated, greasy-haired rockers, or motorbike boys as Paul Willis called them, renowned for their macho, rock 'n' roll image and "ton-up" speeding runs on heavy-duty Triumph Bonnevilles. Yet the reputation of the British rockers was tame by comparison with the notoriety of the American "outlaw" biker gangs of the postwar era, the most famous of which were—and still are—the Hell's Angels. Organized territorially in "chapters," and espousing an ideology of personal freedom and conservative patriotism, the "Angels" rode their collective "runs" on "chopped hogs"—customized Harley-Davidson bikes. Their famous Death-Head emblem or logo, as described by Hunter Thompson, is a cloth patch embroidered with a biker helmet atop a winged skull, and a band inscribed with the words Hell's Angels and the local chapter name. These "colors," as they are known, are typically sewn to the back of a sleeveless denim shirt.

Heavy Metal is a rock music genre that has given rise to a virtually global fashion, arguably derived from a crossover of elements from biker, glam, and hippie culture. Headbangers or metalers, as they are known, are characterized by their typical dress of black T-shirt, often bearing a heavy metal band name, faded denim jeans, and a leather or denim jacket, perhaps decorated with various badges, patches, and band insignia. For both men

John Steed Style
The New Avengers. The stars of the 1970s British television series The New Avengers, (from left to right) Gareth Hunt, Joanna Lumley, and Patrick McNee. McNee's character, John Steed, epitomized the style of the later-day Edwardian dandy. © Hulton-Deutsh Collection/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

and women, hair is usually long, the body or arms are often tattooed, and jewelry may be worn. The music itself has fragmented into various subgenres such as thrash-, death- and sleaze-metal, each with its own variant on the general metaler look. Jeffrey Arnett views young American metalheads (as they are named in the title of his book) as particularly prone to the alienation, anomie, and hyper-individualism that, from his point of view, characterize contemporary American youth more generally.

Because of the immense power of its market, and the dependence of subcultural fashions upon commodity production and consumption, styles originally developed or popularized in America have rapidly spread to other cultural contexts. In a chapter in Rob White's edited book on the Australian experience of youth subcultures, Strat-ton discusses the case of the 1950s bodgies and widgies —terms used to denote male and female members respectively. The style of the bodgie and widgies was originally jazz- and jive-oriented and loosely derived from the zoot suit (discussed below) worn by young black and Hispanic Americans in the 1940s. Later, however, this Aus tralian subculture became influenced by American biker culture and also began to incorporate elements from rock 'n' roll. Boys wore leather jackets or drapes with thin ties, drainpipe trousers, and winkle-picker shoes; girls had pencil skirts, stilettos or pedal-pusher shoes, and beehive or ponytail hairstyles.

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