Since I’ve been stuck on thinking about nostalgia and its uses in punk/hardcore/other independent rock lately (see the column I posted last week), as-cool-as-i-am’s commentary on cupcakes and similarly hollow gestures as supposedly signifying radicalism really struck a chord with me that I’ve been processing all day.
The slippage (between music as historical document in context and music as ‘pure’ aesthetic) I was talking about in the column is embodied in a way in the shifting meanings of clothing in this subculture. I have always enjoyed throwing a wrench into the gears of uniform readability - really wish someone could come up with that picture of me stagediving during Disfear in a fancy dress with a billion petticoats - but the reason that that kind of fucking with sartorial norms works is that there is a norm to begin with. I started out in a punk world that hadn’t been fully mined (at the time) for clothing ideas by cool hunters and the fashion industry, and so there was some meaning ascribed to certain uniforms in a way that I think is constantly fading.
I am not saying that Punk Fashion has to be a meaningful thing, but that there was a time when I could be reasonably sure that a person with a certain aesthetic might want to, say, talk to me about records. That time is long gone, for better or worse.
The whole reason I enjoy challenging the uniform is that I think that assigning too much meaning to consumable signifiers is dangerous, as in as-cool-as-i-am’s cupcake commentary. Expectations and assumptions are dangerous territory, especially when you can purchase the signifiers for such assumptions pretty much anywhere. Dilution, dilation, explosion.
To return to an adage: action is what matters. Sometimes the most Punk music is made by those who appear not to be Punk. We all must read deeper, and the marketing of particular aesthetics claimed by this subculture explodes the idea of easy readability.
(note that I think that this is a punk-exclusive thing. You can’t read this same theory onto, say, hip-hop, because of about a million and one factors, many of them pertaining to race.)
The “uniform” of punk has always really interested me. When I was in middle school, whenever I thought I looked “punk,” people I didn’t even know called me a “poseur” while people at school thought I was hella punk or goth or some shit. As I grew up, though, I stopped trying to look like a street punk and sold my street punk shit to some new middle schoolers.
Nowadays, you might see me in cut-offs and a cut-up band tee one day and a fancy blazer and Steve Madden loafers the next. I just don’t give a fuck anymore because I’ve grown out of what I like to think of as the punk cannon and I’m no longer concerned with “looking like” a punk. I wear what I want and trust that no one will take me as a “poseur” anymore because I co-founded an amazing venue and try to fuck with gendered norms and book great bands and make vegan food and do zine workshops and blah, blah, blah.
I have a lot of other friends who’ve grown out of stereotypical punk fashion, and it’s actually hilarious, but some of the Fresno Pyrate Punx read this as all of us being hipsters. I’m not sure what’s so inherently hipster about wearing thrifted clothes or button-down shirts or band tees that don’t represent the punk rock cannon, but that’s Fresno for you. Most of us “hipsters” are the ones running the venues and booking the nightly shows and writing the zines.
I wanted to do an article on punk and fashion for otherXcore #4, actually. I started it in a notebook a couple months ago. Maybe I’ll come back to it, because I think the topic is super interesting. In a subculture that places so much emphasis on being an outcast, rebelling against norms, and being unafraid to be shocking and different, it feels like there’s an awful lot of pressure to look exactly the same. I’d like to look at the function of patches, too. I feel like there’s a weird social code behind them.