WHAT? The ultimate tribe when it comes to generational backlash; accessible to all, especially girls.
I was first introduced to the notion or philosophy of Punk through Riot Grrl (an feminist fragment of punk philosophy, think Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill) What really got me about Riot Grrl scene was the strength in anger and being out there as a woman, through what they said and what they wore – messy hair, slip dresses teamed with Doc Martens and give a fuck slogan tees. Like every teenager pushing boundaries with my clothes became a bit of a thing, especially at school with so many rules to be broken. It was the kick I got from the side stares and disapproval from teachers or distant relatives that led me on to discovering more about this thing called punk.
I don’t want to blah blah on too much about the obvious semantics of the style here – there is so much more to punk style beyond Johnny Rotten, bondage trousers and the safety pin, instead what I want to look at is what punk did for women. In the 1970’s punk genuinely shook up the system, bringing with it the furthest generation gap for decades, things really couldn’t be more different for the post-war kids. There was a lot to be pissed off about; no jobs, no options, NO FUTURE.
The punk movement was a way of putting up two fingers to the establishment and creating something for yourself. The DIY attitude was inherent in all aspects of the subculture. Anyone could pick up a guitar and thrash out a few chords thanks to Jamie Reid’s zine Sniffin’ Glue, which not only taught you how to start a band but also inspired a new wave of indie record labels, magazines and brands to cater to the new scene. You no longer had to work ten years to climb your way up the ranks of some patriarchal, hegemonic firm, that is if you were lucky enough to have a job at all. You could go out and do something, anything, even if you were, well, a woman.
When it comes to the ‘look’ Punk epitomized the DIY philosophy. Pick pocketing styles from scenes that had gone before, like biker jackets from the rockers, drape jackets from the Teds and so on. For women the punk uniform was not about dressing up for men, it was about you. If you wanted to crop your hair off and bleach it and dye it blue you could. I’m not saying you could do this and no one would bat an eyelid, you did it for the batting eyelids and side eyes, to experiment and to shock.
I still count my early punk heroes in my ultimate style icons today, championing true tribe style with a heavy hit of hedonism. Siouxsie Sioux with her cropped locks, Egyptian inspired makeup and peekaboo bras – breasts out on show, turning the male gaze quite literally on its head all the while thrashing about on stage and spitting on fans. Poly-Styrene from Xray Spex screaming Oi Bondage Up Yours all styled up in wool twinset with train tack braces, refusing to dress up to the overtly sexualised rock groupie at the time. Debbie Harry’s home-bleached hair with fitted tees and drainpipe jeans and slip dresses before sliding in to the disco-era. Then there’s Viv Albertine of The Slits, playing kick-ass guitar in a frilly frock and kicks. Trading stilettos for DM’s so she could run from fights, when she wasn’t the throwing the punches. That’s when she wasn’t snogging the likes of Mick Jones, Sid Vicious and Johnny Thunders. YES Viv.
From one Viv to another it would be a total outrage not to mention the mother of the punk fashion Vivienne Westwood, who cut her fashion teeth at this time creating outfits for the tribe that shocked the system. Vivienne went from school teacher to creating social manifestos through fashion, items which offended so much they got her late partner Malcolm McLaren arrested. If you’re a fan or not you can’t argue that Westwood is the ultimate example of that DIY philosophy growing great women.
It might be a cliché to say but punk paved the way for the likes of Polly Harvey, Bjork, Beth Ditto, Karen O and more to express themselves creatively and artistically in a male dominated industry through style. Done not by conforming to the sex-obsessed symbols of women in music but by doing their way with their own style.