Learn about the various themes, punk fashion outfits, accessories, hairstyles, and popular icons of the mainstream rock band age.
Punk fashion is a state of being and an attitude, it’s about being unafraid of standing out, being bold and rejecting stereotypes, and ultimately being true to yourself. Punk fashion history dates back to the
1970s and 80s. These decades gave a name to the rebellious anti-establishment and non-conforming movement slowly gaining popularity amongst the rebels and the free-spirited, which is still alive today.
Even though it started as a movement to reject the mainstream and protest against authority, its ideology centers around freedom to choose and to be. Punk fashion threw out the clean-cut style and introduced the world to D.I.Y (Do-It-Yourself) fashion and popularized the unkempt appearance, from ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts, and leather jackets to outrageous hairstyles, military boots, and daring accessories.
The Punk Trendsetters: Westwood & McLaren
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren started punk fashion. They are often referred to as being the creators of the mainstream punk fashion in the 70s, starting with branding their co-owned store “SEX” and later re-named “Seditionaries”. Their motto was ‘anti-fashion’ that was emphasized with a haphazard interior decoration of the shop that enjoyed the patronage of heralds of punk rock like the infamous band “Sex Pistols”.
Westwood and McLaren defined punk fashion with their collection of ripped-looking tops and dresses decorated with metal chains and safety pins, leather gear, fetish wear, and highly controversial printed t-shirts and tops.
All About Punk
The punk movement and fashion have evolved through the decades especially in terms of fashion but the spirit remains the same. The freedom to choose, to be different, to be loud and proud, to reject the dictates of society, and carve your path.
Over the years, punk gave way to several sub-genres and themes embodying the same ideologies but each in a different style. The punk rock culture paved the way for hardcore punk, street punk, glam punk, garage punk, goth-punk, and pop-punk among many more.
Punk as a style can’t be explored without mentioning the musical foundations it was built upon and maintained, and the musical culture that keeps it alive today. Punk rock music emerged in the early to mid-1970s and gave voice to the anarchist nature of the punk movement with explicit lyrics and aggressive sounds, complete with audacious outfits and a reckless attitude.
Types of Punk Fashion
Care to join, as I travel through time and explore the entwined nature of punk fashion with music from the 1960s to the 2000s.
1. The Origins: Garage Punk
The anti-establishment music of the MC5 marked them as the innovators in the emerging punk scene during the early 1960s. Their energetic old-school rock and roll style music paired with clothes like slim-fitting suits, velvet jackets, drainpipe jeans, and winklepicker boots represented the garage punk aesthetic.
2. Hardcore Punk Rock
Iggy and the Stooges pioneered punk rock with their confrontational music, bold outfits, and thrilling stage performances in the late 1960s. Band member Iggy Pop personified the raw, free, and wild nature of the punk movement. He performed bare-chested while wearing dog collars and tight black jeans.
The Stooges represent the hardcore punk rock genre. Their aggressive music, and Iggy Pop left a mark in the punk movement long before Westwood and McLaren presented their fetish gear-based clothing.
3. Glam Punk
The credit for glam punk goes entirely to the ‘New York Dolls’ dressed by Malcolm McLaren in the early 1970s. Glam punk was all about ‘glamour’ of course, but also androgyny with drainpipe jeans, leather fetish-wear, or costumes of spandex or satin, even ruffled shirts, worn with loud makeup, glitter, and platform boots.
4. Street Punk
The Ramones are generally regarded as the first true punk rock band. Their music was accompanied by a new look that reflected their rent-boy aesthetic with street style ripped jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket, sneakers, and long hair.
The Ramones’ style is what is commonly known as ‘street punk’ and dominated the underground scene. The Street punk look is an amalgamation of casual and punk clothing and depends heavily on D.I.Y with painted logos on jackets or vests, ripped clothing, and long or brightly colored hair that defied societal norms.
5. Goth Punk
If there’s one name that has become synonymous with the pop-punk scene, it’s Green Day. It’s the most famous punk band that has been going strong since the late 1980s till this day.
Lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong is a goth punk icon and inspiration. Black clothing, kohl-lined eyes, spiked hair, and nails painted black dominate the goth punk style even in the 2020s, all thanks to him.
6. Skate Punk
Blink-182 mixed pop and punk rock in their music for the perfect blend of catchy and fast-paced melodies.
The members sported the skater punk style. The skater punk look is all about being effortlessly laid-back, baggy t-shirt or tank with a faded pair of jeans or black skinny jeans and sneakers plus adding a beanie or a hat for an extra edge. Skate punk defined the 90s to 2000s aesthetic and is still in vogue.
7. Pop Punk
5 Seconds of Summer is a classic example of the pop punk genre, be it with their music or their style.
Skinny jeans are a staple for a pop punk look paired with a tank top and a plaid shirt. It is a very versatile look as you can add a leather jacket to the look and a few accessories and voila, you’ve got a completely transformed look. Make it as laid-back or as edgy as you want.
A Modern Punk Fashion Guide
“To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.” – Patti Smith
The one reason that punk has been and still is so widely accepted and adapted is its versatile and non-conforming attitude. Punk has no set guide that we have to abide by to look a certain way. It is about the freedom of choice, about being limitless in its possibility, and about removing oneself from mass conformity.
Punk comes with freedom of picking any style that one has to follow, its gender is non-conforming. The fashion subculture gave women and girls the choice to reject lace, embrace leather and jeans and break out from the mold of a perfect lady. It gave men the choice to wear makeup and glitter.
How to Dress Punk
Punk is all about what you want it to be without conforming to the accepted norms. Your punk look may be as revealing, edgy, dramatic, or exaggerated as you want or as simple as you care to be. It is for rebels and pioneers alike.
Read on to find out the perfect punk style for you.
1. Take it from the Top
Vivienne Westwood introduced the iconic ripped t-shirt or top trend, that’s still going strong. So, choose a graphic or printed tee. If it’s not ripped, then grab a pair of scissors and go to town on them.
Add that extra oomph to your look with a leather jacket or vest. Look for ones with a print or patches for the classic 80s punk. If you want a Patti Smith-inspired look, then opt for a tartan coat over your ripped top or t-shirt.
2. The Bottom Half
Punk and leather will never go wrong and leather pants are a must in every punkers wardrobe. You can wear plain leather pants or some skinny jeans. If you dare, choose a ripped or distressed pair decorated with patches, buckles, or chains.
Not a fan of leather? No worries, I’ve got you covered. You can always go for some drainpipe jeans or trousers, also a classic in punk fashion.
3. Military or Martens?
A pair of punk boots is typically a stylish outfit’s secret weapon. There are a variety of punk boots available, ranging from conventional combat boots to booties with studs and straps. These will give your outfit a little extra edge.
Doc Marten boots have been a favorite of punk heads since the 1960s. Either way, you can also go for a classic pair of military boots to complement your devil-may-care attitude. Ditch the old-school and go for some ridiculously high platform heeled boots or stiletto-heeled boots for that element of danger to your punk look.
4. To Mohawk or Not to Mohawk?
Hair is an important element to pay attention to while dressing punk. An eye-catching, head-turning hairstyle is synonymous with punk fashion. The bolder, the better. Mohawk is generally considered the most punk hairstyle. If you want to draw attention to yourself, go for a brightly colored high punk Mohawk. Punk hairstyles are not all about having long hair, a buzz cut Mohawk is an equally daring and bold choice.
Bold hair color choices to consider for a punk look are flamingo pink, cobalt blue, neon red, and more. The go-to hairstyle for emo or Goth punks is spikes, or spiked hair. It is a much tamer punk hairdo if you don’t want anything too exciting like a Mohawk. Add a touch of color to the spikes to make your hair stand out.
Go old-school with a mullet hairstyle. But choose a short mullet and dye your hair or just the sides to keep with the modern punk look. Another bold choice you can make is the slicked back undercut. It’s just as dramatic as a Mohawk, but without the loudness.
Iconic Punk Fashion Icons
Punk fashion is all about standing out. And punk icons have inspired punk some of the most outstanding trends and styles. Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier are the two most famous punk fashion designers today. Punk fashion has been re-invented and has evolved for nearly 5 decades after it was brought to the mainstream by the ‘Mother of Punk’ Vivienne Westwood.
Some of the most enigmatic icons of punk that have defined punk fashion for the ages include Patti Smith. She is dubbed the “Godmother of Punk,” who brought a poet’s perspective to the punk music genre. Her style, much like her songs, exudes masculinity, force, and wildness. She hails with button-up shirts, frayed denim, leather jackets, utilitarian boots, and unisex coats.
Debbie Harry was, and continues to be, a true punk rocker. With the looks of a model and the attitude to hang with even the edgiest of punks. In the truest sense of the word, she is a punk icon.
Kathleen Hanna was instrumental in bringing commercial feminism to teenage punk rock styles. This was especially for girls looking for a place to express themselves. Hanna was the face of the neo-feminist punk movement in the 1990s, with her band ‘Bikini Kill’.
Billie Joe Armstrong continues to be a punk Goth icon. His style incorporates 70s classic punk, along with a wider range of vibrant colors, modern band tees, satirical shirts, and ties.
Brody Dalle, throughout her career, has embraced and owned her aggressive side. Ripped clothes, leather jackets to crop tops and denim, you name it, she has worn it. With hairstyles ranging from full mohawk to blonde undercut, her punk ensembles are yet to disappoint.
Lady Gaga’s wardrobe choices appear to be intended to make a personal statement of individuality. Although she has dressed more high-street and elegantly in recent years, she remains an icon for the punk rock image that we all secretly admire. Remember the time she shocked the world with her bizarre meat dress?
Iggy Pop, the godfather of punk, is in a class of his own when it comes to punk icons. He embodies the punk movement’s free and wild spirit. This is in reference to his dog collars, bare-chest, absolutely tight skinny jeans. And of course, his dangerous antics on stage.
When you hear the word punk, images of London, multicolored mohawks, safety-pin piercings, and bad behavior come to mind. But movements like veganism, social justice, and even healthy living are all hallmarks of the musical genre and community that surrounds it.
The anti-establishment vein that birthed punk culture is still alive and furiously kicking. It might get new faces to represent the changing times and fashion. Punk however, has always existed alongside the mainstream. And it will continue to exist as long as the spirit of freedom and rebellion is alive.
Hope this guide helped you discover and showcase your inner rebel. Check out our Instagram page @shilpaahujadotcom for more such style inspiration. Keep up your love for punk!
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Prerna Sharma writes about the latest fashion, beauty and dressing. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Film, T.V. and Radio and did her Bachelors in English Honors. She also has a PG Diploma in Media and Public Relations from St. Xavier’s College.
Prior to working as a Fashion Journalism Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com, she started her career as a Travel Writer and Digital Marketer, where she wrote for different spheres like medical services, film review, information technology, and real estate. This experience fostered her awareness around travel and tourism, and creative writing, but her keen eye for trends made her transition into fashion writing.
Originally from Kolkata, Prerna loves staying up to date in current fashion and culture trends, be it movies, music, or social media. When she isn’t staring at a screen, you can find her spending way too much time writing poetry or trying out new outfits.
She can be found @i.am.prerna on Instagram.