Fashion is a form of expressing your individuality. From Goth to emo to hippie, learn about the types of fashion subcultures, their history, and influences.
What are Fashion Subcultures
The way people express themselves through their fashion choices keeps evolving over time, and in different places too. Fashion is not a homogenous umbrella of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Instead, it has initiated many trends, which congregate into subcultures. Fashion subcultures are popular ways of dressing created through cultural influences like music, art or epochs. They are different from style as style is more on the personal level.
Subcultures are a result of fashion trends that groups of people with similar interests prefer. Aesthetics, political ideologies or geographical trends can also influence different types of fashion subcultures. Subcultures have their own characteristics making them distinctive enough to be recognized as a subset of fashion. They develop new norms and principles that might seem fit for their subculture.
Trends and brands do not limit the scope of subcultures. Their goal is to create a style that doesn’t follow any rules.
How Alternative Subcultures of Fashion Emerged
Alternative fashion refers to fashion that does not conform to the trends of its time. It stands out. Unique subcultures such as goth, grunge, punk, emo, etc. represent a segment of alternative fashion.
Though alternative fashion might seem like a present day trend, the concept has existed for centuries now. Societal rebels were the most adherent to this concept. Let’s look at the different types of fashion subcultures.
Types of Fashion Subcultures
Goth started gaining popularity in the early 1980s in the United Kingdom, inspired by gothic literature and architecture. It’s one of those types of fashion subcultures that the runway represents ever so often. In fact, most modern fashion designers have branded their style of goth called Haute Goth, Runway Goth and more. The subculture has been part of society for a long time and has further diversified itself. For example, romantic, pastel, tribal, cyber, etc. and continues to evolve.
Dark clothing is the inspiration for this style. Velvet, lace, mesh, and other similar materials are frequently used in this style. Gothic makeup includes thick eyeliner, bright red or black nail polish, and black dyed hair. Silver jewelry is most cherished.
2. Hip Hop
The voice of the alienated and frustrated youth, inspired by hip hop music in the 80s led to the emergence of this subculture. Initially, it was one of the first types of fashion subcultures that found a way of going against the fashion rules, but now it has become a part of high fashion.
Famous designers like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana and Armani are the main producers of this subculture’s luxury clothes. The clothing prices tend to be on the higher end because of this reason.
Hip-hop fashion has redefined the silhouette. It made sagging pants and oversized tees fashionable. Baseball caps worn backward and expensive shoes were a crucial part of this subculture. Hip-hop artists like Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, Niki Minaj, Jay-Z, and Kanye West are some of the few who set the trends for this subculture.
Minimalist fashion is one of the simplest and most basic types of fashion subcultures. There is this presumption that minimalist fashion refers to single-colored outfits and lacks design and innovation. But in reality, it has it’s own aesthetic and style, including fashion basics, timeless pieces and simple silhouettes. The importance of fabric and form dominates the function of the outfit.
Some essentials for a minimalist fit include thick sweaters, straight-leg black jeans, crisp button-ups, and ankle boots. Some brands that offer timeless minimalistic clothing are Mila, Vert, Kotn, Grammar, Armedangels, Neu Nomads. A few popular minimalistic combinations are black and white, neutrals, all whites, all blacks, texture contrasts.
Grunge refers to grime and dirt. Politically, grunge is a reflection of Generation X’s frustration with capitalism and the economic upswing of the 80s. In this category of subcultures, durable and thrift-store clothing was the most predominant feature. Nirvana and Pearl Jam contributed to the influence of this subculture. Consequently, Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club and Angeline Jolie in Girl, Interrupted were partly responsible for the trend’s mainstream popularity. It is one of the most popular types of fashion subcultures, even today.
Loose and androgynous are the main features of this style. The purpose behind this was to deemphasize mainstream clothing preferences. A solid-colored, preferably black or white T-shirt with a leather jacket or flannel shirt, and Doc Marten shoes could be classified as a classic grunge outfit. Styling a flannel shirt around your waist is another popular way of wearing it.
Bohemian, or ‘boho chic’ or simply ‘boho’, originates from a long history, with its aesthetic dating back to the late 60s and 70s. It highlights natural materials and earth shades. Inspired by hippie culture, bohemian fashion represents free expression and informal style. It is a combination of neutral colors, vintage retro patterns, and 70s style.
Among all the types of fashion subcultures, this one is comfortable and fun. However, a lot of boho chic these days surprisingly sophisticated at the same time. Its unique color combinations are for everyone.
Boho-chic outfits usually include loose tops with V-necks or off shoulders, mix prints, bishop sleeves, harem pants, flared jeans, and flowy skirts. Maximalism is big in boho-chic style, so clash prints, styles, colors, and bright tones are common with layered, chunky, and mismatched jewelry.
Rave movement started in the early 90s where people would change into comfortable and loose outfits that allowed them to dance and enjoy. And soon, this turned into a broader fashion that was a mix of gothic, 70s psychedelic movement, and hip hop. Who would have thought that ecstasy can lead to a style that will remain for generations?
Their fashion includes face stickers, furry animal suits, hair with colored gel. Rave is galaxies, aliens, mermaids, illusions, holograms, smiley faces on mini-skirts, micro-mini shorts, and bodysuits. Above all, rave is one of the main types of fashion subcultures that is intuitive and has a physical-emotional connection. You wear what you love because this style encourages you to be fun, different, and helps you escape reality.
This subculture is based on emo music bands. It is an accentuation of emotion, as the name suggests. It is inspired by the emo music genre of the early 2000s that emphasized emotional vulnerability.
The style includes skinny jeans with tight t-shirts with band names, V-neck sweaters, and studded belts. Makeup is more focused on the eyes thick black eyeliner or charcoal smokey eyes with pale lips. Emo style and music saw a resurgence in the 2010s with new age inspirations like Billie Eilish and sad rap/emo rap artists.
K-style, or Korean style, is a popular fashion subculture that rose to prominence all over the world in the 2010s. It is one of the most popular types of fashion subcultures today, influenced by the everyday street fashion of South Korea, and especially the style of K-pop artists.
Also read: How to Dress like a K-pop Star
The main elements are trench coats, pastel shirts, midi skirts, and flared wide-leg jeans. The outfits are mainly pastels, neutrals, and florals being the most favored pattern. Makeup includes pink-tinted gloss, blush, and one-tone neutral eyeshadow. However, skincare is more vital.
K-pop bands like BTS, BlackPink, Red Velvet, and LOOΠΔ (Loona) popularized this subculture.
The punk subculture surfaced in the mid-70s in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Political beliefs and the idea of not “selling out” to established societal values are primarily built on the punk ethos.
This fashion subculture stimulated D.I.Y. fashion and set the perfect example for recycled clothing sourced from small businesses and charity shops.
A few of their outfits include tartan skirts, cut-off shorts, ripped jeans, provocative t-shirts, black leather jackets, studded belts, black combat boots, badges, and safety pins! Punk colors include black, white, neon, checkers, etc. Some people in this subculture have outrageous body piercings, neck chains, ripped shirts to prove they are rebellious.
10. E-Boys & E-Girls
The ‘e’ in e-girl/e-boy stands for ‘electronic’. This style gained the most traction in the internet generation of 2019. It is a youth subculture that surfaced in the late 2010s and is almost exclusively seen only on social media. This trend has recently been popularized GenZ apps like TikTok, Discord, and Twitch. E-girls are also influenced by an interest in video games, anime, and memes.
The elements of this subculture include long-sleeved striped and graphic T-shirts, jeans with wallet chains, mesh T-shirts, Sailor Moon skirts (mini A-line skirts popularized by Sailor Moon anime), plaid skirts, and fishnet stockings. The main color scheme is either bright bubble gum pinks and blues or conversely dark, grungy colors.
E-girl makeup is a lot of blush on the cheeks and the tip of the nose, sparkly highlighter, winged eyeliner, dark lipstick, drawing little hearts or stars on the cheeks, or drawing faux freckles. Other accessories include platform sneakers, beanies, and chokers.
Athleisure takes active wear out from the gyms to the streets. This subculture proves that comfort, fashion, sports, active wear can be combined. It expresses the wearers’ active lifestyle that is fashionable at the same time.
Athleisure fashion is one of the most flexible types of fashion subcultures. It mixes spandex activewear with denim, leather, or nylon. Thus, a sports bra and gym shorts outfit can be jazzed up with a jacket. Comfort is key. Similarly, other elements include biker shorts, sweatpants, yoga pants, tank tops, and cropped hoodies. Sneakers, slides, and sports shoes are the go-to footwear. As for accessories, it includes a pair of aviator sunglasses, a baseball cap, or a stylish backpack and simple jewelry.
12. Fairy Kei
Fairy kei translates to fairy style and it is a celebration in cutesy pastels and neons, essentially like the fairy theme. The style originated in Japan where a retro 80s boutique called SPANK! created outfits and accessories inspired by cartoons such as My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and Sailor Moon.
Preferred decorative patterns are unicorns, moons, stars, polka dots, rainbows, hearts, and other sweet themes. Accessories include pearl bracelets, floral necklaces, oversized statement finger rings, clips, headbands with oversized bows, charm jewelry, and anything vintage and DIY-ed.
For instance, hairstyles are usually wigs in soft pastel shades of lavender, mint green, and pale pink. Ponytails, buns, and bangs are a few common hairstyles.
The hipster movement of the 60s and 70s was a political movement. Capitalism and the western-influenced society were the main causes for this protest. Hipsters insist on individualism and creativity. Additionally, they tend to favor alternative fashion and artsy clothing.
The style is usually a mix of casual, grunge, and some punk. This subculture also includes funky jewelry. It is the epitome of maximalist fashion.
Hippies shifted away from western-inspired pieces of clothing to kaftans, bell-bottoms, long blouses, and dresses for both genders. They also made a statement using loud and bright colors, hand-me-downs worn proudly, clashing stripes and prints, and floral patterns. This fashion style aims at going back to nature with dresses made from natural fibers. The practice of dyeing clothes yourself led to the popular tie-dye style.
VSCO girls are a youth subculture that emerged among teenagers in the late 2010s. The photography application VSCO caused more people to follow this trend. The motive is to dress in a way that promotes environmentalism. In fact, the conservation of sea turtles inspired the development of this subculture.
For instance, oversized t-shirts, scrunchies, instant cameras, and other beach-related fashion represent the gist of this subculture.
15. Dark Academia
Dark academia is an aesthetic inspired by academia’s representation in literature and arts. History, Greek arts, and dark elements have attributed to the unfolding of this subculture. It is one of the mysterious types of fashion subcultures that romanticizes the idea of elite education. Even though this aesthetic might come off as serious, it is quite clever and interesting.
This subculture is also influenced largely by Harry Potter films. The series brought back woolen sweaters, chocolate brown pants, and rich textured cardigans into fashion again. Subsequently, crispy white button-up shirts, cotton pants, and flowy linen dress perfectly fit this subculture.
In conclusion, fashion has evolved to a great extent. It is volatile and never stops upgrading. Although these subcultures might seem diverse, their motives are similar. The various subcultures help people stand out and express their individuality. They do not want to follow unvarying styles and trends that are common.
Boundaries of subcultures have become amorphous and a piece from one subculture can be incorporated into the style of another.
I hope this article helped you get a basic idea of the types of fashion subcultures and appreciate them. Let us know in the comments what your favorite subculture and personal style are. Also, share your pictures in your favorite subculture by tagging us on Instagram @shilpaahujadotcom.
Krishita Rajpal is a Fashion Journalist Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in Business Administration at Presidency University, Bangalore. At present, she runs a thrift page on Instagram and loves writing. Some of her other interests include swimming, painting, yoga, working out and traveling. She finds fashion fascinating and is looking forward to working in the field.