Colgate Couture : Understanding Punk Fashion

Alexis Manrodt

With the focus of this year’s spring Costume Institute Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum (May 9 to August 14, 2013) being dubbed “PUNK: Chaos to Couture,” this particular look from fashion history is more relevant today than ever. Not many people understand what exactly punk is, better yet how to get the look for themselves. The first indications of a popular punk revival came last year with trends moving toward heavily spiked and studded clothes and accessories, leather jackets and motorcycle boots in a monochromatic palette.

Punk is an amalgamation of many different fashion moments, uniting gothic Victorian, motorcycle greaser and ’50s teddy boy into one specific, anarchic style. One of the earliest arbiters of punk cool was Vivienne Westwood, whose designs drew upon 18th-century proportions and textiles of the UK, like red tartan plaid, while also defining a new subsection of fashion as a whole new movement in how we dress. This fluidity and borrowing from other style categories is important for punk. The style would go on to influence subcultures like grunge that would emerge in the 1990s, which is notable because both movements are related to corresponding music.

First emerging in the 1970s, the punk movement was a reaction against the hippie culture of the late 1960s and the mainstream consumerist culture that dominated the tastes in music, film and fashion. Instead of purchasing mass-manufactured items, punks relied heavily on do-it-yourself designing and customization of their clothes. A reliance on safety pins, spikes, studs, iron-on patches and fabrics ran supreme. To channel your inner punk, take a t-shirt, shred it and reassemble it with pins; or pick an old blazer out of your closet and cut off the sleeves to make a vest; or decorate a pair of Chuck Taylor Converses with different colored laces and paint. Punks could make fashion out of anything. Just take Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, who embodied the punk motto of taking something, destroying it and recreating it in an entirely unique way. Or, look at his fellow bandmate Sid Vicious, whose signature style accessory was his chain necklace with a silver padlock on it.

Another hallmark of punk fashion is its intentionally ironic and at times offensive fashions. Rockers like the Ramones, Patti Smith and The Clash were known for wearing t-shirts with R-rated messages on them during their concerts. You can find reproductions of some of their most famous tees on sites like Worn Free, but labels like UNIF also create new designs based on signature punk symbols and images.

Punk is a pretty accessible fashion once it is understood that layering is a key component to the look. To start the look, put on some drainpipe pants – dark-wash denim or leather pants would be best. If real leather pants are a bit too pricey, try American Apparel’s leather legging, which is more comfortable than the real thing anyway. Next, put on a worn-out, customized tee, preferably with some odd text or logo on the front.(Extra points if you have put safety pins on it!) Add a vest, a leather jacket or an oversized blazer on top, adding so many pins for various bands that the lapels are crowded. Slip on some platform boots, a beaten up pair of Chuck Taylors or Dr. Martens for the authentic punk vibe and top off the look with layers of different chain necklaces. Smear some kohl liner under your eyes, mess up your hair and voil?. You are perfectly punk.