This week at the Farm shop I’m wondering whatever happened to fashion sub-cultures. Do they exist any more? And if not, does it matter?
Scroll down too for some pattern news – as well as a reminder that Stella McCartney was well worth a listen on Desert Island Discs.
Also just in case you’re wondering, that’s a kale, banana and lemongrass smoothie. It was delicious – but don’t worry – I didn’t go without my coffee.
Where are the style tribes?
The younger members of the extended ClothSpot family are used to being cornered and interrogated by me on a range of subjects that I feel the need to understand. These might range from the finer points of Instagram etiquette, their views on a new fabric/style/magazine, choosing shoes (a conversation usually terminated at their first downward glance and mention of ‘flippers’), as well as the inevitable reality TV (‘Why?’)
Probably the most frequented topic however is that of ‘style tribes’. As family and employees have returned intermittently from their first ‘proper’ jobs or from university – especially if from some distance away – I’ve enquired about the prevailing styles. Specifically, any ‘style tribes’ that might be emerging. Fashion cliques, trend groupies – call them what you will – I’ve been interested to know how what they are and how my interviewee might identify with them. The answer usually is in the form of a blank look, a tilted head and a raised eyebrow. I explain further and the response is usually either ‘that’s not really my thing’ or alternatively, references to high heels, contouring, fake tans and the occasional mermaid fascination.
‘But where’ I might persist, ‘are the goths, the rockabillies, the punks – or whatever you have these days?’ Again – I draw a blank and give in.
Am I missing something, or is it simply the case that these style tribes just don’t exist any more in the same way? And if not, then is that a bad or a good thing? Does it matter?
It’s difficult asserting your sense of individuality and style as a teenager or as a young adult. The V&A Museum first explored youth culture and style in their ’14:24 British Youth Culture’ exhibition in 1986, revisiting the subject in ‘Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk’ exhibition in 1994. Tracing street style from trends such as ‘Ivy League’ and ‘Zooties’ in the 1940s through Hipsters, Mods, Glam, Goths and Ravers, they produced this intricate web of connections through time.
Of course there are plenty of subcults not even on that map – but it illustrates just how numerous they have been, and how significant they were in defining identity. As Alison Lurie points out in The Language of Clothes:
“Just as the average English-speaking person knows many more words than he or she will ever use in a conversation, so all of us are able to understand the meaning of styles we will never wear. To choose clothes, either in a store or at home, is to define and describe ourselves”
Many of us have toyed with more than one of these styles – and in due course, we’ve later developed a sense of our own personal style (in theory, at least…) which may, or may not, be informed by those early group experiments. We’ve moved on with varying degrees of success and comfort – and indeed some choose to stick with their formative style experiences and continue to use them to define themselves.
Anita Corbin is a photographer who documented many of these style tribes in the 1980s, and whose photographs are now touring the country, paired with current images of the women as they currently are. You can find out more about her ‘Visible Girls Revisited’ project here, as well as view further intriguing ‘then and now’ images here.
But what of today’s style tribes? Interviews with participants in the ‘Visible Girls’ project reveal how much girls enjoyed feeling as if they were part of something. Are today’s girls and young women missing out? Or has social media redrawn the map completely? Now that young girls are linked digitally by their social media networks, has that removed the need to signal their identity visually in the same way? Have they lost something that we might have had in the past – or are they now free to be far more individual, avoiding the need for a visual herd mentality? Were style tribes an opportunity to explore creativity – or did they just encourage getting into a hard-to-escape rut?
What, too, of the tradition for youth rebellion (if that’s not a contradiction) and the role of fashion within that? In the 1980s I could spot a person’s likely political agenda at 50 paces – but how does a young Corbynista, for instance, spot a likely kindred spirit across a crowded room? That might be We’ve heard much about the age divisions within British society following last year’s referendum – and while young adults certainly don’t have a monopoly on unaffordable housing, uncertain employment and low wages, many of them are very definitely at the sharp end of those experiences. Yet to my knowledge there’s no equivalent of the ‘Hard Times’ fashion scene from the early 80s, for instance.
Of course that doesn’t mean that people are any less committed to their causes – but I’m just intrigued to know whether fashion is any longer part of that picture.
Did any of you belong to a style tribe in the past – if so, then which one? (Pictures – pictures would be fabulous!) How did that experience affect your style today? Have you spotted a contemporary fashion subculture that I’ve missed? Or are they simply no longer relevant? Here at ClothSpot, the likes of Becky, Evé, Freya, Kerry and Lizzie would be grateful if you let me know – it might just give them a break…
On the sewing front, my thanks to Anne P. for drawing to my attention the fact that Style Arc patterns have extended their range of PDF patterns on their main website. We get such great feedback from their patterns in terms of fitting (trousers, in particular) that we thought that might be worth sharing.
Also if you haven’t taken a look at The Pattern Pages, then you might want to – it’s a free quarterly digital magazine with lots of updates on new patterns in particular.
Stella tells it how it is
Finally, many of you will have caught up with Stella McCartney’s interview on Desert Island Discs last week – but if not we encourage you to drop in on the BBC iPlayer site and catch up.
Kirsty Young introduces the discussion from the perspective of McCartney’s preoccupation with ‘Why we wear stuff and how it makes us feel’.
“How is what you’re wearing, influencing how you’re feeling today, Stella McCartney?”
Which of course, is right up our ‘Style crisis’ street… Interestingly too, she talks about the connection between fashion and music during her formative years – taking us right back to the top.
Have a great weekend!