Punk: A British Subculture

Impact Style investigates British subcultures and their styles. Bethany Wilkinson explores the origins, rise and style of Punk. 


Punk as a British subculture primarily evolved in the mid 1970’s, influenced by all walks of everyday life from music to politics. Punk soon mutated into countless genres and forms of expression, to the extent that mainstream manifestations of punk still grip the modern fashion world today.

In the context of Britain in the mid to late 1970’s, punk stood as a beacon for resistance to conformity, in an age gripped by social tension and depression. An unemployment surge and reduced wages followed a deep economic recession, culminating in widespread public sector strikes in 1978-9 coined the “Winter of Discontent”.

A feeling of dissatisfaction was very much instilled within the youth of industrial Britain and this mood was soon encapsulated by music. British bands such as The Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants and The Stranglers all expressed anarchistic and nihilistic attitudes that came to define and epitomise the rebellious punk culture.

Punk fashion embraced these resistant and subversive attitudes by creating an anti-fashion that opposed establishment and conformity to societal norms. Popular punk style consisted of heavily deconstructing garments by ripping and tearing and then reconstructing them in a way that was completely re-imagined, often with safety pins, chains and patches. In this way punk fostered individualism as well as the desire to build a community with like-minded others. In 1974 Vivienne Westwood and her then partner Malcolm McLaren opened a clothing store called SEX in London, this move often being cited as what defined punk street culture. The store sold punk and bondage style clothing, emblazoned with anarchist slogans, provocative images and Karl Marx patches that confronted social and sexual taboos. In 1974 McLaren became manager to The Sex Pistols and himself and Westwood began designing the bands clothing, initiating publicity and a huge following for punk style.


The growing popularity of facial piercings, destroyed fabrics and laddered tights were fashioned in a way to attract attention and reject the ideals of society. Women wore Doc Martens and utilitarian footwear with bras and underwear on top of clothes, and men wore excessive make up and fish net tights. Punk created an arena for all kinds of gender expression, helping to abolish gender rules and expectations.

Today punk style sits comfortably within the mainstream market of fashion, with torn and distressed clothing, leather skirts and trousers, slogan t-shirts and utilitarian footwear available in in every British fashion house. New York Fashion Week 2015 saw menswear label Hood by Air showcase their spring 2016 collection with men in ripped skirts and make- up, confirming that even mainstream punk is subversive, encapsulating philosophies of gender indifference and rejection of an idealistic society.


Bethany Wilkinson

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