Glam Rock: A British Subculture

Impact Style investigates British subcultures and their styles. Eleanor Bateman delves deep into Glam Rock, its front men and the ideologies behind the movement.  

‘Glam Rock’, a term often used to describe a genre of music, not only describes the physical appearance of members of the subculture, but also embodies their attitudes and reactions towards the outside world. There is much debate surrounding when the subculture first released its shimmering influence over Britain; however, many say that the date coincides with the creation of T.Rex, Marc Bolan’s glam rock band, in the early 70s. The band epitomised almost everything about the visual style of this subculture: glitter-doused clothing, fur coats and outrageous colours. Usually sported by male stars, this trend was designed to protest against social norms and to separate the wearer from the humdrum crowd. In other words, Glam Rock meant wearing something that would get you noticed (often involving Lycra in some shape or form).


Of course, one of the most famous patrons of this iconic style is David Bowie (or Ziggy Stardust as he was known) whose appearance during this era was stunningly genius. Whereas some of Bowie’s looks present him in a more modest way, this one certainly does not – unless skin-tight striped suits and crimson platform shoes fail to catch your attention. The singer’s style emanated confidence and rejected any kind of conformity, just like other bands and musicians of the period: ABBA, Slade and Queen, to name a few. As well as encouraging the popularity of Glam Rock in the 1970s, Ziggy’s distinctive style has since influenced modern fashion, most memorably in Jean Paul Gaultier’s 2013 spring collection. The collection, which was inspired by pop icons of the 70s, 80s and 90s, included a “sexy Ziggy Stardust” where the model replicated Bowie’s glamour as she strutted down the catwalk in bright platform heels and a multi-coloured cat-suit, both of which accentuate the fashion culture inspired by Bowie’s Glam Rock.

pic 3 sexy stardust

In the mid-1970s when British Glam Rock was at its peak, employment was low and trade union strikes began to take hold, with around 9 million days of work given up to strike action. This subculture was a way to leave the normal world behind and become a new, glitzy star of the 70s. As well as this, the period of Glam Rock coincided with the first gay pride rally, held in London in 1972, where the participants marched from Trafalgar Square to Hyde park. Throughout the 1970s, homosexuality became more and more accepted in the public eye and this was helped by the undeniable popularity of Glam Rock; stars of the subculture were often labelled as androgynous in the way they dressed, especially seen in men, who wore clothes that were traditionally thought to be fairly effeminate. As a result of being captured in the media and becoming a regular sight on newspapers, magazines and television, the icons of Glam Rock encouraged Britain to accept people of all sexualities.


This subculture was one mainly ruled by men in the 70s, however it has been an inspiration to women’s fashion in the modern day. One of the most memorable collections based on the style of Glam Rock was that of Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen in 2013. The overall appearance of the set of clothing is dripping with metallic sparkle, but when we look more closely at the detail, we see Bowie-esque shoulder pads and strikingly-shaped flares, almost perfectly reflecting the appearance of ABBA, whose sleek flares paraded around Britain during the Glam Rock era. As well as this, the female models in Burton’s show wore their hair slicked back to create a conventionally male hairstyle; she emphasises the idea that gender was not an issue in the time period and that people of either sex were liberated and allowed to dress as they wanted.

pic 4 burton

In the modern world, we are completely free in what we wear, but the men and women of Glam Rock managed to empower others to sport bizarre and eccentric clothing – something that was seen as daring to people who wore the drab, everyday outfits of the 70s. Glam Rock inspired the people of the time and continues to have an influence on British fashion to this day.

Eleanor Bateman

Image credits: GoRunway, Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Brian Duffy for Alladin Sane, Alexander McQueen

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