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Punk fashion

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Punk fashion

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Punk fashion is the styles of clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry and body modifications of the punk subculture. Punk fashion varies widely from Vivienne Westwood styles to styles modeled on bands like The Exploited. The distinct social dress of other subcultures and art movements, including glam rock, skinheads, rude boys, art school students, greasers, and mods have influenced punk fashion. Punk fashion has likewise influenced the styles of these groups, as well as those of popular culture.

Coordinating hairstyles, clothing, and accessories for a put-together "punk look" takes a great deal of thought, time, effort, and expense. However, as an integral part of the punk lifestyle (essential to the punk identity) it is dutifully and universally undertaken.



Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, circa 1977, shows spiked and dyed hair, a deliberately offensive t-shirt featuring an inverted crucifix and Nazi swastika, a studded belt and tight leather pants. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, circa 1977, shows spiked and dyed hair, a deliberately offensive t-shirt featuring an inverted crucifix and Nazi swastika, a studded belt and tight leather pants.

A classic punk fashion look might consist of: a pair of combat boots, Doc Martens boots, old tattered converse shoes, tapered jeans or tight leather pants worn with a ripped T-shirt and silver bracelets. Hair was cropped and deliberately made to look messy, in reaction to the typical long smooth hair of the 60s and early 70s. It was also often dyed brilliant unnatural colors. Other accouterments worn by punks often included: bondage trousers, ripped fishnets, spike bands and other studded or spiked jewelry, safety pins in clothing and as body piercings, and pants with leopard patterns. Also often worn would be leather motorcycle jackets with words, band names and symbols written on them with paint markers. It is also a common punk style to wear a kutte, a leather jacket or jean jacket or vest adorned with band patches, studs, spikes, safety pins, writing, or any combination of the above. Many punk women rebelled against the image of a stereotypical woman by wearing clothes that were delicate or pretty and clothes that were very 'masculine' at the same time, such as ballerina skirts combined with big, clunky boots.

Ramones (L-R, Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee) on the cover of their self-titled debut album (1976), wearing leather jackets, Converse All-Stars and torn drainpipe jeans. Ramones (L-R, Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee) on the cover of their self-titled debut album (1976), wearing leather jackets, Converse All-Stars and torn drainpipe jeans.

Punks seek to outrage propriety with the highly theatrical use of style. Punk clothing adapts existing objects for aesthetic effect: previously ripped clothes are held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape, written on with marker or defaced with paint; a black bin liner bag (garbage bag) might become a dress, shirt or skirt. Leather, rubber and vinyl clothing are also common, possibly due to its implied connection with transgressive sexual practices, such as bondage and S&M. Punks wear tight "drain pipe" jeans, "brothel creepers" shoes, t-shirts with risqué images, and possibly a leather motorcycle jacket (á la The Ramones). Punks style their hair to stand in spikes, cut it into "Mohawks" or other dramatic shapes, and color it with vibrant, unnatural hues. Punks use safety pins and razor blades as jewelry, including using safety pins for piercings. Punks sometimes flaunted taboo symbols such as the Nazi swastika or Iron Cross, although most modern punks are staunchly anti-racist and subsequently may wear a crossed-out swastika patch. They may also wear eyeliner (boys and girls). [citation needed] Punk style was influenced by clothes sold in Malcolm McLaren's shop SEX. McLaren has credited this style to his first impressions of Richard Hell while he was in New York managing the The New York Dolls.

Hebidge (1981) considered punk subculture to share the same "radical aesthetic practices" as dada and surrealism: "Like Duchamp's 'ready mades' - manufactured objects which qualified as art because he chose to call them such, the most unremarkable and inappropriate items - a pin, a plastic clothes peg, a television component, a razor blade, a tampon - could be brought within the province of punk (un)fashion...Objects borrowed from the most sordid of contexts found a place in punks' ensembles; lavatory chains were draped in graceful arcs across chests encased in plastic bin liners. Safety pins were taken out of their domestic 'utility' context and worn as gruesome ornaments through the cheek, ear, or lip...fragments of school uniform (white bri-nylon shirts, school ties) were symbolically defiled (the shirts covered in graffiti, or fake blood; the ties left undone) and juxtaposed against leather drains or shocking pink mohair tops." (p.106-12)


With the advent of the more politically-inclined hard-core punk style in the early and mid-80s, social and political slogans became common adornments. While this was not without precedent (NO-FUTURE, a vaguely political slogan from the song "God Save The Queen" by The Sex Pistols, was commonly seen on punk clothing in the mid and late-70s) the depth and detail of these slogans were not developed until the hardcore punk movement began to gain momentum.


Henry Rollins of Black Flag, displaying hardcore "anti-fashion", wearing simply a plain gray t-shirt. Henry Rollins of Black Flag, displaying hardcore "anti-fashion", wearing simply a plain gray t-shirt.

A parallel "anti-fashion" style developed emphasizing minimal adornment, eschewing branding or fashion trends and often even color, favoring muted colors. A typical late-'80s look might include a plain black t-shirt, black hooded sweatshirt, jeans or thrift store work pants, cheap flat soled shoes, and hair cut by a friend. Worn by both men and women, the clothing was asexual. In a Western society where surfaces were emblazoned with logos, advertising, and tagged with company names, and where people strove to express their personalities, ideas, gender, and sexuality through dress, the stark absence and obscuring of these symbols was distinctive. Altering this appearance with a single logo for a band, zine, or art project would heighten the effect.

Many members of punk bands have said that they are against the punk look. Bob Mould of the band Hüsker Dü (which was a hardcore punk band when they started out) said, "Punks today are so concerned about what spikes or boots they're going to wear next weekend that they don't think there can be political implications in music. On the other hand, you see someone wearing a swastika on one shoulder and an anarchy symbol on the other and they don't realize that the two contradict one another". Various punk and hardcore acts (Such as Hüsker Dü, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and others) played hardcore punk music but would wear plain t-shirts and jeans everywhere. Many punks believed that punk itself is not what you're wearing or what you look like but a concept which lies within the music itself which itself should be the definition of what punk really is. For many people the phrase 'punk fashion' is an oxymoron, as they see punk as the antithesis of fashion.


Punks at a music festival, displaying a variety of contemporary punk fashions. Punks at a music festival, displaying a variety of contemporary punk fashions.

Contemporary punk fashion has been primarily influenced by hardcore and grunge, and to a lesser extent goth and Deathrock, which may be seen as interesting as those cultures' fashion styles were influenced by the original punk fashions. Today, different facets of the punk subculture have different clothing habits. Most, however, incorporate elements from other groups as well as their own fashion. For example, a crust punk might wear a denim kutte, tight torn jeans, military boots and a mohawk, but also sport a flannel shirt which would be common in grungie punks.

"Straight" punk

In general, modern punks wear leather, denim, spikes, chains, and combat boots. Elements of early punk and hardcore fashion, such as kutten, bondage pants (often in garish plaid) and torn clothing. There is a large influence by DIY home-created and modified clothing. Their hair is typically dyed and arranged into a mohawk or one of its variations; big hair is also common. Hair can also be cut very short or shaved, but this does not mean that the individual in question is a skinhead. "Bullet belts", belts made to look like chains of bullets, have recently become popular. This style of dress is seen on followers of anarcho-punk, crust punk, straight edge, hardcore (especially "old school" hardcore), street punk, and various other genres.

Leather jackets are usually painted with band logos that express the wearer's personal taste in music, or are covered all over in studs (cone or pyramid) and spikes of various lengths. Denim vests and hooded sweatshirts (or even straitjackets) are usually covered in small band patches, and one big back patch. Denim vests are also often studded, but rarely spiked. Most punks would also combine this fashion with elements from the following types.

Contemporary hardcore

Common modern hardcore dress generally consists of jeans and a band t-shirt or hoodie. Several different styles of dress, however, exist within the different genres of hardcore. What is fashionable in one branch of the hardcore scene may be frowned upon in another.

Sometimes a hardcore fan will opt to wear athletic shorts so as to be able to perform hardcore dance moves more effectively. These fans are often the ones who wear Nike shoes (preferably Air Max 97:s) and listen to bands such as Bold, Champion, Madball, and the Cro-Mags.

Crust punk

Crust punk fashion is an extreme evolution of hardcore fashion and is heavily influenced by past bands such as Doom, Amebix and Crass. Typical crust punk fashion includes either tight black pants or camouflage shorts covered in patches, a torn band shirt and a studded black vest, a bullet belt and may or may not include a flap worn on the front or the back, and at times both.

Skate punk

Millencolin in somewhat typical skate punk fashion. Millencolin in somewhat typical skate punk fashion.

Skate punks wear clothing related to and influenced by skateboarding culture. They commonly have shaggy hair, although for practical reasons it is not unusual to see short hair. Baseball caps and trucker caps are also common, and often the bill of the cap is bent upwards, with band, film, project or most commonly skate company logos painted on the bill—this particular item is also found in some other subcultures. Skate punks generally wear straight leg or baggy/sagging jeans. They also often wear hoodies with brand or band logos. Skate punks also generally wear branded skate shoes—such as Fallen shoes, Circa, or eS footwear—and generally avoid the cheap brands—such as Airwalk or Vans—which are seen as poser brands and are not very effective for real skaters

An early Nirvana display grunge fashion. An early Nirvana display grunge fashion.


Fans of grunge, known as Grungies or Grungers, wear simple, outdoorsy fashion and "dress down" compared to more expressive clothing of other punks. They generally wear denim jackets, flannel shirts (usually plaid and often over plain, normally gray t-shirts), ripped jeans and Doc Martens or other work boots or street shoes. Hair is normally long and undyed in this style of dress, but is sometimes shorter or dyed in earthy tones.

Pop punk

Lee Harding's What's Wrong With This Picture? album cover shows modern pop punk fashion Lee Harding's What's Wrong With This Picture? album cover shows modern pop punk fashion

Today's pop punk fans are often seen wearing Converse All-Stars or skate shoes for footwear, plaid pants, Dickies pants, pre-worn jeans or tight black stretch jeans and ties with t-shirts. Accessories include studded belts, stretchy gloves with the fingers cut off, blazers, and trilbies and similar hats. Excessive eye make-up in both males and females is common. Hair is usually long for women and short and spiky for men and is often dyed black or extremely blonde, and also with brightly colored patches of stripes. This fashion is a result of the third wave of pop punk—influenced by artists such as Green Day, Good Charlotte, Avril Lavigne and others. This fashion also has considerable crossover with the related emo fashion.

A cartoon showing a stereotypical example of emo dress. A cartoon showing a stereotypical example of emo dress.

Emo and scene

Some fans of "emo" or "scene" hardcore opt for the tight black t-shirt effect coupled with skintight girl's jeans, white belt, and a carabiner on the back belt loop. This style is sometimes known as "scenecore" or "hXc" (pronounced "hardcore"). It is often associated with bands such as Some Girls, and Converge. Dyed black hair, ear piercings, lip rings, flesh tunnels and labrets are all quite popular within this particular scene as well. This fashionable hardcore uniform is the object of ridicule by those who feel it is antithetical to the hardcore punk ethos, or those who feel it betrays the roots of hardcore.


It should be said that contemporary punk fashion is extremely commercialized, as many well-established fashion designers, particularly Jean-Paul Gautier use punk elements in their production. Punk clothing, which was initially handmade, became mass produced and sold in record stores and some smaller specialty clothing stores by the 1980s. By the late 1990s, the publicly traded corporation Hot Topic established the business of selling what they advertised as "punk style clothing" at American shopping malls. Many fashion magazines and other glamored media are now advertising the classic punk hair-style or suits with as a punk-style touch as the "respectable image." This indicates that punk has become an established mainstream style. Many people from the original punk scene of the 70s have since heavily criticized the subsequent scenes of "conforming to fashion", and lacking the originality and individuality which motivated the original punk fashions.

Common elements of punk fashion

Bondage pants
Chuck Taylor All-Stars shoes
Dickies pants and shorts
Dr. Martens boots
Dyed mohawks
Leather jackets
Piercings, stereotypically of the nose
Safety pins
Skate shoes
Spike bands
Torn clothing


  • Dick Hebidge (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Routledge, March 10, 1981; softcover ISBN 0415039495). Cited in Negus, Keith (1996). Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819563102.
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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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