Fashion Exploration in Sub-Genres

Graphic by Juana Moya

Music subcultures have always held an image to the public. One of defiance and the conveyance of political and social reform messages. These subcultures come from the formation of groups of people with similar mindsets, gathering to shape vibrant events that showcase their ideologies. This creates a space where passions are openly embraced, fostering connections among kindred spirits. Through distinctive clothing styles and aesthetics, these subcultures employ visual expressions as a means of communication. In the past, you could identify someone’s clique or music scene through their fashion choices. You could associate their generalized political stance through where they fit in the scene, whether that was anarchy or sexual liberation, female empowerment, or conservative views. We see examples of this clear division of fashion throughout music culture.

The most recognizable fashion-music subversion can be found in the 1960s counterculture of “hippie” fashion. A spiritualized tune of psychedelic rock based on a backbone of community living carries a recognizable look of upcycled paisley prints and flowy skirts. A “boho” naturalistic style of reworked clothes such as crotchet tops and flower crowns worked by adding creativity and flow to express their views. A community of similar politically viewed hippies dominated this time, with anti-war sentiments and the women’s sexual liberation movement, these carefree styles worked to identify what they believed in.

A couple of decades later in the music scene, we see these same intentions being shared by a seemingly opposing force. The punk rockers of the 1980s, rocking their signature look of liberty spikes and crust pants took their style in a way that emulated the hippies of previous generations. As you analyze deeper into the subculture you begin to understand the connotations between the lines, the music, and its lyrics, and what they were trying to achieve through their looks. Punks and hippies both showcase heavy anti-government involvement but hold completely different aesthetics of colors and themes behind revolutions, peace & love, and the violence of moshing and “anarchy”. The result is a differentiating look, as they are expressed and felt differently through different viewpoints on the same issue. Exploring fashion in different sub-genres of the music scene comes with the direct involvement and correlation of political and social issues, and the cause and effect of how these groups expressed that. They use their music to express their ideas, use the lyrics as well as their instruments, to express their love, pain, and restlessness with the government or political standing. Both of these subcultures also shared the title of a DIY scene, meaning the self-organization of underground music scenes for similar minded communities that work to move away from the mainstream environment. We can also see the rise of these fashion and musical communities in more modern times, such as the rise of hip-hop as a DIY scene.

Groups like The Roots and artist Kendrick Lamar found a culture and scene in a time where they felt the need to be heard in areas where they felt unrepresented and dismissed, and made music as a way to express that. Tracks that talk about the issues these people face, the hardships of racial violence, drugs, and addiction, and from that it has taken over to become its own identity. This scene, like the ones before it, came from a group of people begging for action and change, in how the government treats them or how they want to be noticed in their path of liberation. These statements are expressed in their outwear too, with a growing “sneaker culture” and a rush of baggy distressed looks that reflect their resourcefulness, borrowing elements from sportswear and urban street styles. The Streetwear of the 1980s began with skaters and basketball shoes, its look has changed, while its ideology of empowerment being shown through interest in luxury wear has stayed. This is another example of Sub-genres in music-centered spaces giving way to the ability for self expression in areas where it was hard to have a voice politically and socially and gave way to creativity in the birth of these sub-genres.

It is fascinating to pick apart the reasoning and human psychology between where people feel they identify in a sub-genre, throughout the decades and even now. People’s common interests in sounds, fashion, and even what they believe in are heavily intertwined with the struggles they faced and what they have worked to overcome. It’s no coincidence in my mind that punk rockers who find generalized expression through violent moshes and explosions have a centralized idea of anarchy and no government. Or how hippies instead focused on communes and “mind expansion” rather than governmental control or capitalistic countries. These are two effects of the same cause. The exploration of different fashions and aesthetics is not just what it seems at face value, it turns into an analysis of the human expression.

Fashion is cyclical, and as different music styles come in and out of tune, so do the styles from decades before. Now more than ever we see thrifting and reusing old clothes becoming popularized, as the emphasis on no waste and unique pieces grows. Now in the Miami music scene, you can go to a popular punk show, go to an indie pop-up event, and see fashion styles and perspectives across a board of creative minds and bodies. No longer is fashion centralized in the music venues or spaces where they feel comfortable, they are outwardly expressed more and more since individuality has become so big for Gen-Z minds. You can see metalheads and goths at the same events, something in the 1980s that would’ve been controversial and dangerous. Before our time, these spaces of fashion and musical cliques were so closed off because of the fear of being a “poser”, where a lot of these scenes turned to violence to protect their subculture, their fashion, and in turn their ideology. Members of a subgenre push away others of different scenes. But now we have a scene of unity. Where before it was punks versus new waves versus goths, we can all experiment on our tastes, and even hold a real enlightening conversation with one another on our different values and experiences.

With the rise of Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming music platforms, we see this line of subculture “phobia” being crossed. We are less judgemental since we all try to experiment and explore more in the modern age, and we have the ability now thanks to technology. You can listen to politically conscious rap music, and then switch to the conscious sound of psychedelia. We are seeing more musical festivals with large and diverse lineups of different sounds, such as this year’s Coachella hosting a mash of 90s punk (No Doubt and Sublime) to modern sounds of indie-pop, (Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish). As we are surrounded by different fans and different ideologies, we feel unified in the sense that we are not so different after all. We are more connected in this day and age, which leads to fashion and music exploration, and is the cause of the effect of sub-genres blurring the lines between each other.

Fashion is a representation of people’s ideas and feelings and how the clothes they wear connect them to subcultures of the past. But now, when you go to a show in the scene you can see a crowd of different colors and styles. A space of unity and connectedness, going up to others to compliment their platform “go-go” boots or their color-dyed liberty spikes; creates connections across previously separate subcultures. Music itself fosters and creates subcultures between people, the genres of different tempos and uses of musical instruments connecting us are reflected by our fashion. Music is the expression of our people, of our generation. Through moshing steps and drunken nights, we can go to venues and dress how we like and experiment with our creativity. In this way, it unites us and transcends any outside worries or discrimination. The fusion of fashion and political activism shows exactly how style can amplify social messages. Collaborative online music and the nature of our sub-genres today let us see how modern technology bridges diverse genres and styles into a more unified community.

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