Ever since teen angst was commercialized in the 50s, conscious kids have invented ways to use their appearance as ideological ammunition. This article isn’t about Bebo mall-goths (I call them moths) or college drop-ins in Che Guevara shirts. We’re talking about clothing choices that invented the future rather than just bastardizing the past (or at least bastardized it so good that it became indistinguishable from the future–headfuck). And if you think fashion is empty and can’t change the world, well, where have you been? Punk caused a generation gap, T-shirts have played part in non-violent resistance for years, fuck, the birth of the mini skirt practically derailed society. Because what’s important to remember is, in the end it’s not about fashion. It’s about using fashion as a way to say something bigger, about living.
1968: No bra
With the second wave of women’s lib in the late 60s and early 70s, a lot of angry women refused to wear bras, preferring to let their boobs sag freely down their chests, rather than be imprisoned by that horrible, cage-like apparel. Ick! Although nowadays stripping off your underwear to appear less of a sex object may seem a bit silly, at the time it like was like way progressive. Lazy journalists invented the first few instances of bra-burning, but feminists around the world thought this was a great idea, and did start burning their bras.
Fuck you, men.
1971-1974: Dudes who look like ladies
During the Glam Rock era, men dressed in women’s clothes and makeup because they thought it would get them chicks. Mick Jagger, the New York Dolls, David Bowie, and Brian Eno were wearing high heels, makeup and women’s blouses onstage (hot). In turn this inspired young British guys to wander the streets in sparkly, knee-high platforms and metallic fabric, wearing their sexual confusion with pride. While the actual gays were dressing like biker gang members.
Fuck you, not getting laid.
1976: Being punk
Sure, someone, somewhere did something punk before Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. But Punk: the Style was invented by McLaren after reading loads of Situationist books and deciding to rename his shop SEX. He then sold torn-to-shit clothing and bondage gear with the specific intent of changing the world, and marketed the whole package with his shop’s house band, the Sex Pistols. People always talk about Sid and Nancy as being the darling couple of punk, but anyone in their right mind would so obviously choose Viv and Malcolm over Sid and Nancy in a potential threesome situation.
Fuck you, rules.
1979 and currently: Radical Islam
This was the year of the Iranian Revolution, during which Shah’s corrupt, hyperwestern puppet regime was overthrown and replaced with a much-better-for-everyone Islamic republic. Even today Iranian men can’t wear ties, because they’re seen as a western import. Modern-day Muslim girls know that wearing their Islamic headscarves, and veils in particular, really pissed people off, and pop stars and fashion designers love them because they’re mildly controversial.
Fuck you, sexual freedom.
1979: Skinhead revival
Though skinhead originated among working-class kids trying to look black in 60s England, by the late 70s it had made a racist/anti-racist comeback, mainly as a reaction to what was perceived as the deadness of punk. One look at Nick Knight’s book Skinhead and you will almost certainly be convinced that skinhead is the sexiest of all the youth cult fashions. It also doubles as magnificent masturbation material.
Fuck you. Full stop.
The world’s only youth movement named after a sandwich bar was a weird fuck-you to Italy’s hippies and the older generation’s sense of cultural superiority. These guys wore preppy American and Italian sportswear, and played a massive part in making outdoor gear like Timberlands fashionable. In fact, in some ways, the early 90s hip-hop wardrobe is just baggy Paninaro with bigger logos. And the Pet Shop Boys wrote one of fashion’s greatest songs about them. The Paninari didn’t give a shit about politics, loved looking good, and everything American, like sportswear, trashy pop music, and hanging out in burger and sandwich bars.
Fuck you, Euro communists
1990: Being Amish
Apparently the early 90s saw a surge in the growth of the Amish population, which may have had something to do with them having an average of 6.8 children per family. The Amish refuse to engage or adapt to modern convenience, and in turn, live very simple (aka terrible) lives, and dress extremely plainly, so as not to draw attention to themselves. No wonder they have so many kids, there’s literally nothing to do but fuck.
Fuck you, modern life.
Roughly 1990 on: Letting your ass hang out
Sometime in the 90s, sagging jeans became a big look in hip-hop and with skaters. A lot of people blame guys adopting a look made popular in prisons because of the prohibiting of belts, but pants had also been getting a lot baggier around this time too. By 1996, designer Alexander McQueen came out with “bumsters.” I don’t know if flaunting your butt cleavage is necessarily what one would call “abrasive to the state”—although enough places have tried to outlaw this practice—but it definitely heavily angered my mother.
Fuck you, not looking like a gang banger, aka running the risk of looking gay.
Mid-90s: Self-harm scars
Ever since Richie Manic slashed “4 Real” into his arm in 1991, some sick people have thought that was a really cool move. For real, all the super-alt kids at my high school in 1998 definitely spent their time alone in their bedrooms, thinking deep thoughts and listening to Elliott Smith while covering their wrists in razor scars (although they normally weren’t that deep (pussies), and were generally half-concealed by a studded bracelet in an “I’m making a lame attempt to cover up my scars but not really because I actually want you to know my pain” sort of way).
Fuck you, pretending everything is OK.
2000: The keffiyeh
Remember those Palestinian scarves everyone was wearing around the turn of the millennium? Well, aside from being a “hot” fashion trend, those scarves—correctly known as keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian headdress—were supposed to be being worn as a symbol of support for the Palestinian people’s second rebellion against Israeli occupation rather than a drool-bib for PBR and nasal drip, which is how roughly 99% of them ended up.
Fuck you, understanding the nuances of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
2000s: Ganguro girls
Ganguro is a trend that started among young girls in Japan in the early 90s, but hit its peak around 2000. Ganguro girls basically look like blackface, cartoon versions of California beach sluts, only with tranny nails and covered in neon stickers. They’re known for using black ink and permanent marker as makeup, and wearing baggy thigh-highs which they literally superglue to their skin to hold them up. This might seem a bit silly or “kiddie dress-up” from afar, but actually some girls who dedicate themselves to the trend are shunned from Japanese society, because of their desire to embody the complete opposite of traditional Japanese standards of beauty.
Fuck you, country that won’t let people with tattoos go swimming.
2000s: Color revolutions
Ukraine’s Orange Revolution
Color revolution was a method of non-violent resistance used in several societies in the CIS (former USSR) and Balkan states during the early 2000s, where people wore specific colours as a symbol of protest against corrupt or authoritarian governments. Color revolutions have been successful in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and (although more violent than the previous ones) in Kyrgyzstan (2005). Each time, disputed elections were followed by massive street protests, which then led to the resignation or overthrow of authoritarian leaders. Pretty cool. Also worth a mention is the failed one in Iran where the pro-democracy guys wore green and thousands of people were killed by their own government.
Fuck you, electoral fraud.
2008: Mexican emos
Mostly I’ve avoided the most obvious rehashing of punk and club kid fashions, because no one is actually threatened by that stuff. But remember when emo became really popular in Mexico a couple years back? Reminding us all that while Hot Topic means being truly alt. in the West is near impossible, in the third world it can still get you killed. The emo explosion caused an insanely violent backlash among Mexican teens of other persuasions (punks, Rastas, metal kids, etc.) claiming emos were lame, overly sentimental homos and, well, just emo basically. Anti-emo riots broke out across Mexico. Emos were repeatedly threatened and assaulted for their clothes and music taste. Bloggers raved about killing emos online. It was totally fucked. And the sad part is, emos are an inherently peaceful type, which meant in most cases they just took the abuse rather than fighting back, and their passivity just pissed the haters off even more. Poor little things! (I’m serious.)
Fuck you, macho Mexicans.