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These newly-formed groups engaged in a struggle over cultural ‘space’ and expressed themselves in new ways, but were not able to solve many of the problems associated with the peripheral social position of youth (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.1).The exact definition of a subculture is always in dispute and boundaries remain a problem, but the concept style is important as it is “the area in which the opposing definitions clash with the most dramatic force” (Hebdige 1979, p.3).This essay will examine the punk fashion and youth movement of the late 1970s in Britain and America in the realm of the youth culture it was formed in and influenced, including how it was received by the wider Western society of the time, and its long-term impacts on Western society as a whole.
When John Lydon – then know as Johnny Rotten – wrote the lyrics to his band the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’ in late 1976, at a time when young working class English people were facing grim economic prospects, little did he know of the cultural and social impact his band and songs would have.
The social meanings created by English punk bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Slits and The Damned, their American counterparts the New York Dolls and the Ramones, and Australia’s The Saints, have been pored over in the ensuing decades, and for good reason: very few youth subcultures have had such an impact on Western society as punk.
w=470&h=294 470w, https://ptooff.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/kingsroad1_1863755i.jpg? w=150&h=94 150w, https://ptooff.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/kingsroad1_1863755i.jpg? w=300&h=188 300w, https://ptooff.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/kingsroad1_1863755620w" sizes="(max-width: 470px) 100vw, 470px" / Style and fashion play important roles in distinguishing one social group from another and from the rest of society, and are vital in giving individuals and groups both a sense of belonging and of being unique.
Through sartorial and behavioural choices group identification is produced, and just as fashion encodes style, members of a group bearing a particular fashion reinforce their tribalism.
As the idea of ‘youth’ appeared in post-war Britain as one of the most obvious social changes, the social landscape changed accordingly.
The appearance of youth brought about new legislation, official interventions, and was signified as something “we ought to do something about” (Jefferson 1989, p.10).Style, in a broad sense, has been defined as “the counter-hegemonic practices of youth subcultures” (Hebdige 1979, p.2) and, in Hebdige’s description of style in the realm of subcultures, style is a form of social refusal or “criminal art” (1979, p.2).Like fashion, the concept of style can be relevant when discussing both individuals and cultures.Indeed, possibly the most important aspect of a subcultural group is its use of symbolic style (Brake 2013, p.12), with the dominant values of style being image, demeanour and ‘argot’, or a special vocabulary and how it is delivered (Brake 2013, p.13).The nature of subcultural groups’ clothes is very complex: they are the “system of signals by which [they] broadcast [their] intentions, projection of [their] fantasy selves, weapons, challenges, insults” (Carter 1967, p.10).Historian Jon Savage said “Many of the people whose lives were touched by punk talk of being in a state of shock ever since” (1991, p.4).It is generally accepted that the punk movement began in America in the early 1970s, but it became to be perhaps most closely associated with Britain in the mid- and late-1970s: a time when an economic recession, with its high levels of unemployment and increase in poverty-line living conditions, provided a catalyst for a new youth movement.Although closely linked, fashion and style can be defined in different ways.A dictionary definition of fashion is “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration or behaviour” (Oxford Dictionary, online), whereas style is defined as “a manner or way” (Oxford Dictionary, online).The power of ‘otherness’ was deliberately harnessed as a tool of protest, as a way to provoke and agitate.A post-modern society, transformed by evolving fashions, music, and attitudes, emerged as a challenge to the status quo; the prevailing social and cultural positions of modern life (Chambers & Cohen 1990, p.143).