The fashion legacy of punk rock bands

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The Ramones on stage
The Ramones coordinated basic t-shirts, jeans and leather jackets to create a simple yet distinct look
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Punk rock bands fashion and attitudes have yet to go out of style

Punk rock bands and fashion go together like green Kool-Aid and hair. Punk rock bands emerged full force from the United States and the United Kingdom around the early 1970s. Though Joey Ramone and Johnny Rotten both laid claim to putting out the first punk album, many fashion and music fans agree that the Velvet Underground played a major role in laying the foundation for the style and attitude associated with punk and mod fashion.

No primer in punk rock fashion would be complete without a nod to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. McLaren briefly managed the New York Dolls in New York City before returning to London influenced by the New York aesthetic. Once in London, he partnered with his girlfriend and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood to open the fashion shop called SEX. Punk lore has it that McLaren began managing the Sex Pistols to promote the fashions in the shop, though the band existed prior to his management.

McLaren’s promotional efforts, coupled with poor socioeconomic conditions in both countries put ripped t-shirts, leather and denim jackets with profane phrases or patches of fabric safety-pinned to the back center stage of a sub-culture that exploded onto the fashion and music scene even before it had a name. In fact, the term ‘punk’, was first coined by the fanzine PUNK out of New York City.

Punk Rock Bands' Fashions

Subversive by nature, punk rock bands do not lend themselves to generalizations. Fueled by raw, untamed energy, most of these bands began with limited means and simply wore basic clothing personalized with sharpies, white out and safety-pinned fabric patches. Iconic punk clothing is, in a sense, fashion that has been destroyed and put back together inside out, torn, backwards or left unfinished. It’s not supposed to ‘make sense’.

New York Dolls

Malcolm McLaren credited the fashions he and Vivienne Westwood sold at SEX to the influence of New York punk rocker Richard Hell of the early New York Dolls. Also referred to as ‘Glam Rock’ for their androgynous image, the New York Dolls wore heavy makeup and loose rock n’ roll sound. From dark eye shadow and thick black eye liner, to gold platform boots and leather pants, the New York Dolls came on the music scene before punk was defined as punk, but the fashion influences still show up on hipster bands with a flair for showmanship today, like the Scissor Sisters or Semi Precious Weapons.

The Ramones

Formed in New York City in 1974, The Ramones were a major influence on New York’s punk scene. With fitted black or white t-shirts, fitted leather jackets and blue jeans, the Ramones are an example of a band that started out with little money. Though they went on to film the movie ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ and record hits ‘Rockaway Beach’ and ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, their t-shirt&jeans style remained their trademark. Ramones fans are easy to spot in a crowd, as they insist on wearing a Ramones t-shirt regardless of the occasion.

Black Flag and Dead Kennedys

Hardcore punk rock bands had a harder sound, and many of the bands ignored elaborate punk styles and went with a basic look, which of course evolved into its own brand of fashion. Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, fronted by Henry Rollins in the early 80s, wore basic tee shirts and jeans, but their fans often sported Mohawks and anarchy symbols. Clothes worn by fans had little adornment so they could mosh easily. Female punks combine dainty with masculine clothing, sporting customized blazers over plaid miniskirts, fishnets and military boots.

The Clash

Out of the U.K., The Clash rocked jeans, leather jackets, t-shirts, button downs – they made whatever they wore look cool. Recently named #30 on Rolling Stones list of top 100 artists, The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ album, when listened to on repeat, will infuse you with one fashion element you can’t buy – attitude.

Fans wore intentionally offensive t-shirts including images of inverted crucifixes, and the words ‘Destroy’. DIY creations ranged from dresses made of trash bags, to torn leather, vinyl and rubber clothing. Hair styles were either minimal (shaved heads) or extreme (foot-high Mohawks), and body modifications more common on punks than not.

Punk fashion has never really gone out of style. A segment of youth will always discover MC5, the Stooges, The Dictators, T Rex, Joy Division and The Exploited. These bands are a ray of light for teens who reject mainstream media and relate more to what music and fashion ‘says’ than to how it sounds or looks. Or, they simply want to look different from everyone else and punk fashions lack no amount of absurd theatrics for inspiration.

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