Fashion can give a voice to a collective or people on the fringe of society. This is most evident among youth subcultures. Subcultures have a shared group identity based on the consumption of music, fashion and drugs. They have their own philosophy and social codes, and their allegiance to this group is signified through ‘style’.
The principal British subcultures are:
? Teddy Boys
? Northern Soul
? Chavs –
In the 1950s, working class youths known as 'Teddy Boys' emulated the style of the Edwardian period, usurping the look of the upper classes and hijacking its connotations of social status. More recently, Goths are inspired by gothic horror novels like Frankenstein and Dracula, gothic architecture and Victoriana. In the last decade a group known as 'chavs' has emerged. Chavs wear brands like Burberry and Rockport. They are generally depised and ridiculed by the mainstream and it’s debatable whether they constitute a subculture or an underclass. They seem to have the look, but no philosophy.
Dick Hebdige’s book Subculture: The Meaning of Style uses an extract from The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet, describing how a tube of Vaseline found on his person is confiscated by Spanish police. This mundane object signifies his homosexuality. Hebdige argues that Genet explored the subversive implications of style. He writes, ‘Like Genet also, we are intrigued by the most mundane objects – a safety pin, a pointed shoe, a motor cycle – which, none the less, like the tube of Vaseline, take on a symbolic dimension, becoming a form of stigmata, tokens of a self-imposed exile.’ Objects can be appropriated as style and used to express identity.
Perhaps the most cosmopolitan British subculture was the Mod scene. The Mod uniform was a sharp suit with narrow lapels and frog-mouth pockets. The look was one part French cinematic élan, one part American Jazz cool and one part Italian chic. Mods were inspired by the existential cool of Jean-Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle, part of the French New Wave in cinema. The cover of Miles Davis’ album Milestones inspired Mods to buy green Oxford cloth button-down shirts. Another source was Italian waiters working in Soho, who zipped around on Italian-made scooters. The Lambretta scooter was a talisman of Mod culture. The working parts were masked by a carapace, which made it ideal for sharp-suited Mods.
The mod scene was depicted in the film Quadrophenia and more recently in Brighton Rock.
One of the most problematic subcultures is the skinhead movement. Skinhead culture originated among white working class youths in Britain in the late 1960s. The name derives from the way they shaved their heads to produce an aggressive, militant look. We tend to associate the Skinhead look with inner-city racism, but the original skinheads united by a love of black Jamaican culture.
Since the 1950s West Indian immigrants had been settling in Britain. Skinheads often lived in the same economically depressed areas of South London as West Indian immigrants and began to emulate the rude boy look of delinquent Jamaican youth: pork pie hats and short Levi jeans. The first skinheads were greatly influenced by Jamaican music, including ska, reggae and rocksteady. The link between skinheads and Jamaican music led to the development of the skinhead reggae genre by artists like Desmond Dekker, Derrick Morgan and The Pioneers.