What Is Punk Rock Clothing?

Written by abbie rumbach
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What Is Punk Rock Clothing?
Punk fashion, a confrontational look of rebellion, began in the 1970s. (punk guy in London image by Jerome Dancette from Fotolia.com)

Punk rock fashion, though commonplace today, was incredibly controversial when it made its debut in the early 1970s. The look was inspired by punk music bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, which rebelled against authority and the establishment. In contrast to the disco music scene that was also popular in the early 70s, punk was considered to be angry, dark and anti-establishment. The clothes worn by members of this movement signified rebellion against current social conditions.


Punk fashion started in London in the early 1970s as part of the punk rock music movement. Music, by bands such as The Ramones, was as anarchic and aggressive as the fashion it inspired. Although torn or frayed fabrics are common today, in the 1970s, they were a fashion that was quite shocking and had never before been seen. Punks, due to the depressed economic and sociopolitical conditions of the time, went to thrift shops to buy clothing and then cut them up and then used safety pins or chains to put them back together again to create their anti-establishment look. Teens of the early punk fashion movement were looking for an escape from the boredom and constraints of contemporary culture as unemployment, racial tensions and social upheaval inspired them to rebel. Their fashion choices stood as a symbol of their dissatisfaction with the current social conditions.

Common Elements

Punk fashion is unisex in nature. Common elements are torn T-shirts, skinny jeans, leather trousers, studded or plain leather MC jackets, motorcycle boots, Chuck Taylors or Dr. Martens. Accessories include ripped fishnet stockings, spike bands and other studded jewellery, safety pins, silver bracelets and heavy eyeliner worn by both men and women.

Subsets of Punk Fashion

Punk fashion has many different subsets. Early punk fashion, for example, was strongly influenced by the designs of Vivienne Westwood. It was a combination of mod and greaser fashion styles, which were very confrontational in nature. Skate punk fashion evolved in the 80s and traditionally included wearing baggy trousers or torn jeans. A hooded sweatshirt with some sort of skate logo is essential to this look. Sneakers such as Vans, Etnies or Emerica have been popular shoes among skate punks. Punk fashion with a political edge is known as crust punk fashion, and involved wearing camouflage trousers, torn shirt of popular bands and studded vests, as well as patches with political messages and dreadlocks. Horror Punk, or goth, in which black clothes are worn and make-up is quite heavy and black, is heavily influenced by the popular 80s punk band The Misfists.

Body Piercings and Hairstyle

Although today it is not shocking to see someone with a nose or eyebrow piercing, it was quite startling in the early 70s to see someone with anything pierced beyond their ears. As a deliberately shocking act, punks often pierced their noses, eyebrows, cheeks or lips. In the early 70s, being shocking or even offensive was the objective of the punk fashion wearer and an avant-garde hairstyle was essential to completing the punk look. Punk hairstyles often included mohawks. Mohawks were achieved by using sugar and water solutions, soaping, gelatin, pva glue, hairsprays and hair gel. Dying the mohawk green or pink was also common as was shaving various areas of the scalp.

Contemporary Punk Fashion

Ironically, the punk fashion movement that was rooted in anti-establishment rebellion has become extremely commercialised today. Many contemporary fashion designers, such as Jean-Paul Gautier, use punk elements in their collections. Although punk clothing was originally handmade, it became mass produced and sold in record stores and in smaller speciality stores by the 1980s. In the 1990s, punk fashion hit American malls at the store Hot Topic.

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