Monday, 13 February 2017

The internet and style - The Migration of Subcultures

When I was fifteen, I fell madly and utterly in love with the Ramones and, quickly thereafter, The Clash, The Damned, The Sex Pistols and a whole host of other punk bands. The music lead me to the style and suddenly gave me something to focus on. Through my love for punk, I refined my own sense of personal style and found an "identity".

I've discussed this before, but a friend and I once had a conversation about this period of our lives, years later. We hadn't known each other then but both felt that, upon reflection, we had embraced subcultures as shields. When people weren't nice to us and we were lost and confused, stuck halfway between child and adult, these subcultures made us part of something bigger and we didn't have to feel so adrift. When people weren't nice to us, it was because of the music we liked and how we presented ourselves, not because of any flaw in our personalities, not because we were unlikeable. Subcultures fueled our bullies but hardened us against them at the same time.

Subcultures were a way of wearing "who you are" on the outside. They were a way of being able to identify potentially like-minded people at a glance.

But subcultures as we once knew them are dying.

The internet means that you don't have to wait until you go to a bigger town for a day, for a gig or merely dressed in your genre, in order to find like-minded people. It means that anyone, anywhere can find people with similar interests and outlooks - no matter how niche they might be.

And, so, it has been documented that subcultures are dying in the way that we used to know them. People don't need to clothe themselves in their identities anymore and they don't need to focus on one thing, they have access to a world of possibilities and references, even more than I did just a few years ago. When I first read about this vanishing of fashion subcultures as we knew them, I was sad, incredibly sad. Will teen movies no longer have goth kids and skaters and preps and nerds? Will the tribes that created a landscape of visual interest disappear? While they haven't been such a pronounced thing in Ireland for some time now, the idea of them being gone made a fashion nerd like me a little nostalgic and achey. The slow reduction into tropes to be recycled and taken from context on runways, turned me into a grumpy old man, hankering for times gone by (and, in many cases, long gone before I was even actually born, if I'm to be honest).

Yet, while this downturn has been documented by design historians and sociologists alike, even the layman can see that it is not necessarily the absolute end for fashion subcultures. The internet has long been a second home to subcultures, a place where new fashion tribes are bred and born. And, now, Instagram, Tumblr and Youtube mean that physically vocal proponents of subcultures and styles can be given a platform, hone their look, record it to perfection and, even, become a star because of it. Hell, their look might even become their career.

These new and reimagined subcultures may not be spotted lingering outside certain Dublin buildings, causing a nuisance, any more but they are out there, dotted across the globe, crafting a sophisticated image, quoting sources left and right and living on. Take Lolita, for example, a subculture that has divided into endless sub-genres and subcultures of its own and which has moved from the streets of Tokyo to a vast online community worldwide. In fact, in moving online, it has been given new life, perhaps sustained life, and spawned niches so specific that it can boggle the mind.

Subcultures aren't truly dead yet. They've been reborn as something more personal, more professional and more cultivated. They no longer seem to be born of unified ideas and movements belonging to specific and different generations but, rather, are at the beck and call of this generation, who have developed the skills to morph and manipulate according to their own desires. Perhaps the goths and skaters, as we once knew them, are largely invisible on the streets nowadays, but they have not died out. They have merely migrated.

And, maybe, if you're lucky, you'll get to see a rare mass-gathering IRL for a con or event.

Sarah, a friend and lover of Lolita styles

Josie, another friend and lover of Lolita

Gothic themes and inspired makeup being adopted at a fashion show

Paul Costelloe taking a cue from punk a couple of season back


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