January 30, 2017

Style Tribes – review

Posted in Book review, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:26 pm by historywardrobe


Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures

Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures – Caroline Young (Frances Lincoln, 2016)

When you first discovered fashion, did you want to fit in or stand out? It seems that no matter how much we might want to assert our individuality, we can’t help making connections with others who like the same togs. And, while we think of clothes as being civilising, author Caroline Young is pretty certain that clothes are actually tribal.  Frankly, the first human adornments are believed to have been declaration of status and availability.  Has much changed?

In this attractive, picture-rich book, Young explores the links between youth, music culture and fashion.  Couture barely gets (or deserves) a look-in.  If you remember your own teenage years, much of the themes she covers will resonate.  Mine was the era of the New Romantics… on a very strict budget. My clothes were indeed influenced by music subcultures, and the cover art of those lovely LPs we flipped through at Woolworths and the local record shop. Alas, my solitary Duran Duran t-shirt soon became naff.  Since it was black, I next wore it back-to-front under a dubious fringed jacket during a moodier Goth phase.

Young’s descriptions of the sheer inventiveness of subculture fashion certainly rings true to me.  As teens (and beyond) we created our own looks from what we could afford, and what we could customise. To my chagrin, I remember attending one teen party with loops of coloured paperclips over my turquoise bat-wing top.  My best friend (always fabulously dressed & accessorised) complimented me on looking “so different.” Frankly I’d rather have been kitted out in shop-bought branded goods.  Now, of course, the high street can provide any look, often at minimal cost.  Funky, maybe, but punk it ain’t.


Style Tribes – punk


Reading Style Tribes is like wearing a pair of well-loved classic jeans – you know what you’re getting and you like it.  The chronology takes us through a cavalcade of cutting-edge fashion, all of it ultra-modern in its day.  Though mainly Western, the cultural span is broader than most fashion books, encompassing white surfer dudes and Black zoot suits; Asian harajuku and goa trance.

20170130_165101.jpgLooking back we can raise an eyebrow at outlandish extremes, or smile in admiration at the glorious rebelliousness of it all.  Beatnik, disco, riot grrls and steampunk, all are now immortalised in history.  What next?  Young says look to organically growing moods and moments in society:

“There are always new tribes… We just don’t know about them yet”


Style Tribes is smart, insightful and occasionally edgy. It celebrates all those outfits that made conservative parents shudder and say, “You can get back up those stairs – you’re not going out looking like that!”  Forget catwalks, think catcalls.  This fashion is high street & back alleys. It is attitude, not platitude. Tribalism at its most colourful and courageous.


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