Punk is a lifestyle, not just style. And so, I have to start off by admitting: I am so totally NOT punk. Evidence?
-I work from 9-5 and I’m mostly fine with that
-I get secretly excited to shop at Target
-I enjoy Subway’s Veggie Delite, least punk of all sandwiches
-I’m horrified at the thought of anarchy (I’m more of an enthusiastic big-government bleeding-heart Socialist)
I’m not even someone who dresses punk, most of the time. Punk is a deconstruction: ragged seams, exposed safety pins, revealing the things that are usually hidden. I’m a fairly lady-like dresser in general, in spite of being a feminazi with a foul mouth and hair-trigger temper. If I’m not wearing at least one floral print or bright lipstick, I feel naked.
And yet, here I come, about to use this week’s column to dabble in punk. I’m a style dilettante, skimming the surface of something much bigger than mohawks and ripped jeans. I enjoy dying my hair dark blue and wearing blackish-purple lipstick, but that doesn’t make me punk, any more than wearing a fringed shawl would make me a fortune-teller.
In Ghost World, one of the greatest graphic novels EVER, Enid dabbles in punk, dyes her hair green, and is mocked for it. Seriously, read this. Relatable, frustrating, beautifully drawn, sad, and funny.
So to find the fashion courage to experiment with punk, I take my inspiration from (this won’t come as a shock to anyone even vaguely interested in fashion) Vivienne Westwood. Often called the Queen of Punk, the legendary designer essentially defined the entire look of the movement, creating clothes for The Sex Pistols, among other music legends. And she’s still designing today, mixing high fashion with grungy elements of her radical past.
That’s her on the right in the late ’70s, making plaid look gooooood.
But she hasn’t calcified or become a relic of the past: she’s still designing today, still popular and relevant, mixing high fashion with grungy punk. And that’s how she’s survived: she has adapted. Maybe there’s no such thing as “pure” punk anymore. It was a time and place in history and space. It was London, it was the 1970’s, it was garage rock. If punk has staying power, it’s because it’s capable of adapting, of changing, of mating with other trends and fashions to become something new.
This is her today: still totally punk.
So I like to take my cue from her and not worry too much about what punk is, or what I am. I like wearing what I like, and sometimes it’s fun to wear a costume, play a role. Let’s throw an outfit together!
Rockin’ t-shirts and tanks are not usually my forte. But when I go to dive bars, I like to play-act at being a badass, and that’s where this shirt enters the picture:
The punkest alcohol of all, except for toilet vodka.
You make a compelling argument, shirt! Whiskey it is.
I got this shirt at the SF bar Whiskey Thieves, a fairly mellow Tenderloin dive. Limited edish, so you missed out.
When I got my ears pierced, it was at Claire’s at the mall, I was 14, and ice cubes, needles, and teen rebellion were completely missing from the mix. Now, I’m quite a bit older than 14, but I still occasionally find my way into Claire’s, if a little shamefacedly. Yes, I got these suckers at a store intended for girls just barely past menarche:
And you would not BELIEVE the compliments I get on them. Because I can’t take a compliment,
I always confess I got them at Claire’s.
Shoes-wise, nothing’s more punk than some ass-stomping boots.
Steel toe optional, but awesome. The obvious choice is Doc Martens: sturdy, never-not-cool, classic. Some things you just don’t overthink. Maybe one day I’ll save enough dough to buy these beauties
Vegan, $130, shiny. So shiny. I’m magpie-ing over here.
Because I don’t have them yet, I improvise with the next best thing: Classic Converse.
Nothing more punk than wackily upside-down pics!
I’ve owned these puppies since my junior year of high school- that patina of age gives them extra cred. (However, the reason I bought them was for a costume for our theater production of a humorous sketch comedy about Shakespeare. Cred REVOKED.) Converse will never be uncool, like loafers, or denim jackets, or Bill Murray.
Headbanging can really give you a nasty headache. Hey, I TOLD you I wasn’t punk.
It seems to me that spending too much time arguing over what is, and what is not, punk, is itself very NOT punk. Punk is in your heart, not in your bottle of Manic Panic or how many safety pins are holding your jacket together. As Westwood said of the genesis of punk fashion, “We put all these things together to create the look of an urban guerilla: a rebel.” So be a rebel! Mix high and low, punk and princess, masculine and feminine. And what’s more rebellious than doing exactly what you want, wearing what you want, and not giving a shit if you’re punk enough to pull it off?