The word "punk" is derived from an English phrase for "thug", a name which was given as derision, but was taken on as it's own by the punk movement. Said movement appears in 1975 in a context of profound social malaise (it is the end of the Trente Glorieuses, and the beginning of the rise of unemployment, in which young proletarians are wondering about their future). Punks express nonconformism and a refusal of the established order through fashion and music designed to provoke. The punk movement is also a reaction to the ugly "peace and love"-ethos of the hippies before them. A group like the Sex Pistols, initiator of the punk movement, is in total opposition to the ideology and style of 'baba cool', and it is essential to understand this position. Punks therefore want to shock, to revolt against established values - against the English monarchy for example - they are often close to social currents of nihilism (with slogans like "No future") or anarchism. The punk movement had a strong intellectual component as it is inspired by the Situationist International that criticizes the consumer society and capitalism, hence why punk attempted to make everything itself, the ultimate DIY, Do It Yourself. Thus the punk costume, so to speak, borrows clothing elements from various influences.
Examples of Situationist art in the 60s, which would go on to play a large role in album and street art of British punk movements
The leather jacket found a place in punk music and culture just as it had earlier in rock and roll. However, to differentiate themselves from the rock'n'roll style, the clothing is revisited and accessorized with pins, skulls, badges, bike chains, and so on - symbols of youth and rebellion, the black leather jacket would even be forbidden in some schools. The baseline of the punk outfit, the black leather jacket was often times the infamous Schott Perfecto. It was in 1928 that Irving Schott invented the Perfecto, a jacket for bikers which would become the most iconic stylistic interpretation of the leather jacket of any. A Perfecto closes with an off-center zip on the front, the pockets and the cuffs are also zipped, the waist is tightened, and finally, the collar is lined with snap buttons.
Punk further borrowed from fetishist clothes. Two prominent personalities played a fundamental role in providing ready-to-wear punk outfits: Malcolm McLaren (manager of the Sex Pistols) and his ex-wife Vivienne Westwood. Both had a clothing store in London on King's Road called "Sex", opened in 1974. It offered latex clothing and styled bondage fetish outfits, alongside creations of Vivienne Westwood. Until that time, these clothes and outfits were only sold in catalogues. The shop assistant, Jordan (real name Pamela Rooke) became the face of the punk fashion in the sexual and fetishist current. Her appearances were advertising for the store that would dress almost every big name in punk.
Sex's Pamela Brooke and the Sex Pistol's Johnny Rotten
Perhaps one of the most iconic piece of punk clothing is that of the t-shirt, as evidenced by a recent exhibition at the British Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Especially the t-shirt which has been torn, distressed, and otherwise intentionally damaged. Though the public was dismayed, the punks love it. The punk stylist is content to roughly sew together two squares of fabric, as the whole thing is unisex, as much for men as for women. In this fashion, Vivienne Westwood applies the idea of Do It Yourself, creating clothes easy to do to oneself without any training in sewing or fashion design. Her t-shirts featured provocative messages and images. Famously, Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten would wear the famous cowboy shirt. The two men who stand face to face, without pants, exhibit their private parts and almost touch; obviously a reference to the growing gay culture of the time. The Cambridge Rapist T-shirt reproduces the photo of the latex hood worn by a rapist in Cambridge. These clothes are scandalous and are frequently removed from the sale by law enforcement.
Among the favorite props for punks are chains, such as bike chains worn on the shoulder or pelvis. Anger and violence are at the heart of the punk attitude, the presence of nails on bracelets or belts, which can serve as weapons, are the illustration of this fact. Leather jackets too are also often studded. Skull rings further reaffirm the provocative side, also playing a bit the role of the Vanitas movement of the seventeenth century, recalling that everything is vain because Memento Mori! The safety pin is another leitmotiv of clothing, of which Richard Hell would undoubtedly be the initiator. It allows one to quickly patch up dirty and damaged clothes. Just like the piercings and badges adorned with the A of Anarchy, the Red Star of Communism, (occasionally) the Swastika of National Socialism, the British flag, or skulls.
As opposed to hippies, punks often shave their hair or wear it short. Several cuts became emblematic. The crackling hair of Sid Vicious or Vivienne Westwood, Siouxsie Sioux's shapeless hairstyle. In addition to the raven black, the hairstyles are colored as did Johnny Rotten with a glowing red. In the collective imagination, the punk hairstyle is especially the Iroquois crest and the flashy locks. This is the final touch of the punk look. Originally, the desired effect is an unhealthy pallor. For this, lips and eyes are often overloaded with black. The singer Siouxsie Sioux pushed this makeup to the extreme.
Siouxsie Sioux, credited often with bridging the punk and Gothic subcultures
Apart from the punk legened Vivienne Westwood who continues to create clothes and run parades, other stylists have played a role in the punk movement in the sphere of haute couture. Zandra Rhodes is known for having introduced the first high-fashion collection inspired by the punk look in 1977. This movement will inspire couturiers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Marin Margiela and Thierry Mugler, among others. Punk would also go on to influence other subcultures musically and stylistically, from skinheads and shoegazers to even the most bourgeois of circles. The punks, despite their excesses, remain a model of rebellion who forever marked fashion and music.