“Punk” is not a look.
I’m not the first person to say this, will definitely not be the last, but even the true believers somehow still tie it all into fashion and aesthetics. Punk is instead a philosophy and state of being defined largely by what it isn’t, specifically when it is perceived that all others are defined by what they own or possess. To be Punk right now is to look at the sleekly designed iPhone and all the apps that will tell you where to park your car and which Vietnamese restaurant has the best spring rolls, then sit through eye-candy commercials with songs from bands you love, and say, “Nope, don’t need it.”
Punk’s not even a kind of music anymore. When people say something is Punk music now, they’re largely referring to the tempo and presence of guitars. Also, sometimes someone screams. With that definition, Pink could easily be Punk. We know she’s not, of course, because she has a major label, a perfume line, and a baby named after both a tree and a savory herb, along with 20 million Twitter followers. So when we’re talking about what Punk is by talking about what it isn’t (The Met), this is the best concrete example I can give you for what Punk actually is:
This miraculous man was at a Dodgers game by himself wearing this shirt a couple of weeks ago. When the game was done, he left the stadium and proceeded to walk at least 2 miles home. He was wearing this shirt. Again, he was wearing this shirt. This shirt is so emphatically strange, that it would be difficult to believe this guy wouldn’t think it would draw attention, most likely the negative kind. Look at the over-sized child hand, the glistening ketchup tube, and what appears to be a small dog peaking out from a cup of soda? But this guy DID NOT GIVE A FUCK. And instead of paying $15 to evil ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt for the privilege of parking, dude walked in LA, in this shirt, for at least 2 miles. I don’t know this guy. He could be a ferret hoarder, but that would make him even more Punk. In a city obsessed with a shiny consensus of over-priced, tacky clothing and whatever a fashion film is, this guy exists, and he is my Punk flower.
When the Met holds a gala in homage to the idea of whatever isn’t, and everyone dresses up like the rejected characters from Beetlejuice’s Neitherworld, I think it’s safe to say that fashion is dead. Largely, it boils down to prepositions: Namely, the difference between inspiring to and inspired by.
If you know me, you probably also know that I wear the same pair of jeans until I blow a hole in the crotch, and have been lacing up the same pair of Aasics (best sole support) for 3 years. My closet is filled with all the things you were going to throw away, but then gave to me instead. In short, I’m dressed in trash that is dressed in cat hair. I have some other things that are a little nicer for special occasions, but my daily clothing options are worn until they fall apart–partially because of shit like the Bangladesh factory disaster, and partially because of my disdain for consumerism. All this said, I will admit that I may not be the best person to be proselytizing about the death of fashion, but there is at least something I know about it, because when I look at the designers of he 60s–Pucci, Givenchi, Yves Saint Laurent, André Courréges, Valentino, Cassini, fucking Chanel–it’s clear that they lived in a time when fashion wasn’t mere consumerism, but was art that inspired everyone from interior designers to china companies, architects, ad agencies, magazines, and libraries. Fashion was a full-on social movement, much like Punk, and it makes sense why we’re obsessed with the look of Mad Men, because everything those characters wear suggests that some major change is happening in the culture.
Looking at the photo of Sarah Jessica Parker at the Met, I’m actually frightened for fashion, because fashion used to understand context, and now it’s a schizophrenic mess, trying so hard to find something that will please you, while attempting to put pockets in every goddamned dress it can find. It reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons when Homer turned his car into a home by plugging in a coffee maker, refrigerator, shaver, record player, lava lamp, etc., and crashed his car, because there was too much going on. SJP’s headdress–a “Punk-inspired” piece by Philip Treacy–is probably the closest thing to Punk that got to the gala, because it’s clearly out of place (even at a Punk event), but its insane cost, its complete lack of affection for the human form it relies on for display, and it’s close proximity to the Queen antithesis to Punk suggests that Philip Treacy himself is far more Punk and inspired than his fashion is. But even if Philip Treacy is a Punk and inspired, is anyone going to design their living room around his Lady Gaga lobster hat? Part of me wishes they would, because that would mean at least somewhere, fashion was back to inspiring a movement, but Treacy is just an artist, who largely doesn’t seem to care about the masses, and that seems like a dilemma.
Designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Prabal Gurung, and Marc Jacobs, who do attempt to hit the masses through outlets like Target, tone down their styles to a mind-numbingly dull level, assuming regular people want the same old shitty ballet flats. And with the low price point established by using terrible materials made by slaves in developing countries, we all know those clothes will fall apart in a few months’ time. Their designs and clothing for regular people are disposable, but disposable things will never make a lasting impression. (Men’s clothing options are actually far more terrible than women’s, by the way.)
To me, at this moment, what is both Punk and fashionable is holding onto something old and wearing it until it dies, cherishing what you have and connecting yourself to your clothes long enough to make a lasting visual statement about your individuality. Possibly being appreciative of the time and care it takes to make an artful piece of clothing. If you are what you wear, then I’m a little bit trashy. But, meh, I’ll take that over cheap, boring, and neo-colonialist.