Punk Fashion and Photography I

Susan Lacey

Introduction

An integral component on how we perceive the punk subculture is its visual representation. With that being said, the Yugoslav punk scene can be visually defined by their specific and instantly recognizable punk style that was curated through the circulation of punk publications, music and the growth of a consumer society in the 1980’s. This style was cemented and was given a permanent berth in history by being captured in photography. Punk photography circulated this particular style which grew and became a culture all of its own. The punk scene and subculture developed firstly in London in the late 1970’s, in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Hebdige credits the development of the style we know today as “punk” to the backlash of the youth generation in postwar Britain. These youths were finding outlets to counter the cultural atmosphere of the time period. In this context, style can be defined as an outward appearance and choice of dress that complements their expressions of punk, while subculture can be thought of as a collective way of thinking and occupying cultural space that is atypical or against societal norms of the time. Rastafarian, rock, goth culture and a myriad of different other cultures contributed and came together to form what we know of as punk. Punk fashion is an excessively prominent component of the punk subculture in 1980’s Yugoslavia, its aesthetic created a voyeuristic effect in photography making it something that was worth taking pictures of, and worth circulating, this circulation lead to an even bigger boost of the punk subculture.

Punk Fashion

Part of punk style can be illustrated by the British style of  “quiffs and leather jackets, brothel creepers and winkle pickers, plimsolls and paca macs, moddy crops and skinhead strides, drainpipes and vivid socks, bum freezers and bovver boots..” (Hebdige, 1981) These are just a few of the styles that would begin the definition of punk fashion. This fashion style emphasized and expressed the eclectic aesthetic of punk and how the punk style coincided with the ideals of punk, to go against the grain of typical normality’s of the time. Fashion was a physical reflection of punk music itself, a tangible representation of the sound and subculture of punk. By dressing in this fashion, punks were affirming their existence of the punk subculture, physically setting themselves apart from those who did not identify as punk. The sense of identity attached to conforming to the unconformity of their own style and subculture was definitely a factor that contributed to the further growth of the existence of the punk lifestyle. Fashion remained one of the key aspects that constituted punk interacting critically with the phenomenon of consumerism. The punk style of clothing articles destroyed then sewed, fastened, safety pinned and clipped back together exemplifies what punk aimed to do socially, break down hierarchical boundaries and push the frontiers of class structures and gender roles. Yugoslav punk fashion faced minimal resources at the start of the prevalence of a consumer society. Taking back consumerism was something formerly limited to just punk circles, making it a definitive trait of the Yugoslav punk subculture. Fashion served as a measure for Yugoslav youths to affirm their own rebellion and to really distinguish themselves from social and cultural conservative ideals that were held most pertinent during the time.

Punk Photography

Hebdige calls punk a “spectacular subculture”, due to its reliance on its visual aspects and its important relationship with other visual media mediums. Photography is the most important of those mediums in relation to visual punk culture. Ads and covers of Yugoslav music and culture magazines were used to facilitate the growing punk subculture with specific focuses on fashion and style. Punk, notorious for being a counter culture subculture, ironically uses mainstream forms of dissemination and strategies to appeal and create a “shock effect”, therefore differentiating themselves from their parent subculture but still carrying a link to it. The photographing of Yugoslav fashion and the punk scene assisted in the progress of establishing a visual identity link to punk. Below are some examples of punk photography publications with images from the Tumblr blog “Once Upon A Time in Yugoslavia”, a blog dedicated to cultural events in the Ex Yugoslavia, covering the period from creation of Federal Yugoslavia in 1943 to its scission in 1991. 

Bebi Dol

Cover of Belgrade based music magazine Džuboks, featuring the singer Bebi Dol.

Pictured above is the cover of an issue of Džuboks, a Yugoslav music magazine published from 1966 to 1985, featuring Serbian artist Bebi Dol. Her crimped hair and dark, dramatic makeup are of the typical punk aesthetic, loud, in your face and unapologetic. She is wearing an abstract, strapless top with black bloomers and black heels completing the look with chunky statement jewelry. Her pose and overall look is hyper sexualized and is an example of how punk subculture allowed for the challenging of sexuality and what it meant to be feminine. In this context, women could take advantage and embrace their sexuality instead of trying to hide it or be more conservative, in line with traditional ideals. Džuboks was published out of Belgrade and therefore had its largest sphere of influence from there. 

Blondie

Cover of Džuboks featuring Debbie Harry, the lead singer of the American new wave band Blondie.

Here is another issue of Džuboks featuring American punk rock recording artist, Blondie. The publication and circulation of images of Western punk icons also would have had an effect on the Yugoslav punk scene. Although punk scenes around the world were different and had their own subculture characteristics pertinent to regional problems and youth struggles, they all had in common of being the counter culture for their respective societies and therefore can find similar common ground within one another. Here Blondie sports a similar voluminous, blown out hairstyle as does Bebi Dol in her Džuboks cover, as well as the same dark and dramatic makeup. This may be because of the power of photography that solidified this punk look. Her cheetah print, velvet top also shows a similar punk fashion trend to go against the grain and be outrageous to showcase your involvement in said punk subculture. 

Polet, Nude

Cover of Zagreb based youth magazine Polet, November 1980.

Another Yugoslav punk publication was the magazine Polet. Polet was a magazine publication dedicated to the urban youth of Yugoslavia. The top of the cover reads “The weekly newspaper of the Association of Socialist Youth of Croatia, Number 141, November 12, 1980”. Polet was pertinent in the shaping of Zagrebs’ punk and new wave scene. The featuring of a topless woman on its cover was a phenomenon that was still very much considered taboo. Punk specifically sought out to produce a shock value to engrain the punk ideal that they were in fact breaking down barriers of gender and class. Polet was sponsored by the government, and therefore content was not focused on profitability and rather just focused on the youth themselves. Publications such as Polet and Džuboks further illustrate how there existed a cultural need for these mediums for expression and to aid in the voicing of a new generation, without these precursors these publications would not have been successful as they were (Krsic, 2012).

Conclusion

Fashion and photography played an integral role in the creation of a visual punk subculture in Yugoslavia. The rebellious youth utilized methods of expression through clothing and appearance that further solidified the punk identity and further defined what it meant to be a punk, and have punk style and fashion. The circulation of punk fashion and punk culture publications through photography furthered the punk scene by creating a visual and tangible representation of the punk subculture. The emergence of a consumer society also was a vital role in forging a path for punk fashion to interact with the Western world and create a more diverse and shocking aesthetic. The ocular aspects of Yugoslav punk were fed by the need for collective culture that ran counter to the conservative ideals of the former Yugoslavia. The youth creation and participation in a niche that represented their antiestablishment ideals and wanting to represent those ideals through outward expression has resulted into what we know and recognize today as the culture of punk.

 

Works Cited

Dušan. "Once Upon A Time in Yugoslavia ." ONCE UPON A TIME IN YUGOSLAVIA. Tumblr , n.d. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://igoyugo.tumblr.com/tagged/music/page/6>.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, 1979.

Krsic, Dejan. Mirko Ilic: Fist to Face. Cincinnati: F W Media, 2012. Print.

Mišina, Dalibor. Shake rattle and roll: Yugoslav rock music and the poetics of social critique. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. Print.

Punk Fashion and Photography I