Smells Like Teen Spirit: 3/8

Remake Remodel: Subculture Style and Identity

In this lecture, we discussed the concepts of subculture style and different theories Clark, Jefferson and Hall had on what made subculture styles. We discussed what a subculture was and what decision they made to identify themselves as being apart of one group.

Clarke, S; Hall, S; Jefferson, T; Roberts, B (1975) Subcultures, Cultures and Class
“Subcultures must exhibit a distinctive enough shape and structure to make them identifiably different from their ‘parent’ culture. They must be focussed around certain activities, values, certain uses of material artefacts, territorial spaces etc which significantly differentiate them from the wider culture” (p100)

‘distinctive enough shape and structure’: visible differences between subculture and non subculture styles – set of recurring rules
‘parent’: establishment; mainstream – as soon as you can buy a look it’s become the parent culture
‘certain uses of material artefacts’ / ‘territorial spaces’: using a brand as part of their culture: e.g. skate culture – vans / skateboard (customising) / skate park and Graffiti (territorial spaces) / baggy clothing – post 90s, subculture scene, 80’s hip hop legacy

Subcultures: set trends

“Various youth subcultures have been identified by their possessions and objects” (Clarke; Hall; Jefferson; Roberts (1975): jewellery / clothing, shows who’s in what subculture: “recurring rituals” – like with the Goths and how they wear the crucifix and dark clothing

“What makes a style is the activity of stylisation – the active organisation of objects with activities and outlooks, which produce an organised group-identity in the form of a coherent and distinctive way of ‘being in the world’” (p108) – objects are used to identify themselves; a function of an object can be changed to stylise a look; activity of stylisations: customisations – differentiate between others

There are clearly identifiable visuals that make them different to other subcultures.

Construction: means actively putting things together.
“This frequently involved …subverting and transforming these things from their given meaning and use, to other meanings and uses” (p109) – my practice: changing the meaning of materials, e.g. the way punks changed the meaning of the safety pin

“Re-signification of objects and dress” (Clarke; Hall; Jefferson, 1975)

The concept:

  • recycling: “inflect ‘given’ meanings”
    • taking existing meanings and changing them
    • modify it: take brands and change them
    • e.g. Burberry: originally created for upper class, footballer’s wives were wearing them – Chav’s then started buying the clothing: even if brands are associated with a certain group they can get claimed and associated with something else
  • exaggerate meaning of an object: change it
  • “Re-signification” will create a “secret language or code” that only members of the groups will know what it means: rules of whats cool, e.g. laces tied up a certain way
    • new meanings can occur from mixing things together, e.g. the stylistic ensemble for the Goths
    • “mash-up” – borrow bits from somewhere else and mix it with your own style: CAN DO THIS IN MY PRACTICE

Hip Hop Style:
Theory (3rd) column of column’s analysis.

Task: to paraphrase all the following quotes.

Quote 1:

“the capitalist boom of the 1980’s brought with it a focus on materialism and conspicuous consumption that was right at home with hip-hop’s penchant for self-aggrandisement. Competition was integral to earning respect in the culture – competing for wall space as a graffiti-tagger, battling for time on the mic as an emcee and even one- upmanship in constructing a personal identity through one’s clothes
… As a source of aspiration and a means of flaunting one’s belongings, branded goods shared a natural affinity with hip-hop music” (Whitley, 2011: 187)

  • They are focused on materialism and wearing your money.
  • People wore hip hop pendant to look more powerful.
  • Showing off their possessions.
  • Gained popularity through consumerism.
  • Competition to have the most money.
  • Graffiti was the art of tagging yourself and it was a competition to put your signature in busy areas and to not get caught.NOTE ON PLAGIARISM: avoid at all costs by Harvard referencing.
    – Reference a quote: quotation; author; year of the study; page number, e.g: upmanship in constructing a personal identity” (Whitley, 2011: 187)
    – Referencing when paraphrasing: e.g. according to Whitley (2011), hip hop street culture were characterised by wearing your money… OR [sentence] (Whitley, 2011)
    – Essays: mix of direct quotes and paraphrasing

Quote 3:

“The creative appropriation of styles further extended to unintended sartorial branding opportunities…hip-hop style was generated by people striving to be different, often with limited means but still wishing to be acknowledged for their flair with the vogue for wearing gold chains and flashy jewellery, young people began co-opting status symbols into accessories of their own devising. Chief among these was the practice of wearing the ornament off a Mercedes Benz, Cadillac or even Volkswagen as a medallion…brandishing a trophy that speaks to one’s boldness and fearlessness, the ornaments were vaunted hints at toughness and irreverence…though one might never be able to afford the expensive car itself, it was possible to establish a personal association with the brand” (Whitley, 2011: 188)

  • According to Whitley (2011), they would customise ornaments associated with expensive cars. Though they may not be able to afford the car itself, wearing it as a trophy around their neck would symbolised power and wealth associated with that brand. As well as that, Whitley also suggests that wearing a car symbol around your neck would symbolise you’re a criminal because you have stolen it of someones car, but because they were wearing it then it would show that they got away with it. This would advertise criminal behaviour as though is were brave.
  • Customising of brands would be used to show that they were different but still wanted to be acknowledged for their wealth (Whitley, 2011). The idea of stealing a symbol that is associated with wealth is an anti-establishment statement because hip-hop are stealing from cars that are conforming to ‘parent’ culture and saying up-yours to establishment; this confirms “re-signification of objects and dress” (Clarke; Jefferson; Hall, 1975)


Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 12.24.12.png

  • Gold chains: exaggeration; too much – VISIBLE
    • “conspicuous consumption” (Whitly, 2011)
  • Sports wear: tracksuits and jackets for sportsman; worn with gold, heavy jewellery – sportswear function to run in it, not worn with head jewellery
    • changes function: juxtaposition of clothing
    • claimed Adidas: always wore the trainers, no laces, changed the function of Adidas sportswear
  • Trilby: originally part of upper class British wear – would not be worn with heavy gold jewellery or sports wear; wore geeky glasses over the trilby – changing the meaning of the material

What can we learn from the 80’s hip hop street scene that can inform our practice?

  • juxtaposition of materials
  • create new meanings to a material that already has a purpose
  • subcultures set the styles then mainstream copy
  • make a statement in my work
  • push boundaries, don’t do what has already been done
  • learned paraphrasing and referencing

Author: ellenreiddesign

First year Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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