The street in big cities is a cosmopolitan place where we face different colours, dresses and styles of styles of different people who communicate in this way. Some follow the catwalk fashion whereas others have their own styles. Such fashions are temporary, in which the idea of the designer fulfils the pleasure of the consumers. However, style, although temporary in form, can nonetheless seem permanent in the sense that certain styles can recur in other periods of time. For example, the Hippie style of the 1970s can be seen nowadays.
According to the rules of youth culture in the late twentieth century, generally it may be said that fashion influences most people, but how it is used to create one's own style varies from person to person. The desire to be 'like others' is satisfied through following fashion in general terms, whereas the personal style which is created by one's own, distinguishes the individual from another.
When we look at the street in general, the created styles, or fashions are first exposed to the glances of other people. In this way, people get inspiration and decide about new alternatives of future styles to be created. In this respect, there is an interaction between individual creators whether they follow fashion or not. Moreover, people of different ages, and different socio-economic, and ethnic groups, adopt and create their own fashion, particularly when they feel the need for change due to boredom, sexual allure and class differentiation.
According to the British Cultural Studies theorists Clarke, Hall, Jefferson
and Roberts, 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 and shape of a coherent and distinctive
way of 'being-in-the-world'. Perhaps the most obvious group which is interested
in this concept of ' being-in-the-world' is youth (i.e. the 17-30 age-group),
which searches for their identity, and thereby create subcultures and distinctive
styles, which distinguish them from other social groups.
According to Phil Cohen, such subcultural styles involve four modes, one of which is 'dress' where there is something oppositional and resistant to the dominant culture. Subcultures challenge the traditional values of smart and respectable dress of such cultures through their own outfits which look different and 'deviant' (in dominant cultural terms) so that they can emphasise their resistance against this class. This is still the case in Britain, despite the Thatcherite revolution, or the Blairite concept of a classless society' where social mobility is considered to be impossible -especially for those in the so-called 'underclass', or the 'poverty trap' (i.e. those with no job who are living on the Welfare State). This bears out the Marxist concept of class distinction, which derives from economic reasons. In most capitalist societies, the class which owns the means of production becomes the ruling class, which dominates the other classes and attempts to control their mental ideas. Such distinction also influences fashion and style - as for example in the opposition between the 'so-called' chic' clothes of upper classes and the 'scruffy' ones of the lower classes.
When we look at the social pyramid, the subcultures are found close to the bottom and they rebel especially with their sharp and diverse style.
Developing the ideas of Marx, social against the dominant culture, a distinction can also be explained through the notion of Gramscian hegemony. Granisci suggests that, moral and philosophical leadership is achieved through the consent of most groups in a society. The ruling class makes the subordinate class conform to its interests and exerts a social authority over them through ideology.
The ruling class seems so powerful that, as Hall et al put forward, "Dominant order succeeds in weakening, destroying, displacing or incorporating alternative institutions of defence and resistance thrown up by the subordinate class", in both groups there is a dynamic continuing struggle and reproduction in the system.
Deriving from this, subcultural resistance is reflected through their style openly, whereas the dominant culture tries to impose their ideas through their hegemony over the subordinate because hegemony is 'felt' rather than 'seen' i.e. it is imperceptible rather than openly acknowledged.
The subcultural youth uses their distinctive styles as a tool not only for their resistance but also for conveying their ideology which is shared by the same closely-knit group members. Dick Hebdige explains this as follows: "..these subcultural groups deliberately cultivate a style of dress, music, behaviour which is esoteric and antagonistic of mainstream culture.
The styles of an average person are chosen according to their tastes and financial means. Their clothes indicate their class, status, self-image and attractiveness. They are expressive of 'normality' as opposed to 'deviance'. On the other hand, the deviant group's (i.e. those members of a subcultural group) intention is to stand apart with a visible construction which involves a 'loaded choice' in Hebdige's terms; i.e. that they are consciously seeking to choose modes of dress that express 'resistance'; or 'deviance' from the norms established by the dominant group.
The Rockers, one of the widespread and universal subcultural groups,
popular since the 1960s, choose their clothing to symbolise mastery, freedom,
intimidation and rebellion: black leather jackets, studs, boots and jeans,
often accompanied with a high-performance motorbike. This example also
demonstrates that subcultures are collective in character. They endeavour
to define and identify themselves as a group that has common interests
and ideologies and aims. The adaptation and adoption of objects in creating
the particular styles, display their collectivity.
As Durkheim stated, these goods and possessions allow a group to recognise itself and to be recognised by others. For instance, the Skinheads of the 1970s shaved their heads to the skull and rolled their jeans up in an attempt to express their aggressive racism and violence.
Yet such modes of dress should not be thought of as fixed. At this point the subcultural youth seeks for new material because variety is achieved through its dynamic structure and this leads to searching for different commodities in the market. In this sense, the subcultural group might be thought of as participating in the capitalist-led consumer society; but such groups, although part of this group, may nonetheless fall into a clash not only with the 'so-called' dominant culture but also with their working class families and peers who may be conformists, i.e. members of the dominant culture. Herein lies a paradox; subcultural groups may require financial support from the dominant culture-represented by their 'conformist' families, in order to create the essence of their style to be recognised as the member of a subculture which they favour but which is not approved by their families. When the family objects and does not provide the money for the commodities, members of a subculture can find other ways of exploiting the dominant culture by finding part-time jobs. To show how subcultural groups exploit the dominant culture we can refer to the Mods, who in fact were working class but who attempted to detach themselves from their origin with their elegant and neat image. They wore suits, put on make up, and carried purses. They were supposed to be the pioneers of what we might call subcultural 'consumerism'. Let us now move on to the creation of the style of different youth subcultures. The subcultural youth has the real capacity to symbolise 'otherness' by shocking the 'straights' in Hebdige's terms. Their style may come forward intentionally in the form of "bricolage".
Originally, bricolage derives from the structuralist, Levi-Strauss' view, where things are put to use in ways they were intended to dislocate them from their 'normal context'. In the process of re-contextualising, the bricoleur who attaches fresh meaning to the objects, puts the chosen objects together and makes re-organisations.
Another expression which is being used nowadays for this is pick 'n' mix where things are taken from here and there to make up another combination which at first appears to be original. But as soon as it is adapted or used by people in the street repeatedly, it loses its original meaning. The best places which serve for pick 'n' mix are the flea markets and the second-hand shops. When youth goes into these shops, they come across a variety of clothes that once belonged to different epoches (contexts). In this way s/he finds the opportunity to pick up a piece from the 1970s and match it with something from the 1 990s intentionally or not.
The results of bricolage can be explained in structuralist and semiotic terms. As one of the structuralists, Saussure put forward, a language consists of signs, signifiers and signifieds.
The possessed objects of the subcultures which were acquired through bricolage are the signs according to this view, which gains another signified meaning when taken out of its original context (i.e. the context for which it was originally devised) and put in another context. For example, in the case of punk subculture, the members of which were lower class, anti-bourgeoise and anti-capitalist, the items used were safety pins, plastic clothes peg, razor blades and torn dresses in a chaotic style. These objects (signs), when put together in the punk style, could signify both resistance and material poverty.
Another object, as signifier which gained another meaning in terms of
the punks, is the 'swastika'. Originally, it stood for racism according
to the Nazi context but 'anti-racism' and shocking people according to
the punk context. The resistant nature of the punk operates in this context
with its chaotic style. Here, the use of sign, signifier and signified
is seen in visual terms. As meaning is created through the Code of Language
according to Barthes; in fashion the meaning is created through the
Code of Clothing. This is done through symbols which create symbolic
meaning. With the choice what to wear and how to wear, a message is translated
to the viewers. Here it is necessary to mention a quotation from
Lefebvre: "We are surrounded by emptiness but it is an emptiness filled
with signs."(Lefebvre, 1971)
This clearly points to the fact that we are surrounded by signs in the street which is full of people but empty without meaning that the signs create. The clothes of people are the signs which fill the emptiness because they carry various messages as mentioned throughout this study.
To sum up, among these various signs, chaos, meanings and asssumptions, the dominant and the subcultures are affected relatively by each other although they have the opposite ideas. For example, fashion which belongs to the dominant culture, is heavily influenced by the subcultures, the fashion of the Street. Both of them take over from each other as Ganetz states.
Even though it might be expected that style reflects the person in one
or several ways, the contrary might happen. The one's dream person might
be reflected rather than the actual person. For example, one young person
from the working class might spend his income only on chic clothes to give
a middle class expression, which, in dominant cultural terms, maybe perceived
as a false identity. Fred Davies calls this ' visual metaphor'. This can
be done through bricolage and an example of this is the case of the Teddy
Boys. They appropriated an upper class style, the Edwardian Suit of the
wealthy classes and mixed it with a Mississippi gambler image, wore piper
trousers, velvet collars and drape jackets. They created a false identity
which they dreamt of. Today in the street we can come across similar examples.
As clothing is unstable and ambiguous, we cannot make certain definitions. It might also be wrong trying to establish rules for this as well. The meaning of clothing varies according to the mood and Identity of a person; the understood and the expressed might be different because the clothing style and fashion can mean different things to members of a society depending on these factors such as race, ethnicity, culture, class, status, age and gender as Fred Davies explains.
As a matter of fact, what once had a meaning might have a completely different meaning now. Additionally, it might not have a meaning at all.
In conclusion Barthes' words proves the situation briefly: "There is
certainly something to the idea that we say things with what to choose
to wear. Though we must not press too hard to find a set of rules encoded
in every choice."
Brake, Michael, Comparative Youth Cultures, (Routledge, 1985)
Billington, Rosamund, et. Al. Culture and Society, (Macmillan, 1991)
Easthope, Antony, Literary into Cultural Studies, (Routledge, 1991).