Clothes Make the Man: A Discussion of Symbolism in Clothing
It is a truth recognized throughout history. What you wear determines what people think of you. Even Shakespeare said "For the apparel oft proclaims the man." Therefore, people, especially youth, in today’s society choose what they wear very carefully, in accordance with what they want to tell the people around them. There are many popular subcultures today with a distinct style of clothing. This paper will be concentrating on those known as Goths, Punks and Ska-heads, Preps (or Jocks) and Posers.
The first group up for investigation is known as Goths. Goth is short for Gothic, and members of this subculture typically wear black and blood-red colored clothes. These clothes are often made of leather, lace, and fishnet, and are adorned with spikes, studs, or other shiny metal objects. Sometimes metallic, black, or otherwise dark-colored makeup is worn by both the male and female counterparts to this clique. Some go so far as to invest in permanent body modifications, sometimes with things as tame as a tattoo or body piercing, other times with more extreme modifications, such as tongue or lip splitting, vampire teeth implants, or full body tattoos. All of these physical attributes are merely a way of telling the society around them that Goths find life to be a rather dreary and dark experience. The shiny metal objects set onto a dark cloth are meant to symbolize the few bright aspects of life, and how even these can be cold, unforgiving, and sometimes even painful. All too!
often, however, certain other aspects of Gothicism become associated with any or all of the appearance of such clothes, or body modifications. Some of these other aspects aren’t necessarily condoned by all Goths, however, and therefore Gothicism is wrongly viewed as evil no matter what. A couple of these other Gothic ideas include things like blood-drinking, and Satanism. The blood-drinking is never considered anything more than a ritual designed to let the participants feel more closely associated with vampirism, which is held in high regards among nearly all Goths. Satanism (for a true Goth) is in no way associated with the Christian god of the Underworld, and is instead based on the teachings of LaVey, who said that wisdom, continual learning to improve that wisdom, and self above all else were the most important things in life. While not everyone agrees with these ideas, the same can be said for all religions, and there is no mention of any cultural taboos such as mass murder, rape, robbery, or anything illegal whatsoever.
Our next subculture is actually two: Punk and Ska are two radically different cultures, and yet there is a lot that they both have in common. It may even be said that Punk can be subdivided again into regular Punks and a special subset known as "Nazi punks." These Nazi punks are nothing more than skin-headed KKK members who happen to have better grammatical skills and don’t wear white robes. Therefore, I will not talk about them anymore. As for Punks and Ska-heads, peace is the overall goal. The variance occurs where punks understand that peace without an outlet for violence is impossible, and Ska-heads do not. (This is to say that Punks will participate in a mosh pit while a Ska-head would quietly dance instead.) The punk subculture typically wears second-hand clothing modified with pins, patches, zippers, and still more spikes, studs, safety-pins, and other metal bits and pieces. This is because when the Punk subculture originated in the late 1970’s, it’s first members were bands who had no money, were not sponsored by a major record company, and therefore could only afford second-hand clothes. The plethora of accessories that punks have to choose from exists only for the punk himself to enjoy. Usually patches will be symbols of a particular band, or a picture that quickly and easily represents an idea that the punk agrees with. An example is a picture of a swastika with a red circle and bar (like those seen on "No Smoking" signs) over it. This therefore means that the punk does not agree with Nazi-ism, racism, etc. Now then, Ska-heads are a completely different story. Their general ideas are that everyone can get along if they just stop worrying about such silly things as race, religion, and gender. Ska-heads of all shapes, sizes, and colors are brought together by their music. Any kind of clothing categorized as Punk is allowed, so long as the patches and pins have Ska bands instead of Punk bands. The style is generally a little brighter, with more shapes and colors in it, but this is only due to Ska philosophy’s lack of violence, and emphasis on living life for the sheer fun of it. Popular patterns in both subcultures include large-squared plaids, wide stripes, and faux fur, as both cultures embrace the idea of having fun, and colorful designs such as these symbolize that belief. In actuality, however, the clothing styles of both cultures revolve specifically around self-expression and gratification, and therefore can include anything that the particular wearer enjoys, whether it be a leather jacket covered in zippers, studs, and buckles, or a simple grey, worn tank top with a picture of Reel Big Fish.
By far the most well-known and accepted clique is that which all popular children find themselves in, the Preps. Preps frequent name brands, and wear them as a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, American Eagle, and GAP are good examples, as these are some of the more popular brands. Prep philosophy is simple: anyone who wears these clothes has enough money to spend excessive amounts of money on clothes that are otherwise the same as any other clothes. Therefore, these companies have taken to putting their name very prominently on t-shirts, so as to assure the consumer that there will be no confusion when people see them that they, too, have enough money to be a Prep. Self-important labels are also popular among girls, such as "Daddy’s Little Princess," "Queen," and "Goddess." Recently, I’ve even seen shirts that simply say "Prep," as if people couldn’t tell simply by the tight fitting jeans and the only example of genre-grouped clothing that is accepted without question of the person’s integrity. Because most preps are happy, Christian, and unquestioning of authority, (unlike many other genres) they can wear their clique’s clothes to a job interview without worrying about giving off a "bad impression." Whereas if a Goth were to dress the way they would anywhere else, they would immediately be characterized and rejected.
Coincidentally, I have proof of this prejudice demonstrated through a thing as simple as a birdhouse decorating contest. My "experiment" involved decorating a birdhouse with all the Gothic stereotypical accessories, and submitting it alongside brightly-colored, but less artistic, well thought out, or original birdhouses. Of course, mine only received an honorable mention while it was much more original and well built than the other entries. But I digress.
The members of our last group are known as Posers. Posers pretend to know about a particular subculture, but in reality only know a few choice buzz-words and what style of clothes to wear. An example of a Goth poser would be someone who wears all black, but smiles all the time, and wouldn’t know Poe from Silverstein. He constantly talks about Satanism as if it was the worship of the Christian under-god, and only listens to Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson, two strictly mainstream Gothic bands. A Punk Poser is also a Ska-head Poser, because he will put a patch from The Toasters (a Ska band) on an old Dead Kennedys jacket. He worships Blink 182 (A very mainstream band that claims to be punk, but isn’t really), and doesn’t even know who The Ramones (One of the original punk bands) are. Prep Posers are harder to distinguish from the real clique, but they exist nonetheless. They may listen to the music of one genre, but still want to be popular, and therefore will buy an A&F shirt so as to fit in with the cheerleaders and jocks. Posers, if they are found out, are usually scorned from any other genre, and therefore form their own group. This may actually be considered the best of all worlds, because one Poser can not dislike another Poser for doing the same things that all Posers do. On a final note, self-proclaimed Posers avoid the universal branding, and are allowed, by default, to temporarily be admitted to whatever group they are dressed as, so long as they know more about the actual culture than the common phrases and styles.
So, in conclusion, different styles of clothing can represent different or similar types of symbols in today's society. Without these symbols, we wouldn't have the type of eccentric community that we do.