The Psychology of Punk Fashion

…why exactly do people choose to dress in a manner classified as punk? The psychological answer is actually very similar to Webster’s musical definition: self-expression. How though is punk rock’s influence on fashion different from other genres? The answer is in the music.

Merriam-Webster defines punk rock as “rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent.” Though the genre is a little dated, punk rock still has a rather prevalent influence on the music and fashion of today. But why exactly do people choose to dress in a manner classified as punk? The psychological answer is actually very similar to Webster’s musical definition: self-expression. How though is punk rock’s influence on fashion different from other genres? The answer is in the music.

An example of punk fashion; courtesy of
An example of punk fashion; courtesy of

Dating back to the mid 1970s, punk rock’s roots rest in New York City and London. Bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones were some of the most important music and fashion pioneers. While showing that second-hand, grungy clothes could be made cool again, these bands wore self-made clothes adorned with safety pins, anarchy symbols, and Dr. Martens to complete a look that would eventually be described as punk. Tattoos and piercings later came into play as a punk fashion element. Yet still, these cities, New York and London, are also two of the major fashion capitals of the world.

No one expects a man with a doctorate in psychology to own and operate a high-end fashion store in downtown Bloomsburg. But that is exactly what Stephen B. Parrish does. As the CEO of Top Drawer Menswear, located at 35 E. Main St, Parrish and his wife, Rosie, relocated from New York City to Bloomsburg only a few years ago. The pair has since opened two stores on Main Street, Top Drawer Menswear and Bella Donna Boutique, which specialize in high-end clothing from New York City.

Delving into his life prior to the store, it is to be discovered that Parrish used to be a clinical psychologist. “Fashion is an expression of yourself and your being,” he says. As a psychologist, Parrish has social psychology theories about why people dress under a punk label and what exactly it says about their being.

One of his theories is that of a “character continuum.” This scale ranges from obsessive compulsive on one extreme to hysteria, or overexcitement, on the other, with a balance in the middle. He says that most punk fashion followers live productive and healthy lifestyles, with characteristics from both extremes of the continuum. Society seems to have completely different views of those who choose this fashion sense than the psychology world does. Society lumps together and thinks that there is “something wrong” with those who dress in a punk manner because some show more signs of hysteria, Parrish says. These signs range from being confrontational to skateboarding, which many consider to be a destructive activity. Parrish explains that skateboarding is actually a healthy, productive form of exercise.

One of Parrish’s main social theories revolves around his overall idea of fashion: self-expression. A quote by Gianni Versace, used by Parrish in a recent radio advertisement, exhibits this idea: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live.”

According to Parrish, those who dress in a punk manner are releasing their emotions and inner feelings, much like punk musicians do through their lyrics. Through studies, they exhibit a need to belong within a group and to gain acceptance from society. From a psychological perspective, Parrish considers both of these needs to be normal attributes. Everyone wants to fit into some form of group. He states that punk followers are just in need of attention. Parrish clarifies by saying that it is not necessarily a dysfunctional, or abnormal, need. Be it friends, family, or society, these fashion followers are just looking for an outlet. As with the musical genre, social discontent can be seen in someone who dresses this way. Punk dressers differ from others in the fact that their styles do not normally fit in with the mainstream, making society view them differently.

Mike Katsak, an employee of Top Drawer, also discusses the punk fashion

punk fashion, courtesy of
punk fashion, courtesy of

influence. He states that “dirty” is now being marketed to the masses. Damaged-looking, second-hand clothes can be seen in fashion advertising campaigns. According to Katsak, these campaigns are “very punk.” They show nods to the bands of the 1970s that influenced the genre of punk rock, such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash. He went on to list current influences such as Green Day.

Parrish also says that punk rock has had a significant impact on styles and image. Tighter jeans, skater looks, and Goth looks have all emerged in the fashion world from punk rock roots. Many celebrities dress in this manner, and Parrish believes that people want “celebrity styles.” Though the original punk style of old, ratty clothes still runs rampant, average people are now shopping for higher end items such as Ed Hardy, a fashion brand based on a tattoo artist’s designs, and name brand military jackets.

“It’s not my thing, but I think it’s cool” says Katsak when referring to current punk fashion. He believes that the ultimate punk statement is customization. He told a story about sitting in a New York City subway car, seeing a man with safety pins adorning his otherwise very formal sports coat. Being able to make the clothes your own, no matter what brand or style, is Katsak’s idea of being truly punk.

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