I’ve noticed that the fashion gods have decided that the 1980’s are returning once again – and Punk is no longer looked at as subversive, but stylish.
Hell, we knew this back in the late ’70s and well into the ’80s! We were the leading fashion moguls with our awesome DIY Punk ethos, and crazy hairstyles and colors.
Punk is now so trendy that you can hear the Ramones being played in Starbucks and see the shirts being worn by young and old alike. It’s hip. It’s trendy. It’s popular.
It almost makes me want to puke.
But hey, some people do arrive late to the party, so…
One thing I know right now is the following list of 11 things only Old School Punks will understand will make any Punk smile.
And if you’re new to Punk, this is a good reference list, complete with a playlist at the end to educate and entertain. So, get those notebooks out and take some notes, your Edu-Punk-cation is about to begin.
And now, onto the list…
A leather or jean jacket is an artist’s canvas for either paint, patches, or both.
There’s no denying that Punks are for the most part artists, in one way or another. Our leather jackets and jean vests were our public canvas to decorate with patches, paint, spikes, studs, pins, and more!
Most Old School Punks I knew paid homage to our favorite bands, slogans, and most of all, our personalities on our jackets and vests.
We were the absolute pros in DIY fashion, which leads me to number 2…
Specialty shops, mail order, or DIY fashion
For Old School Punks, there wasn’t anything like Hot Topic catering to the teenage Punk like today.
If we wanted something Punk to wear, we had three choices: specialty shops that carried those crazy clothes and accessories, mail orders from our favorite music magazines, or DIY fashion, which left the styling to our own imaginations.
Most Old School Punks I knew incorporated the DIY style, mostly because the Cleveland area was mainly a blue-collar area – nothing extravagant for us, and we liked it that way.
Our style was a combination of DIY, biker, and even some BDSM. From torn fishnets to ripped shirts held together with safety pins and everything imaginable in between, the 80’s Punk had to get creative with our clothing, as well as our hair.
But we had help with the hair…
Tish & Snooky’s
All respectable Old School Punks know Tish & Snooky from their now-famous hair colors, Manic Panic. What some may not know, is that the sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo were once bandmates in the original Blondie lineup, then afterward started their own band, the Sic Fucks.
In 1977, the two decided to open a boutique to offer cool threads and funky accessories and their now trademarked vegan hair colors in a jar. I coveted the Vampire Red for my hair (and I still do).
Their shop, as with many iconic Old School Punk stores like Trash and Vaudeville, started out on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village in NYC. Now that the area has become trendy, thanks to the hipster crowd and the rent surge in NYC, most of the cool Punk shops have disappeared or relocated to more affordable locations.
If you want your color to look really ultra-vibrant and properly stand out in the crowd, it’s recommended you use their trademarked Flash Lightning hair bleaching kit.
I’ve always been afraid to bleach my hair, mainly because it is so damaged from the abuse I put it through as a young Punk. Once I have my business going and thriving, I’m taking the dive once and for all – bleaching and slapping a jar of Vampire Red in my hair!
Knox Gelatin and Elmer’s Glue
These are the things that mohawks and liberty spikes are made of!
We didn’t have YouTube to watch tutorial videos on how to do our Punk hairstyles – kids today are spoiled! We learned through trial and error what worked (Knox and Elmer’s) and what didn’t (hair gels, egg whites, and wax).
Most of the guys I knew who had mohawks swore by Knox gelatin – it is pure protein and holds a ‘hawk in place for up to a week or two (depending on your care of it in between). Side note for those wanting to do this: it does start to smell, especially if you get it wet.
For those more adventurous and with thinner hair, like myself, the best thing to use for liberty spikes was Elmer’s Glue – the white school glue. Sure, it was a mess, and took some time in the shower to get it completely out of your hair, but your spikes end up totally on point!
Plus, that’s what Bold Hold clarifying shampoo was for…
Bold Hold, Stiff Stuff, and Studio Line
For those Old School Punks who wanted a tamer style than a mohawk or liberty spikes, there was Bold Hold, Studio Line from L’Oreal, and Stiff Stuff. Mostly those in the emerging Post-Punk/Goth scene used these styling products in the 80s – we coveted the hairstyles of Robert Smith and Siouxie Sioux.
It was not unusual to see a Goth at the clubs with liberty spikes or a mohawk – even today.
These styling products were in my arsenal (along with Aqua Net!) for my hair, from my spiky Punk side cut to my full-blown Robert Smith mess. I still consider myself a hybrid of Punk and Goth – while I love the classic look of Goth – all the black clothing with a more pretty and polished look, I prefer the mish-mash and chaos of Punk fashion and hair.
DIY Music Mags and Show Flyers
Who needed Photoshop when DIY was the way to go?! Some of the absolute best Old School Punk mags were self-published and even photocopied!
Sniffin’ Glue (1976) started in the London Punk scene, and Punk (1976-1979) started in the NYC Punk scene. Punk is now a celebrated and iconic magazine, brought to life by the talented illustrator and editor, John Holmstrom with the additional talents of “resident punk”, Legs McNeil, and great writers like Mary Herron, Lester Bangs, and the iconic Punk scene and Rock photographer Bob Gruen.
The popular Alternative Press magazine started out as a free magazine on the streets of Cleveland back in 1985, thanks to creator Mike Shea. Although they abandoned their classic DIY Punk ethic of self-published, Alternative Press carries on today as one of the most popular modern alternative and pop-punk music magazines, complete with an annual Alt Press Music Awards (APMAs) show.
Bands followed the example of the magazines and fashioned their own music show flyers and plastered these wherever they could to get people to come out and see their shows. DIY Punk ethic in full effect! It seems to be an almost lost art these days, and when I do see a DIY show flyer, I’m more apt to want to go see the band or event.
Slam Dancing and Pogo-ing
Before there were the violent mosh pits of today’s concerts, there was slam dancing.
This aggressive dance style, most seen in the front rows of music performances and concerts, was basically people slamming into each other as they bopped around to the music.
If you were lucky enough to get close to the stage, you mainly jumped in place while you bopped to the music, commonly known as the pogo, first introduced by Sid Vicious when he was just a fan at the Sex Pistols shows.
Speaking of Sid…
Old School Punks Dog Collar and Padlock
Thanks to Sid Vicious, one of the most popular neck adornments for Old School Punks was the classic dog collar chain and padlock. My high school senior prom date wore his in lieu of a tie with his all-black ensemble.
I still see this choker style worn today, and I smile and wonder if these kids actually know about Sid or are just wearing it to look cool. That’s the sad reality of when something goes trendy…
The color of the shoelaces in your boots matter
Call it the politics of fashion, but back in the 1980s, there were unspoken meanings in the colors of shoelaces.
Here is what the lace colors were rumored to mean:
- White: White power/white pride, but also traditionalist/non-racist since it was so common
- Red: Neo-Nazi, but could also be Socialist or Communist
- Blue and Yellow: Anti-racist
- Green: Neutral/non-racist
- Black: Traditional skinhead (non-violent/anti-racist) or simply wearing the laces the boots came with
- Black + White: Two-Tone – into ska or racial unity
- Plaid: Non-racist/neutral
Sometimes laces had no relevance whatsoever. I always got confused with the colors and just wore whatever laces came with my boots. I had some funky cartoon laces I wore as well. My Docs I’m wearing right now are black laces with white skulls on them – no political issues here!
When it comes down to brass tacks if you’re a true Old School Punk living by the ethos of non-conformity and a life of passion, does it really matter what color your shoelaces are?
This brings me to…
Shoes of choice were creepers, black boots (combat, engineer, and/or Doc Martens), or classic Chucks
Again, back to footwear… the holy grail of Punk boots/shoes were Docs and sometimes Underground – both based in the UK. T.U.K. also had nice creepers, which looked like a combination of badass and classy when worn.
For those who didn’t want the glam of Docs, Underground, or T.U.K. (or the hefty price tag, I might add), a good inexpensive pair of combat boots more than sufficed.
I loved my combat boots – I bought them used from a guy at a local flea market. He told me they walked on Nazi soil, which only added to their badass-ness. Whether it was true or not, I didn’t care. When I wore them, I felt like I was invincible.
Another footwear choice of Old School Punks was Chuck Taylor’s All-Star Converse. They were cheap back in the ’80s (around $15 a pair compared to $60 today) and a classic. Popular colors for Punks were black, white, and red. I owned one of each, as well as their flip-down neon orange and yellow ones in the late 1980s – they went well with my neon logo PiL concert t-shirt.
Chuck’s that were well-worn were the best. Everyone I know always wore theirs until the soles had holes and the fabric started to fray. We even went as far as to use duct tape to mend our precious Chuck’s. They were well-loved and breaking in a new pair was sometimes infuriating, so we did our best to delay the agony.
Speaking of the agony…
The look of a new pair of Chuck’s was frustrating! (Especially the white ones!)
Do I really need to say more?
(click for YouTube playlist)
- Holidays in the Sun – Sex Pistols
- Sheena is a Punk Rocker – Ramones
- Because The Night – Patti Smith Group
- Chop Up Your Mother – Sic Fucks
- Elevation – Television
- Making Flippy Floppy – Talking Heads
- The Crowd – Operation Ivy
- Love Comes in Spurts – Richards Hell & the Voidoids
- Los Angeles – X
- Typical Girls – The Slits
- Public Image Ltd. – Public Image
- Dance This Mess Around – The B-52’s
- Freedom of Choice – Devo
- Eighties – Killing Joke
- TV Party – Black Flag
- Holiday in Cambodia – Dead Kennedys
- Where Eagles Dare – The Misfits
- I Don’t Need Society – D.R.I.
- Two Feet Off The Ground – The Dead Milkmen
- Jet Boy Jet Girl – The Damned
- What Do I Get – Buzzcocks
- Atmosphere – Joy Division
- Stigmata Martyr – Bauhaus
- Ahead – Wire
- Christine – Siouxsie & The Banshees
- A Forest – The Cure