No labels please! The ins and outs of alternative fashion

In my opinion, there cannot really be a specific definition for the term ‘alternative fashion’.  This term encompasses so many different ideas and styles that I would find it impossible to explain in one specific way.  In looking at alternative fashion you invariably start looking at alternative music, subcultures, gangs , lifestyles and life choices as well as clothing and styling.  THIS IS NOT A BAD THING -   I do not feel the need to LABEL myself or my style in a particular way, and as such I do not feel that fashion, and in particular ‘alternative’ fashion needs to be LABELLED either.  I would agree however, with some of  Ken Gelder’s (“Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice") statements regarding the idea that alternative fashions have traditionally been related to subcultures that have been identified by mass society as:

- disinterested in common moral order: idle, parasitical, hedonistic, criminal,  disinterested in or against adhering to structure of social class,  

- identification with an area (street, 'hood, club) rather than self-owned property,

- preferring to develop "family" and community outside of traditional paradigms, and attitudes against or wary of Mass production, homogeny, socially imposed behaviour constrictions.

What puts the alternative in alternative fashion?

Fashion will in effect always mean different things to different people with regards to personal attitudes towards concepts such as individuality, consumerism, social constructs on behaviour, self-expression, and/or disenfranchisement with what is viewed as "normal" society. Personally, I often feel that alternative fashion gets a bad rap, and is not portrayed in the media in a way which I would prefer.  There are so many creative and imaginative designers creating beautiful pieces which push boundaries and create new aesthetics, and yet what we usually see is stereotypical ‘goth’ corsets and cheesy skull print hoodys. 

To me, what I like most about alternative fashion is that it is much more individual and unique to the wearer than what is considered to be mainstream fashion.   It gives the wearer the opportunity to develop their own personal style over time, taking elements from ‘fashion’, and using it in their own way.  There are no set rules and fashions do not necessarily change from season to season.  Alternative fashion is a much slower, creative process with subcultures and styles developing and growing over time. I think everyone should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in and what makes them happy, without the fear of being labelled (there’s that labelling issue again!) ‘unfashionable’. 

If you do have an interest in ‘alt’ fashion like me, you might want to check out the following:

-       Alt magazine

-       Any writing on fashion and subcultures by Ted Polhemus

-       Altfashion.co.uk

(or, of course, check out the Jed Phoenix of London range of alternative clothing)

This article was written by Michelle, an intern with JPOL in 2011. Read more about her in blogs