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Thursday, 17 May 2012

When alternative becomes mainstream


Is it just me or has fashion lately taken a turn for the alternative? Everywhere I go I'm seeing girls with undershaves or hair dip-dyed bright colours, clad in ripped T-shirts, Doc Martens and a strong red or purple lip colour. Even popular music icons are currently more diverse than the blonde, tanned, slender Britneys, Christinas and Madonnas of my own pre-teen years. In my youth I never would have dreamed of a star with blue hair like Katy Perry on the cover of a magazine, or Lady GaGa's heavy black eye make-up and startling wardrobe.


I'm in two minds about the way that mainstream fashion seems to be opening up to further influence from alternative culture. On the one hand, whilst it's a long way from the sheer shock factor of David Bowie or Adam Ant making their first flamboyantly-clad appearances on shows like Top of the Pops, for someone who grew up in suburbia where having crimped hair and wearing hiking boots was considered outre, seeing such experimentative and creative looks becoming the norm is a little bit exciting. I'm no longer the only girl in this small town who owns a tube of blue lipstick.


On the other hand, let's remember the definition of 'mainstream' - the prevailng or popular current of thought or action. To put it more succinctly, if everyone is doing it, is it still alternative? If suddenly every girl in your town is dying their hair lilac and buying a pair of brothel creepers, is it then more alternative for you to have blonde hair and wear sneakers?


Of course, I'm sure many are less concerned with being perceived as 'alternative' and more concerned with doing precisely as they please. The herd moves on, after all, and if you've been sporting creepers and a lilac barnet for years because you damn well like it, it's hardly necessary for you to change just to prove how different and unique you are. Being yourself is surely more 'alternative' than making sure that you do precisely the opposite of what everyone else is doing - otherwise, you're still a fashion victim, just from the opposite direction (if you will). In other words, if you happen to like aspects of whatever is currently trendy, there's no reason to ignore it just because you're SO spooky and different. In fact, I would go so far as to say that being able to incorporate elements of outside tastes and influences that you appreciate into your look is a skill, and far more 'different' than giving up something you honestly, genuinely like simply because 'everyone else is doing it now'.
Source
I wonder what this influx of alternative style signifiers into the mainstream consumer market heralds for the future. If today's teenagers are soon sporting deathhawks and pointy black fingernails, the world of popular style could be a very different place - and it'd be so much easier to pick up unusual shoes and yummy things in black velvet. But underground style would surely adapt itself in response, which could lead to some hitherto unthinkable developments in, for example, Goth fashion. If all of Goth's visual signifiers become co-opted by the mainstream, what then would Goth become to retain its separate identity? I can't imagine - but I'm sure opinion would be divided as to whether such changes were marvellous or utterly horrendous.


Additionally, it has been slightly pleasing and slightly unsettling to see brands well-known in the alternative scenes such as Illamasqua, Stargazer and Underground featured in mainstream magazines. I would hope that the greater exposure would be good for the success of the brands, but my worry is that the boom in mainstream advertising could cause alt brands to suppress their subcultural leanings and 'go mainstream' in order to boost sales. Time will tell, I suppose.


There is one thing about the latest developments in fashion that I feel is almost completely positive, and that is that - particularly with the rise of the internet - alternative styles and subcultures of all varieties are becoming potentially more accepted - remember the reaction that shaven heads and ripped clothing would have received a few decades ago? - and also more accessible for youngsters seeking an identity outside of the mainstream. I say almost completely positive because of course the more 'accessible' subcultures like Goth become, the less they retain their original identies - but I do feel that it is good for young people like we all once were to be able to have ease of access to music, fashions and communities that really mean something to them.

22 comments:

theEmocarebear said...

I love that finding alternative clothes and hair dye has become cheaper & more acceptable - I has rainbow hair at my job for 4 months & was celebrated for it instead of condemned - but I still get glares for goth fashion.

Alternative has made it into the mainstream where I live, but goth is still a "scary" thing. Boo.

Daniel_8964 said...

I couldn't agree more with you. Being yourself is more important and is the true principle of being 'alternative' than being the sake of being 'different' because the mainstream has borrowed alternative fashion at the moment. :)

Minakitty said...

This is very much like what happened 20 years ago, when Nirvana broke big and suddenly "alternative" was cool. People who tormented those who were the least bit different were jumping on the bandwagon. A few years later, most of them moved on, and I suspect the same will happen again.

A perfect example of a makeup company changing to make more money is Urban Decay. Their slogan was "Does pink make you puke?", but they phased out most of the amazing colors from their line (e.g. "Uzi" went from a fantastic gunmetal grey to a sheer gloss with silver glitter!).

Lady Lovescraft said...

I agree...to a point. While it's awesome that the mainstream is becoming more accepting of the alternative-stream (Hellooooo better acceptance for tattoos and piercings in the workplace!)

However, you can always, always tell the difference between who's 'alternatively mainstream' (it's what I call it)- the people that are doing it because it's the in thing- and people who truly love alterna-fashion and culture. I go to college with such people. And it's a sad thing to see. Someone who calls her blog 'Gothferatu' and has never heard a Cure song? A tad disgraceful, in my humble opinion.

And those of us who are genuinely spooky will always get negative reactions on the street. We will be the ones who get strangers walking up to us and asking us if "We believe in God"- in a rather threatening manner. We will be the ones who get called "Dirty Goth bitches". Not the skinny girls in really short shorts, lacey tights, lilac hair and inverted cross earrings.

/rant over haha!

euphoricstimuli said...

There was a whole scene doing that kind of stuff between around 96-2003, (ok mainly in the uk, and I think a bit in New York) its just been pretty much written out of history. Partly bands such as Manic Street Preachers, Suede and Mansun who kind of come over these days like britpop stadium dinosaurs, all wore trashy makeup, feather boas, leopard print and girls clothes when they were young, as did their fans, bands like Placebo and Garbage, who are still sort of doing the same thing, and smaller bands like Rachel Stamp (who were rocking the multicoloured hair thing waaay back) and Remote Control, who never really got very far, but were very similar in aesthetic to the modern alternative thing thats coming back into fashion.
The difference is, most of those bands were guys dressing like that, so for whatever reason, despite the fact it was a huge/borderline mainstream youth trend at the time, they have been conveniently forgotten.
However as a female fan of them all at the time, I used to go out dolled up in leopard print, multicoloured fake fur, glittery sparkles, extreme neon makeup and vintage 80's gear, and apart from people in the same and related youth tribe (there was actually a massive overlap with goths at the time.) everyone thought I was /all my friends were right freaky!
Recently I've been taking advantage of the fact that sort of gear has come in fashion again this year (I have the most amazing bright blue fake fur jacket from Primark) and going out like that, albeit in a slightly more toned down I'm-not-18-anymore kind of way, and getting massively approving looks from TOWIE chav types (er..I think you are american, TOWIE is kind of our equivalent of Jersey Shore). Who are the type of girls would happily have jeered at me/beaten me up for dressing like that in the early noughties!
It is so weird how youth fashions have evolved that much in 10 years.
I reckon you are alright as long as what you are wearing, if it comes into fashion, stays on the sort of alternative end, when its the Kim Kardashian types wearing it, it might be time to adapt it in a bit of a different direction.
As I said there was a massive overlap with Glammies as we used to call ourselves and goths and most general alternative types anyway, so moving into a different genre for a bit isn't the end of the world.
But sometimes you have to change a bit so that the yourself you perceive yourself as being is the same as the image/stereotype of you that you give off to other people (if that makes any sense!)

euphoricstimuli said...

There was a whole scene doing that kind of stuff between around 96-2003, (ok mainly in the uk, and I think a bit in New York) its just been pretty much written out of history. Partly bands such as Manic Street Preachers, Suede and Mansun who kind of come over these days like britpop stadium dinosaurs, all wore trashy makeup, feather boas, leopard print and girls clothes when they were young, as did their fans, bands like Placebo and Garbage, who are still sort of doing the same thing, and smaller bands like Rachel Stamp (who were rocking the multicoloured hair thing waaay back) and Remote Control, who never really got very far, but were very similar in aesthetic to the modern alternative thing thats coming back into fashion.
The difference is, most of those bands were guys dressing like that, so for whatever reason, despite the fact it was a huge/borderline mainstream youth trend at the time, they have been conveniently forgotten.
However as a female fan of them all at the time, I used to go out dolled up in leopard print, multicoloured fake fur, glittery sparkles, extreme neon makeup and vintage 80's gear, and apart from people in the same and related youth tribe (there was actually a massive overlap with goths at the time.) everyone thought I was /all my friends were right freaky!
Recently I've been taking advantage of the fact that sort of gear has come in fashion again this year (I have the most amazing bright blue fake fur jacket from Primark) and going out like that, albeit in a slightly more toned down I'm-not-18-anymore kind of way, and getting massively approving looks from TOWIE chav types (er..I think you are american, TOWIE is kind of our equivalent of Jersey Shore). Who are the type of girls would happily have jeered at me/beaten me up for dressing like that in the early noughties!
It is so weird how youth fashions have evolved that much in 10 years.
I reckon you are alright as long as what you are wearing, if it comes into fashion, stays on the sort of alternative end, when its the Kim Kardashian types wearing it, it might be time to adapt it in a bit of a different direction.
As I said there was a massive overlap with Glammies as we used to call ourselves and goths and most general alternative types anyway, so moving into a different genre for a bit isn't the end of the world.
But sometimes you have to change a bit so that the yourself you perceive yourself as being is the same as the image/stereotype of you that you give off to other people (if that makes any sense!)

Mad said...

I started dressing punky/gothy in the late 80s, and noticed when it all became fairly mainstream that it was much harder to tell who was actually into the music and who was just dressed in the latest fashion. It used to be a bit more us vs them, more of a community I think. When Green Day became huge, I think something was definitely lost on the punky-pop scene for example.

Nightwind said...

I've never liked it when an alternative aesthetic gets hijacked by commercialism. Sure, it does make certain items more easily available, but I believe that it cheapens or otherwise devalues the creativity of those who have thrived within the original subculture.

Whichever way it goes however, I'll stay the same. I've never been one to do something just because everyone else is doing it.

Bored_Homeschooler said...

I've noticed that myself. But the thing about mainstream fashion is that it's not static. It will move on,eventually. When people get tired of stars like Katy Perry or lady Gaga(It will happen,eventually) and want to move onto something different.

Claennis said...

Dressing Steampunk has become somewhat of a trend where I live (American Suburbia!). It's quite a bit startling.

Sarah Silence said...

It'll pass. Remember a few years ago when you couldn't move for hitting something skull-adorned in a mainstream store? Well, at least we had that in the US, I don't know about there. The point is that mainstream fashion gets bored very easily and everything passes and gets reinvented sometime later as something completely unrecognizable. As for alternative brands going mainstream to make money, it would really be a death blow to them. They would lose their regular clients and be left behind when the mainstream was finished with them. It's just trendy, the blonde Brittany's will be back.

gin said...

Alternative becoming mainstream does happen every few years, but I will say it is doing more so the past couple years. To me, this is the best time to go shopping. All kinds of brands and stores put out some lovely things, and a lot of times, the darker, "gothier" things usually don't sell, and wind up on the clearance rack. Also, once this trend passes, it will all be in the thrift stores for those of us who love it so much.

And I agree with you, being alternative is not about being against fashion, it's about knowing who you are and knowing what you like, as the mainstream is more about lack of identity and being force feed what you should like.

The twisted Lady said...

It's interesting, to think about this in that way. Yet I think fashion changes so rapidly it'l be just a memory in a few years. I may be wrong, though.
The changes on goth may be interesting, yet I fear it'd be watered down a bit by the mainstream fashion, like the hippie style have been. But you're right, in the way that the subculture will grow even further away. I guess its soul will not change with the style.

Amelia Jane said...

I think you're right.
In my opinion, if you're wearing something just because other people are OR aren't wearing it, you're wearing it for the wrong reasons. I can understand not wanting to be the same as everyone else, but in the end regardless of what you're wearing you're still unique!

linnea-maria said...

When I was a kid in the 80's no one cared much about how people looked, unless they looked as punks (that was horrible in common peoples eyes). The disco kids was wearing studded belts and pink jackets, the attitude was like "who cares". I've seen a lot of undershavings on girls in their 30s here, but most teens dress very common. I would be glad if it was more accepted to look the way you like regardless of subculture belonging. I showed my whole shaved side at work yesterday and received a positive response from my boss, "you look stylish" he said. :)

Aristocratic Elegance said...

I usually look at the mainstream adopting 'alternative' elements as a good thing, since it makes it easier to buy certain items. I also know that in a year or so they will have moved on to something else, so I'm not really bothered by it ^_^. Also, this probably depends on the location, but in most places I've lived being fashionable at all is unusual, so I guess they don't seem mutually exclusive to me.

The Tenth Muse said...

So I definitely love seeing all these beautiful people in beautiful clothing everywhere... but I do dislike a lot of the image that comes with it. I have nothing against trendiness OR your own self-expression, but I do hate the elitism that comes even with mainstream fashion. I've met people who think they are better than others because they wear Abercrombie, I've met goths who think they are better than others because they dress goth, and I've met the sorts of people you talk about in this article... who think they are better because the way they dress is edgy.
Which, of course, is silly, because they're just pulling from the way alternative people have dressed for years. And those people pulled from others. It
s all derivative (and there's actually something quite wonderful about that).
When that attitude is absent, however, I love seeing the way these kids dress...
One more thing: You mentioned that this sort of fashion will be more readily available in stores because of its popularity, but on the other hand... business is business. Prices for this stuff will skyrocket.
A lot of the kids bringing this clothing into the mainstream are rich too, and have a lot more money to spend on clothes than I do.
I don't know. Something to think about. I probably said something incorrect somewhere in this comment, so just tell me :)

net said...

I think its a good thing.. my thought is there are two different 'alternative'/goth/whatever label you want to use people out there- Ones that do it for the shock/attention/to be purposely different and rebel and ones who just like the aesthetics of what they're doing.

I think my tastes are odd for example because I'm pretty shy, and awkward and feel weird with attention put on me. But I just like the way darker/gothic fashion looks. I've been stifling myself just because I worry about sticking out - but soon I want to start wearing more clothing I like no matter how much I stick out.

So in essence, I personally WISH gothic/alt was mainstream so it wouldn't be "weird" for me to wear it, and people wouldn't stare or say anything or think of me oddly.

Same thing is happening with my hair. I plan on dying it all purple eventually and what I've been explaining to people is that i WISH purple was a normal color.

I don't want it for the shock, i don't want it to be "different." I just find violet hair the most aesthetically pleasing hair color whenever I see it. I wish people didn't view it was "weird." I wish it was normal so it wasn't a big deal.

Tenebris In Lux said...

It comes, it goes. I'm expecting a surge in something else mighty soon. Right now the "trying to be as dark and edgy as possible" is fading and now I'm seeing girls wearing large owl pendants, TIGHT black mini skirts or tights for pants, and seeing guys with bright polo shirts. Go figure.

Katherine :) said...

Woah, I just thinking that mainstream fashion was looking less...Mainstream? I pretty much agree with everything you said lol.

Rachel H-G said...

I'm just using it as an excuse to stock up on creepers and cheap cyber-inspired tops that I don't have to order.

Darling Violetta said...

The dark alternative scene makes it's appearance in the mainstream every generation or so. But, in different ways. I believe it is a very good thing. Good bands get wider recognition, some people who would never have heard of that type of music open themselves up to a new world, kids have more options than looking like Snooki, and some cute clothes become available to people in the dark alternative scene.

In the 90's and early 2000's the dark alternative was visible in the mainstream. On MTV there was Headbanger's Ball in which great bands like Life of Agony and Type O Negative were interviewed and Uranium on Fuse (in the wake of Headbanger's Ball). I remember when I was in middle and high school it wasn't uncommon to see kids dressed in plaid skirts, torn fishnets, dr. marten boots, chains, spikes, shaved hair, black lipstick, and/or multicolored hair. Hot Topic during that time still was the "ookie spooky" store in the mall. And they sold popular goth clothing brands such as Funhouse, Eternal NYC, Eternal Love, Lip Service, Tripp and Cykxtees (all except Lip Service and Tripp are no longer in business) and a whole lot of other great stuff. As well kids could walk in the store hear a song being played or see a band shirt on the wall they didn't know about, ask the employees about it, and walk away with knowledge on something new they particularly liked. A lot of kids from the 90's and early 2000's found the dark alternative scene because it was made available to them. Especially through Manson.

I'm a bit worried for the next generation because I see no dark alternative bands out in front. Well, not one's like AFI, Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, and Type O Negative that not only were great bands/musicians but very accessible. How will today's youth be exposed to the dark alternative world without good gateway bands? :\

Even the original Goth scene in the early 80's was accessible. Bauhaus, the Sister of Mercy, and Killing Joke were all featured on "Top of the Pops". Actually, Killing Joke held a spot on the top 40 chart in the UK. People like to think of Goth as this movement that came up without mainstream help or notice of any kind but that just isn't true. Actually, it was the mainstream that called the movement Goth. Not to mention, shows like Top of the Pops that helped expose teens of that day to the dark alternative bands of that time. I think Goth used to have a friendly relationship with mainstream until recent times where the media became so terribly homogenized.

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