CONSTELLATION: Key Concepts: Sub-cultural Style: Cath Davies Session 2

Style is all about making a statement. Embedded within style is a knowledge of historical usage. As an art student, I have to have an understanding of the past to produce a meaning in the future. Its the same style, in order to revive or modify or create a new style, you have to gain a knowledge of previous looks.

Subcultures are crowds of people deliberately changing the meaning of objects. Subculture is simply an academic name for street style and explores how we can express ourselves through dress. Street style becomes a sub culture when you have a group of people doing the same together. For example, acting the same, dressing the same and listening to a particular genre of music. Subcultures are predominantly defined by look. A sub-culture having a name like goth or punk suggests many people with similar attributes, features and characteristics.

In this session, we discussed the fact that when analysing subcultures we are analysing the characteristics of a street style. It is not enough just to describe the look within a street style. We must analyse the meanings within the look. Why were the items worn? What were the statements being made?


We were given documentation to read and make notes on relating to sub culture and the analysis of street style. Below are the notes made on the subjects and key ideas within the text given to me.

Woodward suggests that all identity statements, who we are, are often expressed visually. She maintains Identity is marked by difference. By choosing a look, you’re saying you’re not like everyone else. This got me thinking about how differences are shown between people. Visually we are always enacting according to social systems. There are social rules we adopt. For example, There were men in the room in this session, but none of them were wearing dresses, we don’t even think about adopting these rules. We just follow the rules of being a man and being a woman. Look goes somewhat to distinguishing sex. The dress is stereo typically tied to being a woman and a suit and facial hair, a man. We don’t questions this, it’s just adopted. We talked about noticing the fact that when someone breaks that rule, it becomes a cause for concern. Most of art and design is about questioning and exposing rules. Exposing the things that we just take for granted. What is considered normal and what happens if you challenge the norm, is something art and design practitioners question all the time. Rules are given to us, we either fit them or we don’t.

Symbolic Marking (woodward 2002) marks difference through visual language. Its a visual language ans set of meanings that differentiate or suggest difference, Who is included and who is excluded. You get a sense of us and them from symbolic marking. It is at the heart of racism, sexism, homophobia etc. If you are judging someone, you are making a statement that says you are not like me. It is also to do with lifestyle, music etc. Not only visual. There are examples of where bands for example have contributed to street style.

We talked about how this related to analysing street style. We will consider how difference is manifested visually. We will look at how identities are constructed. Identities are made, not natural. We will look at identities in relation to what they are not. Everyone makes decisions on their look, like how to wear your hair and dress. As an art and design student, we always expose construction, how was it made, how was it put together? why? Construction occurs in Binary Opposition – you make a decision and you discard  another. I am going to dress like a punk not a mod.

b boy

The Old Skool B-Boy is a hip hop look characterised by a music genre and lifestyle. Considering the notion that if you went out dressed as an old skool B-Boy in 1985 you are saying that you’re into hip hop.

The Characteristics of the look include a Run DMC t-shirt, adidas trainers with the laces taken out and a Goose down jacket. A visual statement is being made and therefore there is evidence of symbolic  marking. There are rules embedded in the street style Old skool B-Boy and every style. If you weren’t part of this Hip Hop look then you wouldn’t know the rules.

Sports wear – Particular Brand – ADIDAS. Subculture is all about “cool” what’s in and what isn’t in. Here, you have to wear adidas to be part of the hip hop crew. Old Skool B-Boys claimed this brand. Meanings are inherent in Branding. Brands have trends according to age groups and are often influenced by celebrity style and fashion.

Gold Jewellery – Thick chains and Bling. Hip Hop artists coined the name Bling. Detail is highly important in sub cultural style, how you do up laces is making a statement for example. Hip Hop old Skool B-Boys wore no laces in their adidas trainers. Here there is a conversation going on within the style. They have taken sportswear out of its sporting context. This is a huge statement, they are wearing the trainers to look cool. “i’m not going running in these trainers like everyone else” – marking difference. The laces are taken out because they are not being used for their original function.

Another thing Old Skool B-Boys did in 1985 was wear Volkswagen logos around their neck as necklaces. These would have been stolen off of cars. Again, a statement, the badge shows the brand of the car, wearing this brand as a necklace changes the function of it. Stealing the badges was a statement about what they couldn’t afford. Listing characteristics, looking at original meanings and variations of this style would help me analyse it. I would need more than one image to prove this look if I was writing a case study on it.

This encouraged me to think about how the function of items changes and how influences from old looks return. The Mid 80s Hip Hop look is coming back now, we are in an 80s rebirth currently and there are many examples of this. There is an idea of then and now in terms of sub cultures. Looks that started on the street end up on the high street.


Sub cultures must exhibit a distinctive enough shape and structure to make them distinctive enough. They must be different from the parent culture, different from mainstream fashion. My work at the end of these sessions should prove there are different values and uses of material artifacts within looks. Where the sub culture hang out and where the subculture was born is all valuable to analysis.  The hip hop subculture is inherently Black and grew up in the black communities of New York. Songs are about urban deprivation and race themes emerge within this genre. Disadvantaged black youth in an America that favours white people. You cannot analyse Hip Hop without analysing race. An example of this is the fact that Grunge is inherently white as a sub culture. When looking at sub culture, we are looking at what statements are being made about the people. The Hip  Hop B-Boys wanted to make a statement about the fact that they shouldn’t be singled out from the whites for being Black. Within this look, there are meanings relating to race and they consciously chose a brand (adidas) that was traditionally worn by white people.


Possession of  Objects. What makes a style is the activity of stylisation and the active organisation of objects. (Hau Clance Jefferson 1975). The active organisation of objects is the notion of construction that I mentioned previously. Through this construction, new meanings emerge. Things are being brought together in new and distinctive ways and ensemble. Within style, people are changing the meanings of things.

In conclusion, the three key concepts that I will have to look at when analysing and producing my case study are: symbolic marking,  the differences of a subculture from the mainstream and having a distinctive enough shape, and the stylisation within the street style and how they have actively organised objects within their look.


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