The young and inspiring fashion scholar Monica Sklar recently completed her first book. Titled Punk Style, it takes a wide look at the punk movement, following the 40-year subculture through its various manifestations beyond its 1970s origins. Fashion Projects discussed the book with Dr. Sklar.
What inspired you to write on this topic?
I started high school in the fall of 1991, a year often referred to as “the year punk broke.” Although punk predated this by over 15 years and had seen crossover success before it reached a new level in this era. The underground and mainstream were blurring in music, fashion, and ideas. This grabbed me and impacted how I would shape my adolescence and adulthood. My career paths always related to this intersection and as I went on to become an academic I wanted to explore it in depth, particularly the fashion and its meanings.
The music and fashion of punk have always developed simultaneously and in conjunction as part of an overall lifestyle developed by communities of individuals who think along the same lines. However the body of literature mostly covers the music and its personalities with fashion as an afterthought, or sometimes, the fashion as trend and not “important.” Also much of the literature isn’t thorough or is out of date. I wanted to fill some of those voids.
It turned out to be complicated to study because punk style has simultaneously maintained some of its relevance and original subcultural intent, it has also developed mainstream appeal and cache. This begs the question whether dressing punk means a person is punk, and/or, whether a person can be punk without dressing punk. Further muddying the waters is that punk is an esoteric and amorphous concept that is not easy to define and not all of those who self-identify as punk share the same perspectives. Through its 40 year history and various incarnations, as well as through personal experiences of the participants there are many ideas about what punk is and that made it fascinating to dive into.
Another reason I wanted to study it was to give the research the energy and perspective I felt it deserved. As someone who self-identifies with the punk subculture, I felt my voice positively affected how the interviewees for this research addressed me and it was reflected in my ability to understand the language and symbolism as well as know the background to add context. I wanted to then pass this hopefully thorough approach to readers who are not familiar with the subject and also to have accesses to the scene in ways an outsider academic might not have. I worked hard to step back and holistically unite ideas to answer the research questions as a scholar of dress, design, and social theory.
How your view of it changed from when you first approached it to the end of your research?
Since it is something I feel personally connected to and have my own experiences with I wouldn’t say I had great changes of mind over the years of research, however I did learn things in more depth and explored some ideas that were new to me.
It was interesting to learn about the differing perspectives of the UK (and some other global regions)and the US. The UK has the idea that commitment to punk means fully dressing the part and highlighting one’s efforts. The US has the idea that commitment means it is no ingrained it’s natural and should appear effortless and more subtle or coded. Also since the UK apparel was (mostly) initiated by artists and fashion designers it is more flamboyant than the US which was initiated by musicians and street kids.
The most important thing I learned is about how punk style is embedded in the wearer’s perspective. The wearer dictates that something is punk, less so than the viewer defines them. This relates to another thing I really took away from the research about how individuals grow with the style and transform it with age. Since it’s a 40 year subculture I was able to research people at different points of life and I could see how it is not only a passion of youth. Punk style morphs with age and lifestyle changes and many people have developed ways to incorporate it into their maturation. However for some that means the visuals become less relevant as they enact the ideas they were trying to get across visually in other aspects of their lives such as jobs and manner in which they maintain a household and family. This validated that the style is symbolic of a larger lifestyle choice, and not a passing fancy. Some I researched felt the cliché notion that punk died whenever their version of it moved on (or they got older), however often those same people will explain how the lifestyle they now lead is related to the way they dressed in the past. Also something about punk is so flexible and accessible that new generations keep picking it up and making it their own and feel valid in their interpretation.
Monica Sklar has a Ph.D. in Design-Apparel Studies from the University of Minnesota, focused on Socio-cultural and behavioral aspects of dress; 20th/21st century design history, theory, and criticism; aesthetics, innovation & creativity; retailing and consumers, with Supporting Areas of Study including: Social movements, subculture, popular music, deviance, and visual culture.
She has taught numerous college level courses in dress and retailing, worked in art and design museums/galleries in multiple capacities, done many projects in fashion and art journalism and wardrobe styling, and worked on endless retail floors