Safety pins, spiked hair, and shocking tee-shirts. The punk movement has left its mark on society, proving the power of self expression and non-conformity.  Even in the contemporary age, the punk style of the 1970s resonates: a fierce model poses for Westwood’s Fall/Winter 2022-23 collection, adorned in a tartan mini-dress, sneakers, and carmine red tulle. The ensemble simultaneously evokes the vibe of a Liberal Arts student and a Bagpiper. Before there were Generation Z TikTok fashion girls, there were punks—and their virtues still resonate. 

The 1970s are when the Punk Rock movement as a music genre scorched conformity-culture  in places like New York City and London. Bands like The Ramones, Blondie, and The Clash caused both commendation and criticism. Alongside the sarcastic, angsty, and anti-establishment sounds that shocked older generations, Vivienne Westwood (who passed away just last year), has often been called  “the mother of punk:” helping define the 1970s Punk Rock movement style-wise with her anti-establishment designs.  Alongside her partner Malcolm McLaren, infamous future manager of The Sex Pistols, Westwood opened a London boutique in 1971. The boutique went under various names, such as “Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die” and “Seditionaries.” 

Vivienne Westwood, 1970s. Photo by Robin Laurance.

The style of punk’s early days were counter-cultural—ripped shirts and spiked hair, to name a couple—and starkly contrasted with the bell bottoms and mauve fabrics of mainstream 70s fashion. Beyond serving as shock value for uptight passersby, hang out spots like Seditionaries became social hubs for local punks desiring to find community. Even in those early days of punk, young people enamored by the movement  experimented with and subverted expectations regarding femininity. One of Westwood’s muses, model Jordan Mooney, can be seen wearing corsets as outerwear, leather pants, and maximalist eyeliner. Her beehive hairdo, in combination with her rebellious apparel, seems like an outward jab at the campy conformity of the 1960s, when alien-esque hairstyles were the norm for women. Punk men of the time, too, diverted from the straight-laced expectations pushed on them: shined shoes and slicked-back hair out of the picture. Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, for instance, resembled an anti-establishment Calvin and Hobbes character with spiked hair, sneer, and Seditionaries straitjacket

Punk has consistently aligned with Generation Z’s love of subverting fashion/gender norms (such as the rise of gender-fluid garments). Further, punk’s focus on self expression provides the experimentation that Gen-Z desires. Grunge outfits, the safety pins and ripped stockings, correlate with the revival of a pop-punk aesthetic (think Avril Lavinge and Olivia Rodrigo). Further, the concept of punk as reactionary angst mirrors that of contemporary mentalities among Generation Z. Amid a global pandemic, unsavory politicians, and a climate crisis, the desire to express one’s nonconformity through fashion is a tangible response. While punk-style fashion does not hold the same level of shock value as it once did, the internet creating a melting pot of fashion trends like never before, its sentiments still echo through each safety pin worn or mohawk spiked. Punk-style fashion in 2023 is a vessel to be playful and impolite— amid all the seriousness of the world, it can be refreshing to express one’s angst through style. 

Perhaps punk fashion holds a Generation-Z appeal because it never grew up. Photos of 1970s punk fashion, while indicative of the era in which they were produced, are far from aged or ‘frumpy’ in 2023. The way it merged periods together, from ancient tartan to mohawks, resembles the Gen-Z love of era-mixing, especially with the rise of thrift shopping as trendy. For punk fashionistas in the 1970s, the more rips on clothing the merrier and leather jackets were meant to be worn to shreds. Westwood spoke against climate change and overconsumption, stating: “Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don't keep buying just for the sake of it.” Westwood also penned a ‘Climate Manifesto’ alongside her 2012-launched “Climate Revolution” which merged fashion design, advocacy, and charity. Perhaps punks were some of the originators of the sustainable, ‘revamped’ look in designer fashion, a trend that Gen-Z loves, many Punk designs intended to look recycled and ‘worn out.’ 

As Generation Z sets out to change the world, the non-conformist teachings of Punk exist in the spirits of contemporary change makers and risk takers.