Aesthetically Out There

Morgan Cooper, Bear Hub Staff

Before getting into alternative subcultures, what is a subculture? What makes it alternative? Meriem-Webster dictionary defines a subculture as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society,” and defines alternative as “different from the usual or conventional: such as existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system.” Putting these together gives us alternative subcultures, an umbrella term for fashion, music, and social beliefs outside of the accepted norm. The baseline for normal I will be using is the Preppy and VSCO aesthetics.
VSCO is a photo editing and sharing app, popular among teenagers and young adults. The VSCO style focuses on oversized shirts, shorts, and comfy shoes like Crocs or Birkenstocks. Accessories include scrunchies, a sticker covered HydroFlask, Fjällräven backpacks, shell chokers, and Pura Vida jewelry. Beliefs of this subculture include environmental awareness, with a popular phrase being “save the turtles.” This style was both popularized and criticized by many on apps like TikTok, and became synonymous with being basic and well off. While many call someone a “VSCO girl” as an insult, I am just using it as one of my two base points for more typical fashion.
The other base point for typical fashion is called prep, or preppy. Short for preparatory, or preposition, preppy style comes from alumni of preparatory schools in the Northeast United States. This style is chic, often expensive, and more conservative. With blazers, button ups, skirts, sweater-vests, and mary-janes, the preppy style also has a more muted color palette, with navy blue, black, white, and nude colors. Basic patterns like stripes, plaid, polka dots, and floral also appear in preparatory fashion.
With typical fashions established, we’re able to get into what is considered alternative fashion. Over the years, many subcultures have come and gone, or evolved into something new. The seven alternative subcultures that will be covered in this article include: Goth, Emo, Punk, Skater, E-kid, and Grunge. Jaiden Radoczy says “though I don’t stick to a specific subculture, I can align myself with whichever one I feel fits that day to help me feel more like myself, and it helps me to feel significantly more confident even just going about my day to day.”
Prominently beginning in the 1980’s, the goth culture has many different subcultures. However, when most people think of goth, they think of heavy dark makeup with light or even white foundation, chunky boots from brands like Demonia or Doc Martens. With hugely teased and sometimes dyed hair, goth culture is a distinct style, and is credited to being influenced by the punk subculture. Beliefs of this subculture center around individualism, tolerance, and expressing yourself. While the subculture tends to steer away from conservatism, there is no designated political or ethical alignment for those who express themself in a gothic manner, as it is much more rooted in the fashion and finding beauty in things that are not traditionally considered beautiful.
As mentioned in the goth section, many current subcultures can be traced back to the punk subcultures. This subculture, which emerged around the 1970’s, has a very do-it-yourself belief and those in the subculture are very non-conformist. The Punk subculture started as a way to rebel against tradition, including against big corporations, and the government. Their style includes leather or denim jackets, t-shirts, patch pants, patch jackets, and boots. Patch pants are almost exactly as they sound, pants covered in patches. In history, patches have been a sign of poverty, and with their anti-capitalist agenda, punks were one of the less well-off subcultures. Because of this, fashion for this subculture was often whatever you could get from a thrift store, or whatever you could make yourself. Oftentimes when ripped, pants were not replaced, but mended with patches and occasionally floss, which was cheaper and stronger then normal thread. This same method of repair was also applied to jackets. Along with repairs, patches were also used as a method of expression. Many patches expressed beliefs of the subculture, or show off bands the particular wearer likes. Boots are very important to the subculture. Black combat boots ladder-laced with specific color laces indicate different things, a form of nonverbal communication.
A descendant of the punk subculture is the skater subculture. This subculture revolves around skateboarding, and the style reflects that. Comfortable and loose clothes that offer some skin protection are popular.
Popularized in the 1980’s and 90’s, grunge subculture is about not caring what others think. Clothing includes things that are rough around the edges, like ripped tights or jeans, beat up shoes, and oversized shirts. The music in this subculture is considered dirty, which means they use feedback and other guitar distortion.
Changing throughout the year, the one thing that has stayed the same with the emo subculture is its roots. Short for emotional, this subculture revolves around leaning into one’s emotions, and accepting the negativity in life. Although the subculture has been around since the 1980’s, the “classic” emo image came to light in the early to mid 2000’s. With swooping hair fringe, black ripped skinny jeans, Converse or Vans, band tees, and rubber bracelets, this is a very distinct style.
A more recent development, the e-kid subculture was popularized on TikTok in the late 2010’s. This aesthetic is an amalgamation of older subcultures, and draws inspiration from scene, goth, emo, and punk subcultures, which makes the best way to describe this subculture a “soft edge”, with dark colors, chains, heavier makeup, and almost excessive jewelry.
Subcultures are all ways one expresses themselves, and they are good ways people create bonds. The history of alternative subcultures is rich, and many of the subcultures are connected.