Saturday, 29 March 2014

Street Style by Ted Polhemus

Starting with the premise that style is something you live, whilst fashion is just something you wear, Ted Polhemus's magnus opus is an analyse and catalog of all the major western (and the occasional eastern) youth movements across the 20th century. Nominally focused on what people were wearing and doing it is an invaluable collection of brief histories of the varying Youth Tribes (his term) and how they interconnect together, giving a brief overview and history of each scene whilst focusing on their core concepts and intended statements.

The work goes through the birth of the Style movements at the start of the 20th century (where people were trying to stake a claim for who they were through what they wore, instead of identifying status or station), the birth of the Teenager as a social concept, the myriad of 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's movements and their tension (internally and externally) between "Dressing Up" and "Dressing Down", through to the "Gathering Of The Tribes" in the late 90s, and the "Supermarket of Style" and the dissolution of the Youth Tribes that has emerged in the aftermath of social, economic and technological upheaval of the 2010's. Whilst each section is brief they are all vividly presented so that you are clear what is being discussed, and the definitions offered are sufficiently broad and identified that the core concept is indisputable. There are also extensive 'further reading' sections for those who wish to find out more, and a willful admission that not every nuance has been addressed that should put community insiders at ease that these are broad brushstrokes of ideas rather than reductive statements. There is also a happy sense that all scenes are somewhat nebulous and impossible to define with accuracy.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in popular musical movements or in street/consumer driven youth fashions. As a starting point for defining the genres it is a invaluable tool, and on a less anthropological level the "Gathering Of The Tribes" and "Supermarket of Style" concepts are fantastic explanations as to just what the hell happened in youth culture over the last 20 years (giving answers to the questions first proposed by John Robb). It's also just a great read, giving a historical insight into youth movements that shows a reverence that is often lacking in a general, rather than genre specific, review or study and an amazing history of the fashions and the reasons behind the fashions of everything that has come before and, in the post-modern recycle machine, will invariably come again.
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