It was 1978 and I was a real punk. My trousers were threadbare and were held together by safety pins and pieces of fabric that I had sewn on myself, using the most garish stuff available, leopard print and so on. Sneakers and boots were swathed in gaffer tape. I still wore the Navy pullover, with holes in; after all, it was now pretty old. Finishing off the look was a mohawk and studded arm bands.
A guy named Face was the coolest. He was a true Dandy. He was so called because he had an extremely delicate, fine-featured face, somehow aristocratic, although he himself was completely wasted. His style separated him. He never wore the typical “jewellery” like safety pins, studded arm bands or chains. Whether summer or winter, he always wore a long grey coat. Under this he wore suits, which he got from charity collections, and roll-neck pullovers – almost always in grey, rarely black, and never another colour. In fact, he was homeless, but he played bass in a band.
Although of course there were a myriad of subtle differences in detail and multiple crossovers, styles for the guys generally developed in three directions: there were the “normal”, or today classic hardcore punks, who wanted to be explicitly political with slogans on their leather biker jackets and extravagant spiked hair in green and red. Then there was the suitjacker- wearer. They also painted their clothes and draped them with chains and badges. They wore their hair short and arranged in spikes like Johnny Rotten 3. And there was a smaller group, who had now renounced jewellery, accoutrements and inscriptions, just because these things were now so popular with the others. I belonged to this group. It was a dark, very depraved style, hard and broken.
As an alternative outfit, which I called “fake popper”, I sometimes wore a wide, pale blue pullover, which a friend of mine had made on her mother’s sewing machine, with tattered tapered jeans cut too short, and pointy black loafers. I combed the mohawk to the side, for a look that was proto-Emo. In this outfit I got to know girls from the student scene – the effect was simply less aggressive. On the contrary, it had something…
One night I made an observation that would influence my later life more than anything I had ever seen. I watched a guy – drunkenly swaying back and forth – holding on to a street lamp with difficulty and then throwing up on his shoes. In a flash, I realised: it was more about the attitude and less about the clothes.
Taken from The Sleek Book, “Punk”, featured in Sleek 38.
A longer version of this piece is published in “Cool Aussehen – Mode & Jugendkulturen”, Ed. Diana Weis. Published by Archiv der Jugendkulturen Verlag AG.
1 Quite early on even in Hannover there was an outfitter, which – as usual for this scene – was based on McLaren and Westwood’s London boutique SEX. As such, it first offered Teddy Boy, and subsequently painted, leather, punk and new-wave clothes, and then finally all these together.
2 In retrospect, it is apparent how conformist the apparent diversity was, e.g. the hairstyles of the girls – all these hairstyles were pale blond, pale green, pale red and cut in the universal “cat style” look.
3 In addition to the music and attitude of the early punk rockers, the fashion, or more accurately the style of dress, was a central element of the rebellion against the mainstream. Everything was acceptable. But did everything work? Where did the protagonists of this time derive their specific inspiration? From England? In what way did the punk style develop, considering that it did not actually exist as a singular phenomenon? Of course, typifications can be identified within the development of the seemingly unconventional clothing habits of those years; these would later become standard, and later still become caricatures. During the writing of this text, the idea came to me that it may well have been that in their leather jackets, the punks unconsciously reincarnated the British rockers of the 1960s, while the suit-jacket-wearers in turn related to the Teddy Boys or Mods. In the early 1980s many punks did actually begin to shift towards these styles or movements.