Punk: Chaos to Couture

Image source: "Rebel Yell" Vogue
Birthed in the mid-70s to dejected youth in New York and London, punk is about to celebrate it's 40th birthday at tonight's Met Gala. "Punk has been around so long it's now a just another item in the fashion vocabulary," sighed my husband, an anarchist disguised in horn-rims and polos, when I told him this year's Costume Institute theme. He added with a shrug, "An establishment celebration of an anti-establishment movement would have been offensive maybe even as late as the 90s, but punk itself is pretty mainstream now. It's in the mall."

Quick. Name some elements of the punk look. Leather. Spikes. Bondage pants. Doc Martens. Plaid. Unnatural hair colors. Mohawks. Safety pins. The list goes on. Perhaps its many distinct elements are why the look is still going on decades after many of those youth settled into the common routine of family and work. Anyone can work a little symbolic rebellion into their wardrobe when done correctly.

Does distinction and accessibility mean punk is a good Costume Institute theme? If you play word association with punk, you are likely to think of anarchy, rebellion, music, and more. Money does not immediately spring to mind. Punk, like grunge, was a street movement that fed off of thrift shops and DIY before designers got ahold of it and spun it into $5,000 dresses. Designers certainly have the right be inspired and reinterpret, and it's not surprising considering the backgrounds and aesthetics of some of these designers. However, The Met Gala is a $50,000 aticket fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and punk is more than clothes. I feel like removing the clothing, even the designer interpretations of the aesthetic, from the larger punk culture does punks a disservice. This isn't a show of period dresses from the 30s or a theme of film glamor. Punks are real people, and their culture has evolved beyond anarchy and rebellion. While the look may be mainstream and mall-friendly, it feels weird to put real people under a microscope like that.

But I haven't seen the show yet, and it just may be handled with love and aplomb. While there are certain parts of this show that excite me (HONY's gallery and the book), I doubt this will be one of my favorite Met themes. Although, anything is better than "Model as  Muse." Check back on Wednesday for our thoughts on the gala's red carpet's stab at punk.


Anonymous said…
Tickets may be expensive, but don't they go towards funding the museum? I'm presuming they do. In that instance, I don't feel that this function is geared towards vanity or materialism (the antithesis of punk) but towards a greater good, a public museum.

Jael Paris said…
Yes, it goes to the museum. This event is one of its biggest fundraisers.

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