When I was a child one of my mom’s favorite punishments was to cut my hair short. I mean really short, basically a boy’s cut. Like all little girls in elementary school at that time, I wanted to have long hair. As a kid I and even in my adulthood I never understood why she used this weird punishment. She never applied this hair cutting punishment to my sister and my brother who both were blond. As a kid I thought it is all about her hating that my brown hair would show easily on the white marble floor while my sister’s blonde long hair did not.
It wasn’t until I read Style Tribes – The Fashion of Subcultures by Caroline Young that I finally found an answer for the weird punishment. It was a favorite punishment in the Weimarer Republic and Third Reich applied to young people who dressed “inappropriately”, danced “in unacceptable dance positions”, and listened to British or American swing music, or later the enemy’s music. My mom grew up during WWII when dance halls had signs “Swing tanzen verboten” (swing dancing is prohibited). She was evacuated from the Rhine-Ruhr area to Silesia. Here she grew up under the mentor-ship of an old couple who had lost all their children (four sons) to the “Führer” as they called it. My grandmother had to work in the war industry sewing “handkerchiefs”, while my grandpa served in the Sahara desert under Rommel.
The book was given to me as a sample for review from the publisher’s PR office. It covers the fashion, music and ideology movements of the various youth generations over the last 100 years starting with the Flapper. It is not only about the conflict between the young and the old generation, but also about the conflicts of the subcultures co-existing in the various youth generations. These subcultures identified themselves and distinguished themselves from each other by their way to dress, the places they partied at, the music they listened to, and their ideology. Thus, discussions of ideological ideas often led to street fights that ended up in the news.
Style Tribes also illustrates how about a decade or so later, style elements that separated the young subcultures from their age peers and the older generation became main stream. Once these elements became part of fashion or an evergreen classic, they often lost what they originally stood for.
Recall the Bohemian style, which many of us baby-boomers love, for instance, came from the anti-consumerist counterculture from the 60s. Today this style is a classic and for sale in expensive boutiques. While in the 60s and 70s, the youth wore jeans distressed from wear and were worn because of the will to not consume, today’s distressed jeans are sold this way. Ironically, they are even more expensive than completely intact jeans because of the extra production step of distressing!
Style Tribes discusses that the subcultures’ style of dressing, music and ideology often got their names a couple of years into their existence. I recall that in Germany, the Bohemian style was called Hippie look in the early 70s. Our mom prohibited us to wear T-shirts because “they are American underwear.” Things became even worse when my sister and I came home with tie-dyed T-shirts we had made in the girls group we attended once a week. Do I have to mention, we were prohibited to go there any further because of the “inappropriate leadership” of the 16 year old “Hippie bride” who led the group. A decade or so later, mom wore T-shirts.
What I loved most about Caroline’s book was to learn more about the roots of today’s style elements and fashion trends. Reading it made me understand the style choices of my parents (both born in the 30s), my siblings, who are the typical generation X, and my niece and nephew, who are Millennia also called generation Y. Style Tribes also helped me to better understand my own style evolution from the point I set free from my mom’s superimposed way of dressing to how I dress today.
In summary, Style Tribes – The Fashion of Subcultures by Caroline Young is a well researched must-read fashion history book for every woman who is interested in the history of fashion, style, and music. Reading it will teach you a lot about yourself even though Caroline may have never met you. It was published by Francis Lincoln Limited, London, 2016, and can be purchased there for US $29.99, CAN $38.99 or UK £ 20. It is also available on Amazon. If I had seen this book in a store, I would have bought it. Caroline hooked me on the first tribe covered: The Flapper. The content is best described by Coco Chanel’s quote
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Caroline Young is a journalist who has written for many newspapers and magazines, and earned a MS in Journalism and Mass Communication in Griffith University, Brisbane.
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P.S. Our Stylewe giveaway ends tomorrow night. Here is the link to the post with the Stylewe giveaway.
Photos: N. Mölders
Disclosure: Style Tribes – The fashion of subcultures is a sample by Frances Lincoln Ltd. Frances Lincoln Ltd. belongs to Quarto Knows. The review is not endorsed by Frances Lincoln Ltd. or Caroline Young. I wrote the review entirely myself and it expresses my own 100% honest opinion.
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