Back at the start of March the ‘Shred Yr Face 2’ tour came to Birmingham’s O2 Academy. The ‘Shred Yr Face’ shows are like punk package tours, and the line-up for this event was The Bronx, Fucked Up and Rolo Tomassi. As put by NME ‘The second Shred Yr Face tour boasts a line-up so fierce that we’re not simply getting our faces shredded, we’re having our rib cage reorganised and our nipples ripped clean off’. Quite.
I arrived at the Academy a little while after the doors had opened and so the queue had already disappeared inside. As soon as I stepped into the crowded venue I suddenly felt incredibly out of place. I was surrounded by six-foot-tall skinhead men, dressed in black and covered with tattoos and piercings. I looked down at my own outfit. I had been on campus all day and had only had time to drop my books off at home before hopping on the train. I was wearing a t-shirt, denim mini skirt, black tights and ballet pumps, one of my staple outfits. As I got derisive looks from these tattooed men and mohawk-ed girls, I had to fight to stop myself from shouting out ‘I’ve drunk Jaeger with Fucked Up before, yeah!!!’ The whole experience made me reconsider the impact that someone’s taste in music has on the clothes they chose to wear, something I hadn’t really thought about for a long time.
Punk was my first love. When I was fifteen-all I listened to was Black Flag, the Clash and the Dead Kennedys. I had pink and green hair and all of my friends from outside of school were of the six-foot skinhead variety. Nowadays my friends are mostly dressed head-to-toe in Topshop. I’ve grown my hair long and made desperate attempts to get it back to its natural colour. Nowadays I read Vogue (when I can afford it!) and wouldn’t even dream of going outside without a full face of make-up… but I still love the Clash and all the old punk bands. So what changed?
I’d actually met Fucked Up the previous November, and despite looking pretty terrifying they turned out to be really friendly, warm people. So many of us nowadays hold the opinion that punk is just violence and anger, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The best punk bands are the ones that really speak to people and create that sense of community. They are the ones that make you feel like you’ve found a home, somewhere you belong. They are the ones that give you that sense of acceptance you couldn’t find anywhere else, because you’re a little bit different, because you don’t fit in with the crowd, because people told you that you were weird so many times you started to believe them. They are the ones that tell you that it’s okay to be a little bit strange, and both Fucked Up and The Bronx belong in this category.
Music and fashion have always been closely linked – the Sex Pistols famously auditioned Johnny Rotten in Vivienne Westwood’s boutique on King’s Road, nowadays some bands are better known for their dress sense than their music (The Horrors being a good example) and as MGMT recently pointed out, you haven’t made it as a musician unless you’ve dated a handful of models. By the time I was fifteen, a combination of my own and other people’s efforts had managed to convince me I was an ugly weirdo, and dressing in that specific way gave me an identity to hide behind. It allied me with the only group of people that I felt welcomed me with open arms.
Fortunately though, in sixth form I started to feel more comfortable with just being myself. My academic success gave me confidence in that it was something I knew I was good at, and bagging myself a couple of good-looking boyfriends and then promptly finishing with them, convinced me that I couldn’t be totally abhorrent to the opposite sex. A new, calmer group of friends showed me that not everything in life has to be a battle between you and the rest of the world. All these things allowed me to slowly let go of the persona that I’d built up around myself and gradually the safety pins and ripped band t-shirts began to feature less and less in my wardrobe. By the time I started university they’d disappeared completely. The thing that I held onto was that sense of community.
Even while I was still in the punk phase I’d been interested in fashion, and used to make a lot of my own clothes, cutting up over-sized men’s t-shirts to make tops and sewing patches onto everything. I still have this interest, but I no longer pigeon-hole myself into one particular style. I think going through years of wearing things only held together with safety pins has given me the confidence to wear some of the slightly stranger looks… like leggings with just a t-shirt, or hot pants in the middle of winter. I have a pair of those stupid heart-shaped sunglasses, of course, and I have been known to wear a circus ringleader’s hat out to clubs. The difference is that now I dress for fun and I dress for myself, instead of using my clothes to hide any confidence issues. I’ve learnt be happy with who I am and that gives me the freedom to wear whatever I like, wherever I like.
Of course, I still think I’m weird. It’s just that now I’m pretty sure that everyone else is too!