Influencer/ Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

Aesthetics and subcultures

Subculture refers to an ethnic, regional, economic or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behaviour sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society. Aesthetics, however, have little cohesion beyond a loose ‘look and feel’ – which entails a lack of uniformity in music, politics and worldview.

Subcultures and aesthetics alike, create communities for people that share the same interests

For example, the punk subculture, defined in fashion by Dr. Martens and leather jackets, existed with an ethos in opposition to corporations and consumerism and was associated with the music genre of ‘punk rock’. Alternatively, ‘mermaidcore’, can only be described regarding fashion elements, centred around oceanic colour schemes, seafoam greens and ocean blues, and iridescent materials. This distinction, however, is a broad overgeneralisation of aesthetics, in which many ‘internet aesthetics’ exist between these definitions. Notably, the coquette aesthetic, defined by hyper femininity, pastel pinks and bows, is aligned with music artists like Lana Del Rey – although she is also associated with the ‘americana’ aesthetic. Furthermore, cottagecore is the aesthetic that goes beyond fashion, into activities and hobbies, such as gardening, cooking and embroidery whereas ‘dark academia’ involves engagement with literature and philosophy.

The greatest contrast between subcultures and aesthetics is undeniably the political element. Subcultures are inherently political whereas aesthetics generally fail to have a political motivation. Subcultures, such as ‘teddy boys’, ‘mods’ and ‘rockers’, were analysed by the Birmingham School CCCS in the 1960s, and were found to form ‘in resistance to hegemonic, mainstream cultural values’ which manifested in ‘styles and rituals’. Aesthetics, alternatively, lack political origins or practices, and exist as a style popularized through an appreciation of its beauty and a romanticisation of the associated lifestyle. The extent to which aesthetics act as a political tool is in limited attempts to encourage thrifting and up-cycling in opposition to pollution and climate change to counteract the impacts of consumerism required for the existence of aesthetics.

Subcultures and aesthetics alike, present a community of people engaging with the same style, and thus surrendering creative freedom and individuality to conform to the style

Beyond this dissimilarity, subcultures and aesthetics have many aligning qualities. Subcultures and aesthetics alike, create communities for people that share the same interests. The communities formed by subcultures are less limited to the online sphere and have more united beliefs. Aesthetics, however, can form online communities in which people can interact and engage with their aesthetic community with a point of commonality in style and interests. They can also both exist as a method of sidestepping micro trends and overconsumption. Subcultures, often formed in political opposition to the status quo, oppose neo-liberal ideas of consumption and corporate power – which encourages an opposition to overconsumption. They possess a fashion identity and build resistance to trends and fads due to being subscribed to a particular look. It is in this latter explanation where aesthetics can fulfil this same function through possessing a fashion identity, Micro trends and consumption can be avoided when an aesthetic can become a dominant part of someone’s identity.

Anna Johnson, discussed in the Epigram, how aesthetics, while gratifying “can lead to everyone looking the same,” which results in an unfortunate “lack of personal, creative touch” in fashion. This issue, however, is a limited criticism towards aesthetics, which can also be levied against subcultures. Subcultures and aesthetics alike, present a community of people engaging with the same style, and thus surrendering creative freedom and individuality to conform to the style. Despite this, both subcultures and aesthetics encourage creativity in self-expression – arguably, aesthetics more so than subcultures. Aesthetics often accommodate subgenres and encourage combination. For example, the coquette pertains to a range of other aesthetics, such as nymphet and dollete, which within themselves, range in mood from gloomy to bubblegum. Coquette, alongside blokecore, resulted in the emergence of ‘blokette’ demonstrating that within aesthetics, style can remain personal, and creative.

The diversity of aesthetics improves accessibility of the diversity of fashion which enables people to draw inspiration from a wider range of influences. Subcultures and aesthetics are distinct in origin, purpose and political nature. However, they fulfil similar functions, and while aesthetics face a great deal of criticism due to their impact on the fashion industry, they can be beneficial in combatting overconsumption and promoting creativity.


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