This issue, Maria Henry explores the revival of alt music and fashion, the issue with using sub-cultures as aesthetics, and the wonder of women with mullets.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the lockdown style-wise was the abandonment of any set fashion rules. Without anywhere to go and anything to do, and with the absence of the usual ‘trendsetters’ such as in-person fashion week shows and new film and television programmes, people began to experiment more and more with their individual fashion sense.
As these things were all put on pause due to the social distancing guidelines, music became one of the only artistic mediums that could still be produced and experienced somewhat normally. As such, a lot of people started to turn towards music as a stylistic outlet.
We saw the revival of a lot of different era-specific clothing, such as Y2K-style low-rise jeans and tank tops, caps, and tennis skirts. The vibrant colours of the 80s, along with big blown-out fluffy hair, also made a comeback, as did 90s trends such as halter dresses, knee-high boots, and tiny shoulder bags.
If there is, however, one extremely notable trend in both music and fashion that emerged recently, it is that of alternative or alt fashion. Alt fashion is characterised by freedom of expression, by being able to dress the way you want to express yourself. It first emerged with the punk movements of the 70s and 80s, later turning to grunge in the 90s.
The modern alt
Today’s alt style in many ways is becoming a fashion subculture in of itself, taking old ideas and giving them new identities. Alt girls take elements from the 00’s emo and indie subcultures and revamp them for the internet age, creating a whole new style in itself. The new alt is often characterised by dyed hair, piercings, layered clothing, black tights, chains, fishnets, and chunky boots. Although the fashion trend is still associated with certain styles of music, as of late it has become more of a trend than a representation of a specific culture or interest, with lots of people creating videos on Instagram and TikTok where they try to put together alt outfits to try out the aesthetic.
The pros and cons of aesthetics, and gentrification of the alt culture
The idea of a sub-culture or genre becoming an aesthetic is both a negative and positive. One of the main negatives is the gentrification of alt culture. Alt culture stemmed from a love of music which went against the grain. Punk, rock, and grunge music were all about calling out the issues with society and accepting that non-traditional ways of living were just as valid as, if not better than, traditional societal-enforced roles.
When a style influenced by this sort of cultural movement becomes a trend, it is in danger of losing its original meaning as it becomes something that you can sell – something that can turn a profit. This contributes to the gentrification of the movement, with people upselling alt clothing items for way more than they’re worth, making it inaccessible to those without money.
This is a big issue, as the whole purpose of the alt movement was that anyone could create alt looks with whatever they had. It was an expression of self and culture, a state of mind, rather than an aesthetic requiring certain items. Another issue is that when a trend emerges – it is often representative of only one category of people. In the case of alt fashion, there has been an increasing trend of the most popular alt influencers being white, thin women. Alt fashion and music is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or size, but the way it is often seen online is only through one specific type of influencer. This is once again an issue as it erases the meaning of the culture, it creates an idealisation that to dress alt you have to be this one type of person, that you can’t be yourself.
There is, however, one pro to it becoming a trend and this is that fashion can be used as a doorway for people to discover new music. People who identify with the style may too identify with the music, discovering and in many ways reviving the genre.
Miley Cyrus and Mullets
The mullet has been everywhere lately. For all genders, we’ve seen this becoming the new big thing in hair. The original business in the front, party in the back hairstyle was mainly associated with men in the 80s – it represented a sort of freespirit masculinity associated with rock-and-roll and punk music. However, the mullet, in a different sense, has also always been a female hairstyle. Known as a shag, this layered hairstyle was seen on the likes of Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, and Farrah Fawcett. It is a slightly toned-down version of the mullet, with a focus on lots of short layers, emphasising the top of the head. Within the last year, these have been seen all over Instagram, with influencers like British author Florence Given (@florencegiven) and American poet Orian Carloto (@orianvanessa) rocking the look.
The mullet has been seen all over TikTok lately and has become associated with alt style. Its popularity only continued to grow over lockdown, and searches for “how to cut a mullet” have risen by 124% recently. One of the factors involved in this is that it’s a somewhat easy style to cut yourself, and numerous videos have emerged online with people taking their haircuts into their own hands. With the absence of salons during the lockdown, these videos offered people a chance to get creative with their at-home hair jobs – trying out something new now that they don’t have to go to work or school.
The mullet recently made a huge revival when it was seen on pop icon Miley Cyrus. Miley debuted her new look at the MTV VMA’s and it received a major positive reaction. People loved the androgynous, punkrock look that she was channelling for the release of her new music. It even prompted a trend on social media in which people would post a photo of themselves and caption it: “If Miley comments I’ll get her haircut”. Miley’s new style draws heavily on conventions of 80s alt legends such as Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry and The Runaways’ Joan Jett. The anything-goes sort of fashion sense, which includes sequined jumpsuits, vintage band T’s, leather trousers, gold chains, and lots of costume jewellery is a nod to 80s punk rock with a modern twist. Her new style perfectly complements the alt-rock tone of her new music and has contributed to her re-invention from pop artist to modern rock star.
Everything comes back around
If there is anything to note from the re-emergence of trends such as altinspired fashion and 80’s mullets, it’s that everything comes back around. This is similar within the music industry with 70’s synth-heavy pop making a revival earlier this year (think, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd) and rock music coming in hot and heavy recently. If anything, this is a wonderful thing as it allows people to experience things that they otherwise would have missed out on. It also works to revive and keep genres and sub-cultures alive as the youth continue to enjoy and share them. Although some would argue that with revival some of the original meaning of a culture is lost, the world is constantly changing. When we apply a modern perspective to an old trend it doesn’t always result in a negative, but rather, we could work to make these old sub-cultures more inclusive and diverse. For example, the mullet was a traditionally male look, but now it is seen as a style that anyone can rock, regardless of gender identity. Toeing the line between aesthetics and revival isn’t always easy, but with every generation, there are people out there who are willing to try.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more, take a look @mariawriteshere on Twitter.