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While I wasn’t around in the ages of punk rock, I do remember its re-emergence as pop-punk in the late 90s and early 2000s with bands like Green Day, Blink-182, Sum-41, Linkin Park, and well, a girl can’t forget Avril Lavigne. In 1999, punk wasn’t common in rural N.H. — I was still all about J.Lo, Brittany Spears, and belly-shirts (one of which I stole from a life-size doll and wore strictly around the house because, you know, I was only six). But a few years later, suburban-appropriate punk had subtly entered mainstream by way of hot pink and girly mall brands. Limited-Too filled its stores with baby-tees with matching long, fingerless gloves and I bought Velcro streaks of blue hair at Claire’s. Mary-Kate and Ashley even recruited Simple Plan to perform for one of their last movies “New York Minute.”
This “mall punk” was planets away from punk’s original form. Beginning in the 70s, punk was meant to counter mainstream culture and society — subgenres and fusions of punk rock include skate punk, Anarcho-punk, surf punk, art punk, emo, Gypsy punk and many more. Derived in a moment when disco joints and flashy bell-bottoms were becoming tired and cliché, rock bands craved a disruption in the “superficial” music they were hearing.
From the 70s to early 2000s, the punk movement evolved from a puritanical rebellion to another venue for teenagers to express angst. It’s one of many historical examples of how outliers conceive an original idea out of their contempt for the current culture, but over time the current culture begins to accept it and profit from a mass-appeal translation. Yet, if it weren’t for mass-appeal would “punk” have the same influence over music, fashion, and politics? Can you appreciate the punk movement, without being a punk?
Many of the original punk rock styles in the 70s and 80s reverted to the clothes of 1950s “greasers,” as they reflected a similar disregard for authority — leather jackets, denim, and lots of black. Later into the movement, “garage punk” popularized a more casual take with distressed tees, baggy jeans, and hoodies. Finally, pop punk popularized Converse, skinny jeans, and skater style. Today’s look is a modern take on punk, with an element of all these variations. An unbuttoned flannel, dark skinny jeans and worn-in boat shoes are laid-back, but still brooding — what I’d imagine a band member of Linkin Park would wear on a summer day off in Coney Island. Just punk enough so as not to fit in.
But what stands out about today’s look is a new definition to the word “punk.” Although dictionaries define it with mainly negative associations — loud, aggressive, archaic, inexperienced, and petty — today’s punk has redeeming qualities. Not overtly loud, it’s a reflection of the experience we gain when we shed our innocence and see the world differently. At a point in our lives, we move past the need to stand out in aggression and choose to stand up in grace. Yesterday’s rebellion is today’s lesson.