What is a Subculture and Why Subcultures are Key to Fashion

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What is a Subculture?

A subculture is a group of people with similar views, social norms, values, practices, aesthetics, and fashion, operating within a dominant culture.

According to Dick Hebdige, a scholar in cultural studies, subcultures are formed as its members resist or affirm broader societal norms, such as the Punk subculture. [1]

Similarly, sociologist Howard S. Becker states that subcultures provide “alternate solutions to socially defined problems.” [2]

What Are the Core Components of a Subculture?

1. Language and Jargon

Language serves a dual function in subcultures, and the specialized hacker jargon is a great example.

Language and Jargon

First, it allows for efficient communication between the hackers and all parties involved.

Secondly, it acts as a vetting mechanism, filtering out those not initiated into the subculture [3]

2. Fashion and Style

Each subculture has a unique look comprised of the adoption and transformations of previous fashion styles.

Fashion and Style

For example, the look of the Preppy subculture is built on traditional British aesthetics, patterns, motifs, materials, and colors, showcasing heritage and traditional values.

Equally, the Goth subculture‘s distinct aesthetic comprising dark clothing and elaborate makeup, inspired by the gothic architecture and punk subculture, acts as a visual identifier of membership within the community. [4]

3. Music and Art

Emerged in the 1970s, Punk rock was more than a musical genre but an ideological revolt against the prevailing socio-political conditions.

What Are the Core Components of a Subculture

Punk rock subculture influenced fashion, visual arts, and even DIY ethics. [5]

4. Ideology and Beliefs

The environmentalist subculture unites around advocating for sustainable living, eco-friendly creations, and environmental conservation.

Ideology and Beliefs

This collective belief system serves as a rallying point for activism and community initiatives. [6]

What is the Role of Subcultures?

1. Challenging Conventions

An example of Challenging Conventions is the Beatnik subculture.

1950s Beatniks challenged norms, paving the way for 1960s counterculture.
1950s Beatniks challenged norms, paving the way for 1960s counterculture.

As a subculture that gained prominence in the 1950s, The Beatniks were instrumental in challenging and reformulating societal norms. Their literary and artistic contributions set the stage for the countercultural movements of the 1960s. [7]

2. Adolescence and Identity

Psychologist Erik Erikson emphasizes that subcultures are critical platforms for self-discovery during adolescence. [8]

Are There Any Online Subcultures?

By providing online spaces where people can engage over shared interests or ideologies, virtual communities like Reddit and Tumblr have enabled the growth of distinct subcultures. [9]

Tumblr foster distinct subcultures through shared interests and online engagement.
Tumblr fosters distinct subcultures through shared interests and online engagement.

Moreover, online platforms have revolutionized how subcultures form and operate in the digital age, allowing for the rapid dissemination of ideas and connecting people across geographical boundaries. [10]


By embodying resistance and adaptation to larger cultural and social frameworks, subcultures serve as microcosms of societal beliefs, taboos, and norms while providing alternative pathways for individual and collective identity formation.

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[1] Hebdige, D., (1995). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Critical Quarterly 37.2, p. 120-124.

[2] Becker, H. S., (2008). Outsiders. Simon and Schuster, p. 36.

[3] Raymond, E. S., (1996). The new hacker’s dictionary. MIT Press.

[4] Hodkinson, p., (2002). Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture. Berg Publishers, p. 45.

[5] McNeil, L., and McCain, G., (1996). Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Grove Press, p. 17.

[6] Dobson, A., (2003). Citizenship and the Environment. OUP Oxford, p. 28.

[7] Rex, R., (1975). The Origin of Beatnik. American Speech, 50(3/4), p. 329-331.

[8] Erikson, E. H., (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. WW Norton & Company, p. 219.

[9] Turkle, S., (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon and Schuster, 27(2), 113.

[10] Baym, N. K., (2015). Personal connections in the digital age. John Wiley & Sons.

After years of managing hundreds of fashion brands from London's office of a global retailer, Mandy has ventured into freelancing. Connected with several fashion retailers and media platforms in the US, Australia, and the UK, Mandy uses her expertise to consult for emerging fashion brands create top-notch content as an editorial strategist for several online publications.

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