Comparative Showcases
Young People, Fashion and Youth Subculture


The range of archival materials on the topic of 'Fashion' reveals the importance of fashion and clothing to young people and youth-based subcultures across Europe. For members of a particular subculture, their choice of clothing, hairstyle, accessories and footwear is not only a way of expressing themselves, but also a manner of pointing out to which subculture they belong. In particular, television lifestyle and news programmes have given young people belonging to a specific group with its own dress style, conducts and interests, a public platform to discuss their 'look' and way of life. The Video Active materials on this topic demonstrate the role of fashion as an important mediator of group identity, and the ways in which television represents, negotiates and empowers these social identities.


The Video Active collection gives insight into how fashion choices are closely linked to young people's group identity. In the 1960s, the news report 'Tonight: Fashion for Mods' (BBC, 1964) looks at 'Mods subculture' and their view on fashion. Mods are a British youth-based subculture which originated in London in the late 1950s and peaked in the early to mid 1960s. Fashion is a significant element of the mod subculture, whose members often wear tailor-made suits. Other characteristics of Mods subculture are listening to pop music and riding on scooters. Cathal O'Shannon reports from Carnaby Street in London, featuring various vox pops with Mods and ex-Mods, as well as an interview with Dave Clark (drummer of the Dave Clark Five pop group) about recent fashion trends. According to an interviewed Mod, Mods do not dictate young boys or girls which fashion to wear, but attempt to 'guide' these young fashion-wearers. According to two 'ex-Mods', being a Mod was about rebellion, about being different, but now the trend has progressed beyond its initial stage and they are 'the same as everybody else'. The current affairs programme 'Behind the News' (S&V, 1965) reports on 'Nozem subculture' in The Netherlands. Nozems were young Dutch people who dressed in jeans and leather, listened to rock 'n' roll, and gathered on their mopeds near snack bars. They often had a pompadour hairstyle. This programme showcases images of Nozem fashion style, Nozems riding their mopeds in the streets of Leeuwarden, playing cards and playing with knives, and finally, two groups of Nozems coming to blows in an alley. In the featured interviews, Nozems state that they do not want to obey rules imposed upon them by 'elderly people who do not know what they [the Nozems] really want'. They also relate stories about their frequent scraps, including a story about a distinguishable coloured jacket with a tiger image worn by all the members of the gang, which provoked a huge fight with a rivalling, leather-clad, gang.


16 Up is a BBC series aimed at young people, in which various members of youth subculture groups are interviewed about body image and fashion. In the episode '16 Up: Youth Cults and Fashion' (BBC, 1982), a group of punks and skinheads talk about how people and (prospective) employers react to the way they look. According to one female interviewee, young people are being 'dictated' and conditioned into what to wear when applying for a job. The youngsters relate stories to each other about being suspended or turned down for jobs because of their fashion choices; one young woman did not get a job because of wearing (multiple) earrings, one young man was suspended of his job because of his preference for 'un-businesslike' dyed hairstyles. According to the interviewees, people often stereotype punks and skinheads as 'working class', 'criminal', and 'fighters', purely based on the way they look. Most interviewed punks and skinheads wish that people would not judge them on their appearance, but rather take the time to get to know them. In another episode of the programme, '16 Up: Make-up and Punks' (BBC, 1982), the same group of people discusses the use of make-up. For the punks, make-up is part of their look (for both boys and girls), but the skinheads feel make-up is not necessary, especially not for male skinheads. According to a young self-declared punk, being punk is about wearing what you want, including male punks wearing make-up. Another interviewee criticizes this young man because he only wears make-up to shock other people or because other people feel punks shouldn't wear make-up – not because he wants to wear make-up himself. In this sense, he, too, is conforming; 'conforming to the non-conformist standard'.


Whilst television programmes can reveal to what extent adhering to particular fashion choices is an important part of youth-based subcultures in Europe, programmes also provide discussions about the importance of fashion to young people's social identity in a more general sense. For instance, in July 1969, Flemming Madsen comments on the latest news regarding fashion, norms and communication in 'Weekly News' (DR, 1969). This item features interviews with two very different young married couples. Otto Sigvaldi, a 'flower child', talks about communicating through fashion, by means of what you wear. He also tells about people's reactions when he sells his magazine SØDM in the main shopping street of Copenhagen, Strøget. In the early 1970s, Mister de Quatre Epingles states in an interview for the news programme 'News: Fashion for Men' (RTBF, 1972) that young people are not worried about fashion, because they make their own fashion. He also discusses how casual fashion is constantly evolving according to social relationships: for example, people who work in the bank sector do not wear sweaters. In the 1980s, the Dutch monthly talk show 'Schoolyard' (S&V, 1985) features a discussion on brand clothing with pupils of the Harbour and Transport School in Rotterdam. Some pupils express the opinion that wearing expensive and exclusive clothes gives you prestige, while other pupils state that wearing brand-clothing is not important and they prefer to judge someone on their character. In contrast, a Belgium news programme features an item on how elderly people consider young peoples' look (RTBF, 1986). The programme features various images of young people walking in the street, wearing different fashions. Elderly people share their thoughts on young peoples' 'look' or appearance nowadays in interviews. Henri Ronse, the guest of the show, suggests that everyone 'lives' their own look and image. In 1985, a similar broadcast 'News: Young Peoples' Look' (RTBF, 1985) also features various images of young people walking in the street wearing different fashions, but this time young people are themselves interviewed on their own appearance. Various youngsters talk about how important fashion is to them and what it means to follow fashion. Some think it is of outmost importance to dress according to fashion, while for others it doesn't matter at all. Finally, the lifestyle programme 'Felix: Youngsters and Fashion' (RTBF, 1991) further investigates how fashion among youngsters can be diversified. This report gives us young peoples' advice on fashion, and analyzes the importance of fashion when young people choose their clothes. Such programmes demonstrate how fashion is a cultural form that moves across national borders.


As a result, television programmes across Europe give insight into how fashion choices are closely linked to both young people's individuality and their group identity. The Video Active collection on this topic subsequently reveals how television plays a significant part in negotiating, representing and empowering social and group identities. Television news and lifestyle programmes in particular function as a platform for young people to talk about fashion and to express their opinions on their own appearance and identity. At the same time, such programmes also give elder people the opportunity to discuss young people's fashion choices. By using interviews and in-studio debates, such programmes demonstrate the role of television as a public negotiator on the topic of young people, fashion and youth subculture.


Berber Hagedoorn