Punk was a radical style of the mid- to late 1970s marked by unconventional combinations of elements and materials and a high shock value. It emerged out of London, England, and New York, feeding off of the cities' angry, rebellious participants of music concerts where a new type of music called punk was developing. What began as an antistyle aimed at thumbing its nose at the established norms of high fashion ended up having a great deal of influence on the fashions of the late 1970s and beyond.
There was always a punk element in rock 'n' roll. The Beatles famously wore black leather jackets and played a loud, fast, aggressive brand of rock music before softening their look and sound. What is now called punk is generally dated to 1972, however, when the British fashion designers Malcolm McLaren (1946–) and Vivienne Westwood (1941–) opened their London boutique. First called Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die and later renamed Sex, the shop sold a variety of black leather and rubber designs and became a central meeting place for those in the emerging punk music scene. An aspiring music manager, McLaren himself helped set the styles that many British punks would emulate. Some of these he imported from the United States. From the U.S. punk musician Richard Hell of the band Television, for example, McLaren copied the idea of the spiked haircut. Achieved by applying large amounts of gel or Vaseline to one's hair and then rubbing talcum powder into it to dry it into spikes that stuck out away from the head, the hairstyle became emblematic of the punk look. Johnny Rotten (1956–), lead singer of the band McLaren managed, the Sex Pistols, helped popularize the style in Great Britain. Other early elements of punk style that migrated from the United States to England included the concept of deliberately ripping one's jeans below the knee, a practice of the New York-based bands the Ramones and the New York Dolls.
In contrast to the colorful, naturalistic garments worn by the hippies of the 1960s, punks preferred almost entirely black, self-consciously menacing clothes. They often composed their outfits little by little from items bought at second-hand or military surplus shops, mixing, matching, and layering as they saw fit. Quite often the garments were torn, colored, or otherwise altered to create a more individual look. Mainstays of the punk's closet included black turtlenecks, short leather skirts for women, tight leather pants or jeans for men, leather jackets customized with paint, chains, and metal studs, and Doc Marten boots. Jackets and T-shirts were often decorated with obscene or disturbing words and images. Besides leather, materials favored by punks included rubber and plastic; besides chains, they liked to adorn themselves with dog collars, razor blades, and safety pins which became a symbol of the punk style.
Punks also blazed their own trails in the area of hair, makeup, and jewelry. When not spiking hair, they were coloring it in a variety of bright hues. Or they shaved part or all of their heads, creating mohawks. Makeup was used to blacken eyelids and lips. Finally, the most dedicated punks pierced their cheeks, noses, and eyelids, often with safety pins.
Punk remained a rebellious style until 1977, when designer Zandra Rhodes (1940–) brought it into the high fashion mainstream with her Punk Chic collection. Her designs offered a tamer version of punk style, including tattered hems with exquisite embroidery and gold safety pins. Her designs helped bring punk to the attention of the rich and famous and paved the way for its acceptance by the mass market. By the end of the 1970s, new wave—a tidier, less threatening variation of punk—had largely replaced it as the style of choice among New York and London youth. However, the punk spirit proved a major influence on the goth, grunge, and some hip-hop styles of subsequent decades.