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Noncomformists look the same everywhere

May 13, 2008

Made a new discovery this weekend.

It seems that with regards to personal style, the differences between Europeans and Americans become less striking as one moves away from the center.

For example, the closets of the ‘average’ American from the Midwest (let’s say Cleveland) and the ‘average’ Belgian from a mid-sized town (let’s say Leuven) are going to have some stark differences. The American is going to have more casual clothes – hoodies, college t-shirts, sweatpants than their Belgian counterpart. The Belgian, in turn, will have some dressier staples – super skinny jeans, complicated boots, elaborate scarves.

However, as you move away from the ‘average,’ towards the ends of each spectrum, you’ll find many similarities. You could swap the trendy waifs (you know, the ones with the giant sunglasses, some combination of leggings/sundress/shorts/draping top and sandals with an inordinate number of straps) in NYC and Paris and no one would know the difference.

Turns out, the same is true for the other end of the bell curve – the ‘alternative’ set. The ‘noncomformists’ who, ironically,  seem to conform to their own set of style rules. Rules that appear to be international.

This weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to survey the current trends in the punk/rock scene. A conservative estimate puts attendance of the festival at around 15,000 people. Of this 15,000, at least 90% of the attendees were REAL fans (unlike BF and I who just went for a laugh).  Of this 90%, approx. 80% looked, uh, nontraditional. And yet, had they not been speaking Dutch or German or French, they would easily fit in with the standard disgruntled teenagers from Cranberry (you know, the ones who are constantly fighting against the hardships of growing up in safe, middle-class neighborhoods and receiving a free, top notch education). A day and a half of watching this 80% (a much better past time than actually listening to some of the music) allowed me to zero in on the staples of the authentic punk/rock persona:

– Hair

For guys, something other than the clean cut or longer sloppy style (preferred by American teenagers or 20-somethings without jobs) is essential. This includes, but is not limited to, mohawks, spiked mohawks, waist-length dreads and stringy, back-length hair. The uniting element of all of these styles is grease. To achieve the true punk/rock hair style you must NOT, under any circumstances, wash your hair more than once a week as doing so would undermine all attempts at authenticity.


For girls, one must eschew all professional-looking hairstyles. Subtle highlights are out. If you decide to dye your hair – you must pick a shade that is completely unnatural. Blonde hair? Go black. Dark hair? Peroxide is your new best friend. Note: green, purple and pink are acceptable colors for all. As for cut, it is important to do all trimming yourself. Feel free to take off entire sections of your hair at random- symmetry is passe. Chop your bangs until only a blunt and uneven 1 inch strip remains. The less attractive the final result, the better.

– Clothing

The “gentleman’s” clothing was surprisingly unsurprising. Just like the guys that hang out at the 7 Eleven, the clothing trended toward baggy black pants, cargo pants, skinny pants with lots of superfluous belts, scary t-shirts, band t-shirts or no t-shirts at all.

Now, if you are a girl and you want to pass as a punk/rock aficionado, you have a bit more latitude when it comes to your outfit. 60% of the girls sported bikini tops and cargo shorts/pants. (Note: 10, 20, 30 pounds overweight? Nowhere will you feel more comfortable about your size than at a punk/rock festival. People don’t just accept their size, they flaunt it. Have a keg on top of your 6-pack? By all means, bare that belly.) 20% rummaged their boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) closets and fastidiously avoided any items that would indicate they were in fact female.  15% wore odd combinations of ripped tights, tight shorts and assorted mesh tops.  4% dressed entirely in black. The remaining 1% – I think there were 5 of us – donned jeans, casual t-shirts and scared expressions.

Accessories: Spikes are tres chic. They work for earrings, belts, collars, forearm sleeves, bracelets and anklets.


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