DIY and subculture, from Decora to Decoden

Expression of an individual’s creativity is at the heart of subcultural fashion. Sometimes you want to express yourself in a way that fast fashion clothing doesn’t allow for. If everyone is buying from the same brand (we’re looking at you Zara!) how are you ever supposed to stand out from the crowd? So in subcultural fashion circles to combat this problem, clothes and accessories are often DIY-ed.

When we talk about DIY here, we are referring to the concept of “bricolage”. This is the French word for DIY, but also an anthropological concept by Claude Lévi-Strauss to mean “the skill of using whatever is at hand and recombining them to create something new”. So yeah, it’s basically DIY. But it’s a bit deeper than that! In this case, not only are you tinkering with objects, but the objects’ associated meaning. Through DIY you can craft your identity through the reimagining and reconstruction of any object. But what has this got to do with fashion? Well, when we wear an object in a certain way, we have the ability to change its meaning. Therefore, we can add that meaning to our personal narrative. Take the safety pin for example. Its purpose is to attach two things together, but in the hands of a punk it takes on a new meaning. As a fashion that is inherently anti-materialistic and relies on handmade items, perhaps the safety pin was initially used in a practical sense i.e. to fix clothing that was falling apart. But over time this small object became an iconic symbol of the working class punks.


Image courtesy of kellycrawford1993 via Blogspot.


As with most subcultural phenomena, the roots lie in punk fashion. You may associate punk with DIY ripped jeans, and outfits sloppily put together with safety pins but there’s more DIY than that in the punk movement. In order to bypass the usual corporate music production process, punks took it upon themselves to create and distribute their own music. They created an underground media that was by punks for punks, which meant the artists remained true to themselves and their roots. Aside from the individual expression, DIY meant that punk was accessible to anyone at any income. Punk was popular amongst the working class in the UK, and the DIY nature meant that anyone at any income level could participate in the movement. You could create an entire look on a limited budget! With this example we can see that DIY goes beyond clothing manipulation. It forms the foundation upon which subcultural ideals are built.

Once the idea of subculture fashion and movements spread overseas so too did the aspect of DIY. In Decora fashion we can find the most prominent examples of DIY. Decora fans were younger, mostly teens up to the age of 17, hence they had little money to buy expensive items. For them, 100 yen shops suddenly became accessory stores. Everything from stickers to band-aids were repurposed to fit the Decora look. These items came to portray the childish and playful energy of Decora fashion. For gyarus in 2004, the rise of pokeberu and flip phones opened up more DIY opportunities. Decoden (a combination of the word decoration and keitai denwa meaning mobile phone) became another form of creative expression. Phones encrusted with glitter and stones became popular and a fashion statement that was part of the gal ensemble. Everything had to be bling bling!


Image courtesy of Tokyo Fashion.


Although it may seem odd to think of stickers and phones as important parts of subcultural fashion and lifestyle, these DIY pieces are deep rooted in personal narrative. So when someone who wears a subcultural style tells you verbally, “I wear this so I can express my creativity and individuality”, we can also visualise every part of their story through their outfit. Nowadays, DIY culture is not as prominent and more focus is placed on thrifting or buying. Does this take away from the aspect of individual expression and personal narrative? No! Clothing and accessories that are premade can be worn in ways that the maker did not intend. Also, the item’s meaning can be changed once in combination with other pieces. The essence of subculture is to subvert rules and DIY doesn’t just mean making things from scratch. It means repurposing something to make it into something else. Aka fashion!

As the years have gone on, items once lovingly crafted can be bought online. A quick Google or Etsy search will show you thousands of results. These days you can pick your identity with the click of a button! From safety pins to stickers, anything can be worn to express your truest self. What will you wear?


Written by Choom.
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