It’s fascinating to observe how cultural phenomena and historical events have shaped our societies. What’s fascinating are the subcultures that transcend the mainstream in the hopes of forging their sense of culture and identity. It is wholly up to them how they create this identity.
Still, whether they do so through bizarre fashion statements, creepy crafts and hobbies, bizarre cars, or simply by resisting the law, you can’t deny that traits like these are what pretty much makes us human after all.
For a long time, fashion was associated with the upper class. Still, as it spread to the lower classes, it began to be shaped by the subcultures already existing in society.
From Mexican pointy boots to Burmese punk rockers, fashion subcultures worldwide express themselves in remarkably creative ways. These counterculture “tribes” are formed by a love of experimental styling, which visually expresses their rejection of social norms.
Explore the most imaginative fashion subcultures in the world by looking beyond the sartorial surface.
Harajuku Style Tribes
Harajuku in Tokyo has been the central hub of wild street fashion for decades. Although the area has become more mainstream, Harajuku is still among the places in the world to see young people dressed outlandishly.
Trends here move quickly, and the “style tribes” are continually shifting. Gothic Lolitas (living Alice in Wonderland dolls) in lace parasols and bell skirts are more likely to be encountered. Teens wearing Decora (rainbow hair blanketed with dozens of cute-faced clips) or Fairy Kei may be seen (80s pastel childhood nostalgia).
In a country with unyielding social expectations, Harajuku gives the Japanese fashion subculture space to thrive.
China has undergone unprecedented prosperity in recent decades, but not everyone has shared in the good times. Many young people in rural areas have remained unemployed and impoverished. Some have relocated to cities to seek a better life but have been marginalized by elites and forced to work in low-wage jobs.
These disgruntled teenagers bonded on the internet over the “shamate” (pronounced “smart”) style, which can be defined as emo meets glam rock. The shamate dye their hair vibrant colors and comb it into anime-style spikes. They incorporate J-rock Goth clothing and dark eye makeup to their look to make it more intense.
Shamate fashion is a graphic middle finger to those who have denigrated them for young migrant workers. It also allows them to express themselves and feel less alone.
Rebel Riot, a Yangon-based punk rock band, is known for its hard-edged music against systemic corruption. The musicians and their pals sport dyed mohawks, ripped and studded DIY clothing, and tattoos and piercings.
Despite their tough exteriors, Burma’s punks are a caring bunch. They run nonprofit organizations that help the homeless and children, including in Rakhine State, in between rocking out at concerts. Anyone is welcome to ally with the spiky-haired crew and help out in the community by collecting classroom supplies for rural schools and handing out food to the hungry.
In Korea’s fashion subculture, it’s usual to see couples on dates wearing identical outfits—a strange sartorial choice in the eyes of a Westerner. Partners can even shop for outfits with coordinated cuts, fabrics, or accessories at “twinning” clothing stores.
The trend of matching couples may have arisen due to Korea’s strong emphasis on romance culture. Young people enjoy watching heartbreaking K-dramas and commemorating relationship milestones such as the 100-day mark since they began dating.
Because Korean culture frowns on public displays of affection, matching looks are a means for lovers to demonstrate that they belong together.
Steampunk fashionistas dress as if they are in a futuristic version of nineteenth-century England, complete with fantastical clockwork creations powered by steam. You can see neo-Victorian ladies in striped stockings and bustle skirts, and gentlemen in top hats and waistcoats, at events like the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln. This sci-fi subculture generates many “mad scientists” who design intricate accessories, like pocket watches and brass goggles.
Take a walk through Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, and you might be surprised to see locals dolled up in fedoras and fine French suits, posing like rock stars in the middle of the city. These fashionistas, identified as “sapeuses” and “sapeurs,” first appeared in the Roaring Twenties, when locals began imitating French colonists’ clothing.
Sapeurs still take pride in wearing tailored suits with pairing silk handkerchiefs, which they wear swaggeringly. Congo’s dandies are regaining charge of their nation’s identity and leading it to a more cosmopolitan and prosperous future, in addition to highlighting their big personalities.
Mexican Pointy Boots
A new electronic music genre known as tribal guarachero has been causing a stir in Mexico City nightclubs. The music combines cumbia, hard techno, and pre-Columbian instrumentation.
You’re likely to see performers in pointy cowboy boots, several with tips that extend 10 inches or more, at one of these events. During their frenetic dance-offs, all-male dance troupes revolutionized this unusual footwear.
Many people accessorized their elongated shoes with flashing lights and sequins, and they completed the look with skinny jeans, button-down shirts, and cowboy hats. Mexico’s “pointy boots” can perform high-energy choreographed dance routines without tripping over their toes.
Heavy metal music has fans worldwide, but Botswana has an unusually devoted following. Locals spend hours before a concert dressing up as if they were gearing up for the apocalypse. Skin-tight pants laced with metal chains and leather jackets adorned with fringe and studs may be among their all-black ensembles.
Because many of Botswana’s metalheads work at ranches during the day, they complete their style with black cowboy hats, a shift away from the Western-style. They may also wear hunting knives and animal horns as a nod to their African heritage. Cowboys in Botswana frequently band together and pose for photos with their hands raised in the devil horns sign before going ballistic at a death metal show.
Motorcycles are perhaps the most popular mode of transportation for residents in Marrakesh. Women rode motorcycles in groups, dressed in traditional garb with a festive twist.
Moroccan culture still urges local women to dress conservatively. These “easy riders” wear djellaba (a lengthy North African robe with full sleeves) in eye-catching prints like rainbow polka dots and zebra stripes as a rebellious gesture. Some biker girls wear niqabs or Muslim face coverings but with funky sunglasses.
It’s a joy to see these fearless, fashionable women zooming through the medina gates, expanding their wings in Morocco’s changing society.