‘Streetstyle: from sidewalk to catwalk’ by Ted Polhemus was first published in 1994 in conjunction with an exhibition at the V&A, the first street exhibition the conservative museum had ever hosted, causing quite a stir.
Ted wears a suit these days. From activist to academic, he has lived through and dressed according to almost every subculture of note (appearing in i-D in 1981 in a straight-up). In an intimate talk at The Book Club last week, Ted touched on the breeding grounds of subcultures, their demise in the 21st century, the courage of punks and marketing strategies of brands. Though Ted is pessimistic about the existence of subcultures today, observing that we are now a melting pot of style, he identifies flashes of spirit here and there, “In every tiny town in England, there’s two Goths at the bus stop!” From Teddy Boys to Skinheads, Glam Rockers to Rude Boys, Streetstyle contextualises everything we now consider style to be. “Style is what allows us to find ourselves, and find others like us”, he professes, “and is what will define us in this ever continuing multi-faceted world”. i-D Online caught up with the culture anthropologist post-event to discuss theories, personal favourites and the status quo.
How has the book changed since 1994? The book has changed the same way that style has changed from 1994. It’s become more global (the Western imperialism of streetstyle is long gone) and for most of us, more individualistic, more Do-Your-Own-Thing (sampling and mixing your own look replacing subcultural conformity). So we’ve added an important new chapter on Japanese streetstyle whilst flagging up a future where new style innovations literally come from anywhere and everywhere.
Since the 60s with Mary Quant and the 70s with Vivienne Westwood, the street has influenced the catwalk hugely, so it’s fair to say that fashion now relies on street style, but does street style need the fashion industry? What is fashion? What is streetstyle? Even by 1994 when the first edition of Streetstyle came out things were starting to get confusing for anyone who wanted to draw a clear line between fashion and streetstyle. Go back, say, 60 years to Dior’s New Look in Paris and you find a world of fashion completely oblivious to ‘the street’. And the street to fashion. Then when the two started having an affair all hell broke loose. In a very real sense it could be said that now in the 21st century neither streetstyle nor fashion exist in any absolute sense. Today everything is style.
You reference Jean Baudrillard and the search for authenticity and “the real”. Is there anything original in street style today? Is it not just a re-incarnation of eras and styles from the past? Depends where you look. I have to say I don’t see a lot of authentic, real, putting yourself on the line streetstyle in places like London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and so forth – the places where streetstyle had its heyday. But for at least a decade The Real Thing poured out of Japan and now, today, real, authentic, in your face streetstyle is emerging from all the places in the world where no one was looking.
What was your personal favourite subculture? I always see it as my job to be non-judgmental, but it has to be said that Punk was – and in some parts of the world still is – a force of unprecedented, anything goes creativity.
Is there a defining street style or subculture in 2010? There is not now, nor will there ever be a single look or a single happening hot spot. We are just too multi-faceted, pluralistic and post-modern for that – never ever again will there be a single Next Big Thing which will sweep all before it.
What influence do you think magazines like i-D had on street style? All the straight-up street photography we see today (and which I for one think is the future of fashion/style) could be traced back to that crazy i-D idea of stopping people like me on the street [Ted was featured in Issue 3] and doing the ‘straight-up’ shot and just letting people talk about themselves and their look.
Signed copies of Streetstyle are available now from pymca.com