How do subcultures influence style, a detailed comparison, with reference to the New York Cycle Messenger and Punk subculture?
This research project investigates the style and subculture of New York Bicycle Messengers and compares it to that of the Punk Subculture. I have deliberately chosen two subcultures which at face value are completely contrasting. Aesthetically, their chosen styles contradict each other but when looking into the reasoning and attitudes behind their style there are some very important similarities to take into account. Is there a factor which links all subcultures with their collective style?
I will be using the theories of Hebdige and Kidder on the links between fashion and culture, as well as detailed blogs and websites on the subject of bike messengers (as messenger style is a very current culture, information on it is almost only existent on the web) and various books on the subject to create an exciting and educational study. I will also be using Kidder’s reference to Turner, who discusses the theory of liminality. The theory of Brake (1985) discusses three stylistic elements in style; demeanour, image and argot (a secret language). I will be looking particularly at how image and demeanour are used in subculture as argot is not applicable to the study. In each element, I will illustrate how liminal social position and outlaw character is expressed within the signs that these two subcultures exhibit.
Having been passionate about cycling for most of my life, I now find myself submerged in the new and exciting world of ‘Fixed Gear’ cycling (which is at the heart of bicycle messaging) and the certain style that it involves. Therefore I have a personal interest in how a subculture can communicate a message through its style and what that message means to its members and people on the outside. I will of course remain un-bias throughout my investigation.
‘We speak through our clothes’ (Echo 1973)
I will express my opinion throughout; I consider myself an active part of the ‘Messenger Chic’ (Allam 1997) invention and intend to illustrate how style is not automatic and that objects are offering themselves to be read, choices on style are made for a reason, be it Design or assemblage.
Star Tribune writer Hannah Allam (1997) expressed, “it was only a mater of time before the fashion world got hip to messenger chic, a distinctive style, that’s equal parts hip hop, skateboarder and punk.”
The Subculture of Bicycle Messengers
Early recordings show that the cycle messenger has operated since before the turn of the century. The Bicycle was developed in the 1860s as a forerunner to the velocipede. It was not long before people began to use the bicycle for delivery purposes, David Herlihy’s 2004 book on the history of the bicycle contains several references to its use in the Paris Stock Exchange, however it wasn’t until 1890 ( the cycle boom) that the messenger appeared in New York. Western Union were the first to employ a number of bicycle messengers and to this day dominate the dispatch/ courier industry.
The messenger fashion is described as a non-fashion, the occupation and conditions lay down the demands for the clothing. An eight hour shift through gruelling weather conditions, traffic and pollution plus the added factor that most messengers wear the same clothing everyday, means that the strength, durability and comfort are of up most importance. The outfit becomes the identity of the messenger. As one San Francisco messenger states;
“The style is what’s practical, comfortable. We all feed off each other. Somebody finds something that works, then that becomes style. The practical becomes the fashion.” (Hinds 2006)
The style is associated with Action; their uniform has to accomplish a function. The Messenger must hold the “…objective possibility of portraying themselves as strangers – a Liminal status and an outlaw character...” (As discussed in Kidder 2005)
As for Hebdige (1979) style is not accidental; styles develop because they, “encapsulate a mood” which in my understanding emphasizes the relationship between the messenger subculture and society.
The styles vary amongst the messengers in New York; some wear professional cycling gear much like the competitors of the Tour de France; Some messengers object to this, ‘fucking spandex jockeys’(Sinclair 2006), others throw together a grungy T-Shirt and rolled up combat trousers. A combination of both is most common.
‘A collision between the Tour de France Field and the cast of Mad Max’.
(Wood 1994, Pg 2)
The interest of the bicycle messenger is almost an obsession for me, a job I aspire to but probably shouldn’t. The outlaw persona and the freedom of a life without a manager breathing down your neck is what appeals to me, and with this comes the style. Spend a day in any city and you can see how the messenger subculture has leaked through to the mass cycling world, including myself. As a keen cyclist I feel I have not only been influenced by the New York bicycle messengers but have also adopted the ideology within my choice of bike, style and the way I ride. It started when I was given a classic road bike. I looked for ways to restore and modify it which led me to the world of Fixed- gear. It struck me that there was a whole culture surrounding the modification of classic and new road bikes into track style, fixed gear street bikes; in my eyes the perfect mode of transport .
It has been commented that many messengers see their daily job as a race. At this point it is important to mention the term ‘liminality’; a concept I discovered through my research., it derives from the Latin word Limen meaning ‘threshold’.‘…conscious state of being on the threshold of or between two different existential planes…’ (Oxford English Dictionary 1989). A position within society where the ’ride it like you stole it’ (Kidder 2005) outlaw imagery is most readily expressed. Within the Chicago Tribune, a Headline acknowledged, “Pedestrians may swear at them, but companies swear by them” (Duvall 1991.Pg 22)
This statement suggests that the attitude adopted by both motorist and pedestrian towards messenger is generally disagreeable. At this point liminality is most poignant. The messenger darts through traffic battling a position between the pedestrian and the motorist. They exist “betwixt and between” (Turner 1964) this nonexistent space, the shoulder of the road is referred to as liminal space. Therefore clothing and bicycle must be selected appropriately in order to adapt to this situation. Tough, flexible and durable are the requirements, similar to the requirements of a military outfit, the messenger is vulnerable in a hostile environment; an urban soldier. Their clothing needs to protect. Combat trousers importantly are inexpensive, accessible and solve the problem.
The environmental mindset expressed by many messengers includes symbols of C.N.D and anti war campaigns, so it is ironic that the military style plays a part in the ensemble. It was mentioned in one article that a messenger looked up to a billboard to see a Calvin Klein model wearing his outfit. The same thrift store combat trouser rolled up to the knee, weather resistant ‘Gore-Tex’jacket, an Italian tour style cycling hat and a heavy duty lock belted around the waist. It is clear to see from various Ad campaigns that the authentic messenger style is being replicated by top end fashion designers and could potentially be selling on the High-street.
In the last year, the term ‘Messenger Chic’ has started to play a part in the commercial world. For the first time, fixed gear bikes are seen on television adverts. The advert for the new Ford Ka and more recently the Coca Cola Ad, features Duffy riding a Fixed Gear roadie around a supermarket. The growing demands for fixed gear track bikes, bespoke cut-off trousers and ergonomically designed messenger bags have swamped the market. On the High-Street the bag that was traditionally labelled ‘record bag’ is now re-branded as ‘Messenger Bag’.
‘Its not just a bag, it’s a Money Sack. The more stuff you stuff in your sack, the more money you make’
Comfort and practicality are very important in the design of a messenger Bag. Size is also a key factor; this is what pays their rent. The more a Messenger carries and the faster they ride, the more money they make. ‘Messenger’ defines their style, their lifestyle, their attitude but most of all it is their earner, just as a Gas-Guzzling Businessman wears a Sharp suit and drives a smart car; these are just components to their occupation.
‘Couriers are less united by outward appearance and more by an inner attitude to life…most couriers love the freedom of the job, freedom to wear what they like and work the hours they want…to be part of a tight-knit community’. (Sinclair 2007))
This reinforces my opinion that messengers are not primarily brought together through their style as Punks are (and other present day subcultures such as Goths and EMOs) but by what their style says; a collective awareness of what their job involves and what they endure together every day.
To me, Messengers have to symbolise a war against the issue of pollution. Without trying they are an active campaign for the environment. Interestingly saving the environment is not of priority to a messenger; it is a presumption made by outsiders that messengers do what they do because they are Eco-Warriors. They are not.
‘The things which are appropriated by the mainstream aren’t really understood
and often aren’t the things which the subculture themselves think are important’
To the average man, the bag, the rolled up patched combats and the lock around the waist look might suggest a dare devil traffic trickster showing off their expert weaving skills, when all elements of their gear actually have a functional quality.
Courier companies use bike messengers because bikes can travel faster than automobiles and often motorcycles through heavy traffic by exploiting openings too small for motor vehicles. Again the idea of liminality comes in; they are neither in nor out of a traffic jam. The mindset of the messenger is often referred to as anti-society and in some instances they have been described as out-laws to society. They become someone else when they get on their bike.
‘…I am a reasonably well-established member of mainstream society. I live in a gentrified neighbourhood. I work full-time. I have health care. And yet the minute a set foot on my bike’s pedals, I feel completely out of step with the rules of order…apparently society doesn’t’ feel much obligation towards me…’
‘Pedal’ a film by Peter Sutherland was first screened at the Bicycle Film Festival; Sutherland took an in depth investigation, documenting the life and the centre of the cycle messenger culture. The film and book were produced in 2006. The film festival brought together a huge chunk of the messenger scene
The above quote is from a non-messenger. He suggests that liminality does not only apply to messengers; perhaps it can apply to anyone riding a bike? You are in society and those rules exist but you don’t necessarily take any notice of them. You are not a pedestrian and you are not a driver so you will do whatever you want.
‘…to be in the midst of a flow of traffic…yet completely removed from it. Not quite in opposition of the laws and norms regulating automotive and foot traffic, but knowing that those laws were not made with me in mind’
As of today the messenger industry is booming in Japan, America and across Europe. As cities and populations grow, there is a great demand for bike messengers. However there is an issue with their identity and many courier companies are monopolizing on this specific point. By tailoring the image of the messenger to what the client desires achieves a more saleable product and this was made clear in an interview I undertook with a local lawyer who has worked in Inner city London and relied on the messenger to deliver important legal documents. He stated,
‘if a courier was to walk into the office in cut off jeans and generally was scruffy and had a care free attitude we may not use that courier company again an element of trust is required and that is not often portrayed in the couriers choice of clothing’. (Shah 2009)
Within New York, a new wave of messengers have taken to the streets, a smarter more corporate identity in order to create a professional and trustworthy persona. However an element of uniformity does not bode well with the free willed cycle courier.
‘…This might mean the company supplying its couriers with bags or jackets that display the Company logo, or even supplying bikes’ (Sinclair 2007)
According to Jeremiah Tesolin (interviewed in Ping Mag), the attitude of Messengers vary from country to country; some are proud of the company they work for, are happy to wear a uniform and take a more corporate approach if they do not have to pay for it. This is on the condition that their uniform has the same breathable properties as professional wear. Again functionality out-weighs everything.
This is not the attitude for the majority of New York messengers who as a collective subculture are naturally against conforming to such a thing as a uniform.
In conclusion on this chapter, the job which was once in line with municipal occupations has been reinvented in New York as a realistic career option. People admire the freedom and as in the 1986 film ‘Quicksilver’ even high earners such as lawyers and bank clerks are ditching their suits and office jobs to enjoy the freedom of the messenger lifestyle.
The commercial image of the messenger has become stereotypical; Tattoos, piercing, often dread locked hair and sporting combat pants rolled up to the knee. People also stereotype messenger behaviour; living on the edge, often breaking the law by running through red lights and blind corners, thinking they rule the road.
It is up to the individual whether you see this stereotype as a negative or positive in today’s culture. The Media have bought into the messenger ideology as they see how young people are often attracted to an Idol of Outlaw. They admire their talents but culture and lifestyle play a key role in their decision.
Huge corporations such as Nike and Cinelli have produced products aimed at idolising this factor. The art world has also been a catalyst in the process of hyping the messenger scene. R.V.C.A an artist led skateboard Apparel Company teamed up with Cinelli (one of the oldest Italian bicycle manufactures), forming a bond between art and cycling. They produced a show titled ’Pressure’ which in its mission statement alerted that it focused on a growing subculture and a new movement.
Punk interestingly started out as a small Music Scene in New York City during the late 1960’s. It spawned such bands as The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and Blondie. These bands all brought with them their own unique styles; brightly coloured strangely cut hair, torn shirts and trousers and a Pop Art Garishness to shock the Mainstream.
It was not until the late 1970’s that Punk became a ‘Movement’ in Britain; a Subculture.
In 1975, Britain was in recession, unemployment was at its highest and the young British working class needed a way to vent their frustration regarding the economic and social climate under a conservative government. When the Punk music of New York reached the shores of England, it brought its unique style, which for some young people was the perfect way to express their anger against the bitter depression.
‘…the punk movement came about as a way for people to express their views towards political and social issues. The outrageous clothing and hairstyles were indicative of the youthful rebellion at the time...’
In America, Punk was the Music. It became something else in Britain; the Political and Social angst of the time were a catalyst to enable Punk to metamorphose into a lifestyle and an attitude. As times got harder, so did the Punks. The movement was rapid.
‘Punk as a Subculture was beginning to take shape, conformity was what Punk stood against’
It was not just the issues relating to the time, but the actual rules and regulations which create a framework for society, which became a motive for the Punk attire and attitude. Dressing in a suit and tie or any uniform as it happens meant that, to a punk, you were submitting to the unwritten rules of society which tell us to dress a certain way; go to school, where you’re uniform, get a job. Perhaps punks felt that through television, magazines and the rapid growth of the commercial industry, Britain had become too institutionalised in its ways; they latched onto the idea that we were being fed by Politics and the Media on the ‘Right way to be’; the British way to be.
They used their appearance and their attitude to express their view. They were anti society and their clothes not only stated this but actively removed them from the mainstream. The cult status of the punk was down to the meticulous styling which in some respects you could say was manufactured by Vivien Westward in her shop ’Sex’; The Sex Pistols were the product and many other bands followed suit. Along with Malcolm Mclarren, Westward invented a look, which took bondage clothing and offensive logos (at a time of depression and conservative thought) out to the ’frontline’ of fashion. Much of the clothing was borrowed from other significant cultures; the use of leather from the bikers circa ‘Marlon Brando’ (The Wild Ones 1955), and haircuts adapted from African tribal origin. Piercing and tattoos played a key role on drawing together this cult community. Like with many subcultures there are various elements which make up the final image as suggested in the following quote.
“Soiuxsie removed her Mac, revealing a simple black dress with a plunging V neckline, black net loosely covering her pert breasts. A homemade swastika flash was safety-pinned to a red armband. Black strap stilettos, studs gleaming, bound her feet; fishnet tights and black vinyl stockings her legs. Her short black hair was flecked with red flames’. (Evans 2000)
Taking house-hold objects such as safety pins and toilet chains was a revolutionary styling device. It took something which already had a purpose and changed its meaning; it became something to adorn oneself. I think it is important to reference Duchamp at this stage with his ‘Ready-made- objects; he also changed the way an object was perceived.
‘Objects borrows from the most sordid of contexts found a place in the Punks’ ensembles; lavatory chains were draped in graceful arcs...Cheap trashy fabrics and nasty colours, long discarded by the quality end of the fashion industry as obsolete kitsch, were salvaged by the Punks and turned into garments’.
The Punk attitude suggests that fashion was not what they wanted; rather Non-fashion (as discussed in the messenger chapter). A razor blade or a tampon made a more suitable pendant to a punk, clothes were ripped and customised as soon as they were bought, to make them instantly un-conforming to the others like it in the shop.
The punk movement used various catalysts to activate the subculture. For a culture to come from New York and influence the youth of 1970’s Britain these catalysts were essential. A time without the internet to publicise, the movement relied on the likes of John Peel and the McClarren/Westward partnership to outline the radical movement. Peel, on a weekly basis educated the British youth on new music and the scene across the globe. His radio show publicised and informed the generation on which gigs and which records to buy. Along with the NME (New Musical Express) magazine this formed the direction for the youth of the time. Vivienne Westward and Malcolm McClarren’s ‘trend’ shop on London’s Kings Road constantly reinvented its identity as the pair became influential trend spotters and it could be said they provided the fashion influence for the punk movement. Their shop ‘Sex’ was the forerunner for punk fashion, bridging the gap between fetishism and the poverty which had stricken the youth of the time. The shop provided much needed escapism and the links to fetishism were very obvious. Erotica and Fetishism have been expressed in the past as taboos and in turn form a sense of escapism. This along with anarchistic branded,
T-shirts ripped and repaired bricolage style clothing and a price tag that reflected the economic climate, formed he perfect outlet for a impoverished generation.
Under the power of a conservative government, attempts of self expression through creativity and fashion were frowned upon. The minors strike, the power cuts and the general sense of hopelessness that hung over the country’s population was growing out of control. A fight was on the cards, a movement and a rebellion. The clothing allowed this and the music carried it. It is a debate that weather the music was in-fact manufactured for the attitude. It fitted a need, music that didn’t conform, wasn’t mass produced and was accessible to all. “…all you needed were three chords and the truth and you could virtually start a band…” (The Pit 1998: 2) emphasis in original
Punk as a scene tried at its barest to resist commercialism and make shows affordable to fans and to this day this element of punk dominates new music.
Through an interview I undertook with an ex punk he stated that the fashion was a response to a rebellion, he said it was about rebelling against your parents and against society, he also went on to comment that this is the problem with much of today’s youth; nothing to rebel against.
“Nothing was holy to us. Our movement was neither mystical, communistic nor anarchistic. All these movements had some sort of programme, but ours was completely nihilistic. We spat on everything including ourselves. Our symbol was nothingness, a vacuum, a void.” (George Grosz on dada as discussed by Hebdige 1979)
The above statement clearly states a position of nihilism which is derived from the Latin ‘Nihil’ meaning ‘a philosophical position that argues existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value’ (Oxford English Dictionary).Nihilists generally assert that objective morality doesn’t exist. In 2007 the Guardian noted that ‘…in the summer of 1977…punk’s nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England’( The Sex Pistols). ‘God Save the Queen’ with its chant-like refrain of “no future”, became the slogan for unemployed and disaffected youth during the late 1970s.
It could be suggested that the concept of nihilism was the attraction for many. This nonchalant approach to society was expressed through choice of clothing; ironically the composition of outfit was very carefully planned.
‘Objects and ‘nasty’ colours long discarded by the fashion industry produced an obsolete kitsch. “The punk subculture… signified chaos at every level, but this was only possible because the style itself was so thoroughly ordered.’ (Hebdige 1979)
This concept of nihilism brings contradiction, if the punks really didn’t care, these conscious decisions and carefully tailored image of the stereotypical punk may not have existed, and perhaps we would have been faced with a far tamed approach to the movement. Consequently we arrive at another liminal position, a division between nihilistic approaches to fashion and the carefully tailored image of the punk.
The style was described by Hebdige as ‘Bricolage’ in a similar way to which Duchamp selected his ‘ready mades’ (manufactured objects that qualified as art), the punks carefully chose objects to be used in a nihilistic approach to style; they became anti-fashion. Vivienne Westward called it “Confrontation dressing” the rule would be, “if the cap doesn’t fit, wear it.” ‘
Though it seems that punks had little or no fashion sense, they were in a sense so anti-fashion that they made an even bigger statement’ (McLaren 1988)
Through precarious research I have realized that there are a lot of similarities between the cycle messenger and the punk subculture. Each to their own they exalt the capacity to roam freely making it their business to reject the rules of society. They have both built communities, drawing on culture’s mainframe to refine their ‘sub-styles’. Links can also be made between their attitudes and ideologies. Obviously the punk and the messenger ‘look’ are very contrasting, this is why I chose them; yet interestingly I can draw links between the two styles based on various Fashion theories I delved into.
The Cycle messenger in my eyes is the new age punk, taking on social and political conundrums and using it to fuel anger and aggression against the pedestrian and the motorist. Elements of the messenger attitude can be attributed to the punk movement. Certain groups such as ‘Black Label’ in New York dominantly focus on the punk way of life and have transformed the way they live, eat and sleep; drawing together communities and living for modifying and cycling. This community spirit was observed in the punk movement, groups stuck together, squatting in disused accommodation and speaking with greater volume within a tight knit community.
“As we have seen, it is in this sense that subcultures can be said to transgress the laws of ‘mans’ second nature” (Hebdige 1979)
The above statement suggests to me that to make oneself part of a subculture is to go against what one knows, to go outside the boundaries of accepted culture. It is a conscious decision.
A fundamental link (when looking at subcultures place in society) can be made through liminality; a term that was introduced to me through Jeffery kidder on his discussion of Turner. In the context of the cycle messenger the liminal status is suggested obviously in their position between the motorist and the pedestrian, the ‘ducking’ and ‘diving’ are characteristic of the New York cycle messenger. However liminality has a subtler meaning in this context, in how they are perceived by outsiders as in-between the realms of society, ‘betwixt and between’ (Turner 1964). When the messenger enters the work place to deliver official documents they are entering society. When they leave and enter the ‘urban jungle’, they respond to a very different requirement; the ability to make their own rules and to reject the system of the Highway Code. They become anti society. In their eyes, everybody is in their way.
Punk also has connections to the liminal notion. The idea of ‘nihilism’ defies the rules of fashion. The ‘don’t give a shit’ approach to fashion, expression and society however create a contradiction. A subculture needs rules too and a general framework every member sticks to. Punk particularly seems strict on it’s ‘what not to wear’ policies. In between orthodox society and the society they made for themselves they were liminal.
‘…as with the skinheads and the punks, certain types of consumption are conspicuously refused and it is through the distinctive rituals of consumption, through style, that the subculture at once reveals its ‘secret’ identity and communicates its forbidden meanings. It is basically the way in which commodities are used in subculture which mark the subculture off from more orthodox cultural formations’
Through the study of Hebdige, there is a mould of the archetypal punk. The carefully selected items chosen for adornment prove that nihilism wasn’t a strict component in the context of Punk style. The use of ‘ready made’ objects as fashion accessories suggests liminality between functions. The objects they used were always very common inconsequential items which bring connotations of the everyday working class person; when the functionality of the item changed, a style was born. Punks may have been anti fashion, and anti consumerist, but the image they produced through meticulous shock factor styling was a template that other punks aspired to. So in essence the punk movement with its nihilistic approach produced idols for the youth to replicate.
‘… as the punk movement progressed, people increasingly began to flock to the punk ideology…punk was about attitude. It wasn’t about gamering attention from your peers. At least, that’s how one argument goes…’ (Hebdige 1979)
It is nearly always youths who adopt the style and attitude of a subculture. It was the young people of Britain who turned to punk in a time of need. In my opinion the greatest insight into messengers was the film ‘Pedal’; some were getting on in life, but they had all started off young. When there was nothing else for them, they took up the task of messaging. They have all struggled and they all have something to say about the way Society has and does treat them.
Ironically Great Britain is again in recession. Perhaps the Messenger style will be what unemployed youths turn to today, to escape the country’s downturn?
‘The subcultures with which we have been dealing, share a common feature apart from the fact that they are all predominantly working class…’
Do middle class people not partake in a subculture because they do not feel the need to escape society, go against rules and go underground? This is a very interesting point made by Hebdige, perhaps it is judgemental, but generally speaking people do associate subcultures with poor, hard done by individuals.
One element of the messenger style beckons a relation to the punk movement, Is this accidental coincidence or is their a link between their attitudes? The way the messenger repairs and patches, uses duct tape, drapes a heavy chain around the waist and sports a customised combination of professional cycling and modified work wear definitely suggests a connection. The safety pin of the punk is replaced with the practicality of duct tape patches sewn on to the trousers to extend the life on the saddle. The social and sometimes political issues regarding messengers and the fact that messengers are also fighting against a higher fuel-driven world could be a factor in why they choose to re-use and modify their clothing. They certainly are not afraid to stand out in the crowd and shock a stray pedestrian with their attire.
However, modifications of the punk were purely aesthetic. Although the modifications that a messenger makes are all part of the collective style, they are predominantly for practical reasons.
At the heart of all this is money; and I believe this to be the strongest relation. Messengers are employed members of society but their income is limited. Many messengers are homeless or live in squalor; I recall that in the film ‘Pedal’ one was living in a derelict room off from an underground tunnel. All he had was his bike and the clothes on his back. He entered the street via a sewage hole. Each day is a struggle to survive, their occupation depends on demand. Punks evolved from recession and unemployment. If England had not had such a unhopeful economic and social climate at the time, would the Punk scene have kicked off as it did? Ultimately, both subcultures have been economically challenged. This emphasises the need for working class people to repair, protect and invent new fashions, this for me is the greatest relation of the two subcultures.
I am not persuading you to think that Messengers and Punks endeavour to communicate the same message; however they both understand the need to communicate their attitude through style to their collectives.
The term subculture suggests an underground culture and will always be perceived negatively by the traditional establishmentarians of this world. Hence the need to carry it on is very strong. The following quote from my interview with a punk suggests that there will always be a connection between subculture and ‘normal’ society; ‘…there’s no subculture that survives without cash behind it. It all has to be supported by some over-ground culture’. (Whitehouse 2009)
Think to yourself how many subcultures and styles have come and gone over the decades; the fundamental difference with messaging is that primarily it is a job; the subculture followed; this places it apart from other groups. There are still true punks out there living the life however they were probably there right at the beginning; subcultures such as EMO and Gothic have reached out to the youths of today. There is a chance that whilst the career of messenger exists, the style will not die out.
In my research project I chose to compare and contrast the New York cycle messenger with the punk culture of the late 1970’s. The project has enabled me to find what elements of each subculture provide their very distinct styles. For the messenger it was practicality and the idea of not looking like a cyclist whilst committing to an eight hour shift on the saddle. However for the punk it was about accessible style, rebellion and shock factor.
Throughout the study, I have acquired essential information on each culture. When I first started the research stage of the project, I already considered myself knowledgeable on the subject of messenger style. However I have learnt a lot about the attitudes, the reasoning behind the style and the history of messaging. Having believed it to be a very current part of society, I was surprised but reassured that messaging has been around almost since the bike was first invented. During the course of this study, I modified my own bike to fixed gear and removed the brakes; my choice was influenced by the growth of my passion towards this outlaw culture, as I picked up new information every day.
I have always listened to Punk music; everyone has their stereotypical idea of a true punk. Learning about the way a scene evolved into such an influential time in Britain, for Music, Fashion and attitude, gives me an understanding for all subcultures.
Young people need an outlet. If they don’t have one and their parents don’t understand them they will turn to anything that makes them feel part of a family; a collective.
I believe that this study is a detailed, educational and interesting guide to the chosen subcultures. I have used relevant theories from various sources, varying from essays by Hebdige to current day messenger forums on the web. With these theories I have entwined my own beliefs on what drives the style, attitude and the lifestyle of the Punk and the Messenger.
In my opinion, the study would open the eyes of anyone who reads it to the deeper meanings behind what some see as the ‘scum’ of society. I would hope that my study would also change the thoughts of someone who felt like this. In the 21st century surely we should be accepting all walks of life, no matter what they dress like.
The discovery of ‘liminality’ was a real eye opener for me. It brought to the surface similarities I would have otherwise overlooked. The connection of using household items was particularly interesting to learn of.
Most of all the study has made me ask more questions; can I apply my findings to all subcultures? If I look hard enough will I find examples of liminality in them all?
Do all subcultures begin with a struggling working class generation?
The punk subculture still exists in the form of underground punk bands attempting to stay true to the original punk music scene that was so revolutionary thirty years ago. Due to the affect that the punk movement had on Britain I believe that it will never entirely die out. Many people have commented that punk died the day the Sex Pistols played their first gig. But I believe it will continue to influence fashion, music and a lifestyle.
In conclusion, I am glad I chose to study the subcultures that I did; I believe that the messenger subculture stands alone in a family of subcultures. As discussed in the essay, the element separating it from the others is occupation. The fashion industry will simply replicate the style for a modern generation and detach the occupation from the look and in doing so loose the essence of true messenger existence.
It is the fundamental key behind the style. In England, the messenger culture is just breaking through. Plymouth already has its own Cycle messengers ‘Plymouth couriers’ but they have a long way to go before they reach the style status of New York messengers.