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Rock Fashion History from 1950s to Current Days

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Rock, a musical genre that emerged in the 1950s with roots in jazz and blues, has been a paramount part of fashion with its dynamic styles and ways of dressing.

Over the last seven decades, the Rock movement has been a dominant cultural force, creating societal, cultural, and fashion changes.

Rock Fashion






For example, 1950s Rock music fans adopted leather jackets and denim jeans to showcase a blend of youthful energy and rebellious nature.

In the 1970s, glam rockers adopted theatrical costumes while the punk movement resorted to torn clothing and anti-establishment logos.

Rock Fashion Evolution Decades


Each era’s Rock music, attitudes, and ideologies are intertwined with fashion styles, mirroring the genre’s evolution and the societal context.

In this article, we’ll uncover the history of Rock fashion, the symbolism behind iconic clothing, and how the Rock movement impacts current fashion trends.

It is time to explore the parallel evolution of music and fashion over the decades and the advent of several rock fashion style variations.





1950s – The Origin of Rock Fashion​


Influenced by the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, the 1950s marked a significant era in fashion history.

This period saw a dramatic shift from the auster and conservative looks of the post-war era to more expressive and rebellious outfits, reflecting the cultural and societal changes of the time.

1950s Rock fashion

Rock fashion styles of the 1950s

The onset of rock ‘n’ roll, a unique blend of blues, country, R&B, and gospel, resonated with the younger generation’s desire for freedom and self-expression, giving birth to Rockabilly fashion.

Rockabilly Fashion​


Tied to the rock and roll and country-western music scenes, the impact of Rockabilly extended beyond music and into clothing.

1950s Rockabilly Fashion

1950s rockabilly fashion

Music icons like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash became synonymous with rockabilly fashion and a style associated with anti-racism and anti-conformity movements.

Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash 1950s rockabilly fashion

Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash in the 1950s

With distinctive outfits, icons like Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee, Janis Martin, June Carter, and Lorrie Collins inspired a generation of women to embrace the rockabilly aesthetic.

Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee, Janis Martin, June Carter, 50s rockabilly

Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee, Janis Martin, and June Carter’s 50s Rockabilly

Women’s fashion was characterized by form-fitting dresses with full skirts, halter tops, high-waisted pants, and hairstyles with victory rolls, pin curls, and beehives, emphasizing volume and height.

Women's 50s Rockabilly fashion


Men’s clothing included leather jackets, denim jeans, Western-style shirts, and slicked-back pompadours or short, sharp cuts.

Men 50s Rockabilly fashion






Elvis Presley and James Dean’s combos of leather jackets – once the garb of bikers and aviators – and jeans – formerly relegated to workwear – became the youths’ symbols of rebellion.

Elvis Presley and James Dean rock style leather jacket in the 1950s

Elvis Presley and James Dean’s leather jacket style in the 1950s.

Under the impact of Rockabilly, the 1950s fashion shifted from the somber tones of the 1940s to cherry reds, bright blues, and sunny yellows, reflecting the optimistic spirit of the era.

Greaser Style​


Greaser-style, a look of fitted white T-shirts, cuffed jeans, and slicked-back hair, exuding a raw and unpolished aesthetic, gained popularity in the 50s as the look of the working-class rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

1950s Rock Greaser style

The Greaser look

The Greaser style, epitomized by John Travolta in “Grease,” further propelled this fashion into mainstream culture. Travolta’s portrayal showcased the Greaser’s signature look with an added touch of Hollywood glamor, cementing its iconic status in rock ‘n’ roll fashion history.





Teddy Boy and Girl​


As rock ‘n’ roll music permeated the airwaves, it brought a wave of change that swept the fashion world, resulting in the emergence of the Teddy Boy fashion style in Britain.

1950s Rock fashion Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls style

Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls in the UK in the 1950s

In a unique blend of Edwardian drape jackets with velvet collars, high-waist, drainpipe trousers, and brocade waistcoats, the Teddy Boy look was Britain’s interpretation of the American rock ‘n’ roll fashion.

The female counterpart to Teddy Boys, known as Teddy Girls or Judies, embraced tailored jackets, pencil skirts, rolled-up jeans, and flat shoes.

Offering a departure from the hyper-feminine outfits of stars like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn’s boyish yet feminine style became representative of Teddy Girls.





1960s – The British Rock Invasion​


Driven by iconic British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the 1960s witnessed new music and fashion styles, influencing how people dressed, behaved, and viewed the world.

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones 60s Rock Fashion

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones fashion styles

British Invasion​


Influenced by the so-called “British Invasion,” the 60s was a decade that reshaped the British and American rock music and fashion movements.

British Invasion was characterized by a blend of traditional British sartorial elegance and an edgier, more rebellious aesthetic.

The slim-fitting classic suits made of fine fabrics, worn by The Beatles in their early years, contrasted starkly with the casual American styles of the previous decade.

The Beatles 1960s Rock fashion

The Beatles’ 1960s fashion

Accessorized with Chelsea boots and the “mop-top” haircuts, The Beatles suits symbolized the new, modern look of the 60s.

Rolling Stones’ long-sleeve turtlenecks, high-waistline checked trousers, striped blazers with a high-neck sweater, denim jackets, suit jackets, and Chelsea boots showcased a rare mix of British country club and American Ivy League attire.

The Rolling Stone 1960s Rock fashion

The Rolling Stone 1960s fashion styleThe British Invasion of the 1960s introduced new styles and trends that challenged the established norms, reflected the changing societal attitudes, and left an indelible mark on the fashion world.





Mod Fashion​


Through bands like The Who and The Kinks, the British Invasion popularized Mod fashion – London’s youth dressing style comprised of tailored suits, polo shirts, loafers, and parkas.

The Who The Kinks 1960s Rock Fashion

The Who and The Kinks 1960s Rock fashion styles

The influence of these British bands and the work of designer Mary Quan extended to women’s fashion as mini skirts paired with go-go boots became a key way of dressing in depicting the 60s spirit of liberation.

Mary Quant 60s fashion

Mary Quant’s 60s Mod fashion designs





Psychedelic Rock​


In the kaleidoscopic world of late 1960s Psychedelic Rock, fashion transcended into a realm of flashy expression, with artists donning garments that echoed their experimental music.

Yardbirds’ members, like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, embraced the Psychedelic Rock fashion by wearing outfits combining electric blues and vibrant purples with paisley patterns, psychedelic motifs, and floral motifs.

Cream, the Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix 1960s Psychedelic Rock


Similarly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The 13th Floor Elevators showcased amazing Psychedelic fashion by wearing Bohemian-inspired colorful shirts with paisley patterns, flared pants, embroidered velvet jackets, colored scarves, wide-brimmed hats.





1970s – Glam Rock and Punk​

Glam Rock​


Characterized by shiny clothing, androgynous silhouettes, and glittery makeup, the Glam rock fashion emerged in the 1970s and depicted a blend of rebellion, theatrics, androgyny.

The Glam Rock look was popularized by artists like Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Roxy Music, Slade, and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona through stretchy polyester jumpsuits, theatrical silk sleeves tops with sequins and cropped backs, bell bottoms, and skinny midriffs tops with flared jeans.

Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Roxy Music, Slade, and David Bowie 70s Glam Rock fashion

Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Roxy Music, Slade, and David Bowie’s 70s Glam Rock fashion styles

The look drew aesthetic influences from the 1930s Hollywood glamour, Victorian styles, SCI-FI themes, and psychedelic and art rock of the late 1960s.

The Runaways and Suzi Quatro personified Glam Rock fashion in the 1970s with their form-fitting jumpsuits.

Cherie Currie’s metallic silver outfit with high-heeled boots and Suzi Quatro’s metallic, gold, and red jumpsuits with zippers highlighted the era’s penchant for shimmer and shine.

The Runaways and Suzi Quatro 70s Glam Rock fashion

The Runaways and Suzi Quatro’s 70s Glam Rock fashion





Punk Rock​


Driven by a DIY ethos and a raw, edgy look spearheaded by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Clash, Punk fashion emerged in stark contrast to Glam rock style.

Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash 1970s Punk Rock fashion styles

Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Clash 1970s Punk Rock fashion styles

With body-conscious mesh tops, leather mini skirts, and fishnet stockings matched with studded belts and cuffs, Punk female icons like Blondie, The Slits, Plasmatics, and Lydia Lunch brought a fierce and avant-garde aesthetic to the forefront of the movement.

Blondie, The Slits, Plasmatics, Lydia Lunch 70s Punk fashion

Blondie, The Slits, Plasmatics, and Lydia Lunch 70s Punk fashion

Characterized by distressed leather jackets, ripped denim, tees with anti-establishment slogans, combat boots, spikes, studs, chains, and safety pins, the late 70s and 80s Punk style signified a rejection of societal norms.

70s Punk fashion

70s Punk fashion

With a profound impact on culture and society, the legacy of Glam Rock and Punk continues to inspire modern fashion, with contemporary artists and designers drawing inspiration from the bold and rebellious spirit of the 1970s.





1980s – Metal and Goth Rock​

Heavy Metal​


Bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin laid the groundwork in the late 1960s and early 1970s for what would later become Heavy Metal, but the fashion materialized in the 80s.

Driven by bands like Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden, the intense and powerful sound of Heavy Metal was mirrored by the decade’s styles.

Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden 80s Metal fashion

80s Metal fashion style sported by Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden

With leather vests, tight denim, layered bracelets, chains, and studded accessories, ’80s Heavy Metal female bands like Girlschool, Rock Goddess, and Doro Pesch shattered gender norms with their sartorial choices.

Girlschool, Rock Goddess, Doro Pesch 80s Heavy Metal fashion

Girlschool, Rock Goddess, and Doro Pesch’s 80s Heavy Metal fashion

Hailing masculinity ethos while rejecting the emerging metrosexual culture, metalheads wore skinny jeans, vests, and tees with warrior motifs from Celtic, Saxon, and Viking cultures.

80s Metal Rock fashion






Glam Metal​


Bands like Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, and Vixen introduced a Glam Metal sound while showcasing an androgynous look comprised of spandex trousers, leather chaps, bandanas, and tees with animal prints.

Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses 1980s Glam Metal fashion

Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses 1980s Glam Metal fashion styles

Goth​


In parallel, Goth bands inspired by the post-punk scene, like The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and Joy Division, adopted a look in stark contrast to Heavy Metal fashion.

The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy 1980s Goth Rock fashion

1980s Goth Rock fashion popularized by The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and Sisters of Mercy

Influenced by the gothic architecture, macabre literature, and horror films, Goth fashion style comprised black Victorian-style lace and velvet garments, Doc Martens boots, deep red corsets, t-shirts with moons, stars, skulls, skinny pants, and pale foundation with dark eye makeup for a mysterious, dramatic look.

80s goth fashion style

80s goth fashion style

Goth chokers, bracelets, and rings were ornate with ankhs, pentagrams, and similar symbols associated with the supernatural or the macabre, adding to the mysterious allure of the Goth style.





1990s – Grunge and Britpop​


Characterized by the contrasting styles of Grunge and Britpop, the 1990s were a defining era for the Rock movement.

Reflecting the underlying philosophies of each music genre – Grunge’s disdain for materialism and Britpop’s emphasis on refinement – both movements influenced the fashion trends of the 1990s.

Grunge​


Rooted in the American Northwest music scene of the early ’90s, the Grunge style had a distinct anti-fashion, beauty, and glamour approach.

Grunge popularized flannel shirts, combat boots, floral dresses matched with rugged footwear, and band t-shirts with torn jeans.

1990s grunge fashion

1990s grunge fashion

Kurt Cobain’s (Nirvana) iconic ripped jeans, oversized striped sweaters, Converse sneakers, and Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) layered flannel shirts, loose jeans, combat boots, and unkempt hairstyle became emblematic of the carefree and nonchalant attitude of the Grunge aesthetic.

 Kurt Cobain Nirvana Eddie Vedder Pearl Jam 90s Grunge fashion

Kurt Cobain’s (Nirvana) and Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) 90s Grunge fashion looks

Layne Staley’s (Alice in Chains) choice of black clothes, bandanas, and sunglasses added a darker, somber dimension to Grunge fashion, or Chris Cornell’s (Soundgarden, Audioslave) mix of classic Grunge with leather jackets conferred Grunge style outfits with a raw and edgy vibe.

Layne Staley Chris Cornell Grunge fashion style

Layne Staley and Chris Cornell’s 90s Grunge fashion style





Kinderwhore​


Substyles emerged as influenced by the Grunge movements, such as Courtney Love’s “Kinderwhore” look comprised of barrettes, ripped tights, slips, tiaras, and Mary Janes conferring Grunge fashion a vulnerable facet.

Courtney Love 90s Kinderwhore style

Courtney Love 90s Kinderwhore style

Riot Grrrl​


Epitomized by bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney, the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s was as much a musical statement as a fashion and cultural one.



Bikini Kill, Bratmobile 90s Riot Grrrl fashion

Bikini Kill and Bratmobile’s 90s Riot Grrrl fashion

With hairy armpits, distressed Preppy-style (or animal prints) mini skirts, male shirts, leather vests, and Converse shoes accessorized with childlike accessories, Riot Grrrls defied gender norms and depicted confrontational femininity.





Britpop​


While Cobain’s Grunge was a mix of masculine and feminine garments depicting a rebellious and nostalgically romantic image, across the pond in the UK, bands like Oasis and Blur adopted a Britpop look.

Oasis and Blur Britpop fashion style

Oasis and Blur 90s Britpop fashion

The Gallagher brothers (Liam and Noel, members of the band Oasis) and Damon Albarn, the lead vocalist of Blur, played a significant role in shaping Britpop’s aesthetic that contrasted with the Grunge style of the same era.

Liam and Noel Gallagher Damon Albarn Britpop 90s fashion style

Britpop fashion style popularized by the Gallagher brothers of Oasis and Damon Albarn of Blur in the 1990s

The Britpop style was a revival of Mod fashion of the 1960s but with a modern twist; comprised of tailored suits, relaxed fit jeans, button-up polo shirts, Harrington or denim jackets, parkas, loafers, and white sneakers, the style depicted a smart and refined look.

90s Britpop fashion

90s Britpop fashion





By intertwining classic British fashion with emerging Indie trends, the female icons of Britpop, like Sonya Madan of Echobelly and Louise Wener of Sleeper, with her tomboyish attire, captured Britpop’s laid-back yet polished essence.

Sonya Madan (Echobelly), Louise Wener (Sleeper), Justine Frischmann (Elastica), Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson (Lush) 90s Britpop fashion

Sonya Madan (Echobelly), Louise Wener (Sleeper), Justine Frischmann (Elastica), and Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson (Lush) 90s Britpop fashion

Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush added a touch of feminine grunge to the movement while Justine Frischmann of Elastica made the combo of tank top, black tights, skirt, and iconic outfit.

Other notable Britpop figures are Jarvis Cocker’s (Pulp) with his corduroy and velvet blazers depicting a quirky and intellectual Britpop aesthetic, and Richard Ashcroft’s (The Verve) choice of iconic aviator sunglasses and trench coats highlighting the Bohemian infusion into the growing Britpop flair.

Jarvis Cocker Richard Ashcroft 90s Britpop fashion style

Jarvis Cocker and Richard Ashcroft’s 90s Britpop fashion style

Beyond the music scene, the Grunge and Britpop movements had a significant role in the 1990s fashion as forms of expressing generational ethos while reshaping perceptions of beauty and style.





2000s to Present – Emo and Indie Rock​


In the tapestry of 2000s fashion, Emo and Indie rock styles emerged as distinct yet interwoven threads, each narrating its own story through the language of apparel, accessories, and colors.

Emo​


As the new millennium dawned, Emo fashion, with roots in hardcore and post-hardcore Punk, blossomed into a vivid expression of the youth’s emotional landscape.

The Emo aesthetic was popularized by bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, and Paramore.

My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore 1990s Emo fashion

My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, and Paramore 1990s Emo fashion style

During the band’s “The Black Parade” phase, characterized by black, white, and red colors and Gerard Way’s black button-up shirt and red tie, My Chemical Romance became emblematic of Emo fashion.


Fall Out Boy’s bassist, Pete Wentz popularized the heavy eyeliner look, Patrick Stump the use of hats, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams became the signature orange hair.

Pete Wentz 1990s fashion look


Panic! At The Disco’s theatrical “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” era outfits, including Brendon Urie’s black top hat, skinny jeans, and long boots, were also defining.

Panic! At The Disco 1990s emo fashion

Panic! At The Disco 1990s emo fashion

Adolescents wore black skinny jeans with studded belts – a nod to the Punk roots, stripped sweatshirts, and over short-sleeved t-shirts matched with black and red rep tie as badges of honor symbols of belonging and allegiance to the emo ethos.

Teenagers Emo fashion late 90s early 2000s

Teenagers Emo fashion in the late 90s and early 2000s

The Emo look was accessorized with metallic chains, rings, and earrings and completed with Converse and Vans sneakers and oversized black hoodies adorned with band prints and used to hide and comfort the misunderstood emo souls.

1990s Emo Fashion

Late 1990s and early 2000s Emo Fashion





Indie Rock​


In contrast, the Indie Rock fashion of the 2000s was a homage to the past, a resurrection of vintage garments combined into outfits that depicted a relaxed, artistic aura.

Indie fashion style, a distinct and eclectic look, was largely influenced by bands that championed the genre’s ethos of originality and independence.

The Smiths, Pavement, Strokes, Arctic Monkeys Indie fashion

The Smiths, Pavement, Strokes, and Arctic Monkeys Indie fashion

In the 1980s, Indie pioneers like The Smiths set a precedent for the indie aesthetic with their blend of thrift clothes and collegiate wear.

By combining plaids, stripes, and floral print patterns with earthy colors and touches of pastels, the style reflects the movement’s artistic roots.

The Smiths Indie fashion

The Smiths’ Indie fashion

In the 1990s, bands like Pixies and Pavement continued the trend of understated, everyday garments synonymous with the indie look.

Pixie and Pavement 90s Indie Rock fashion

Pixie and Pavement 90s Indie Rock fashion

By the 2000s, bands such as The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys updated the style with slim-fitting jeans and leather jackets, blending vintage and modern garments for a modern Indie look.

The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys 2000s Indie Rock fashion

The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys 2000s Indie Rock fashion

Influenced by the music scene of pop-punk, emo, indie-pop, hip-hop, deathcore, and rave, the mid-2000s Indie style comprised flannel shirts, retro T-shirts, jeans or corduroy pants, converse shoes, and leather accessories in a nod to the scholarly, intellectual vibe of the Indie subculture.

Indie Fashion

Indie Fashion

Twee Fashion​


Defined by artists like Belle & Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Zooey Deschanel, Indie-folk, a subset of Indie Rock, brought forth a whimsical, 60s-inspired “Twee” fashion.

Neutral Milk Hotel, Zooey Deschanel Twee fashion style

Neutral Milk Hotel and Zooey Deschanel Twee fashion

The Twee fashion style is characterized by box-pleated skirts, cutesy frocks, cardigans, overalls, knit hats, leather satchels, and vintage accessories.

Indie Rock Twee fashion

Indie Rock Twee fashion

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Rock Impact on Mainstream Fashion and Haute Couture​


Rock’s rebellious and nonconformist attitude has impacted mainstream and high fashion through the decades and shaped significant trends.

Characterized by edgy fashion choices – at least for those times – icons like Elvis Presley and The Beatles symbolized the 1950s rock and roll music and attitude.

Anti-establishment Ethos​


In the 1970s, punk rock’s anti-establishment ethos and provocative look further revolutionized fashion through designers like Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, who brought the looks to the runway.

Contemporary designers like Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, and Rick Owens have drawn inspiration from punk’s ethos of challenging norms and defying traditional aesthetic ideals.

Androgyny​


With flamboyant and theatrical outfits, Glam rock artists like David Bowie redefined traditional tropes of masculinity and pushed the boundaries of gendered clothing.

Contemporary artists like Janelle Monáe and Lady Gaga have continued the tradition of glam rock’s theatricality and sensational dressing.

Fashion houses such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Miu Miu, and Gucci have honored Glam Rock icons like David Bowie in their collections, showcasing the enduring appeal of this style.

Nowadays, the legacy of Rock fashion is evident in collections from designers such as Alexander McQueen and brands like Saint Laurent.
 
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