As in pop music, the predominant tendency in appearance style today relies upon sampling & mixing diverse, eclectic, often contradictory elements into a unique, personal statement. Celebrating the confusion and diversity of our age, we surf through both history and geography to find our own reality - in the mix.

Extracts from Style Surfing © Ted Polhemus

‘We are all breaking the rules - mixing sportswear with workwear, the old and the new, crossing traditional gender divides, leaping between the proletarian and the elitist, juxtaposing the natural and the artificial, mating the vulgar and the respectable . . . deliberately sending out confusing, even contradictory signals.

And why? Because we don’t want to be categorised - to become just a stereotype. Because stereotypes are inherently inauthentic and more than anything else we crave personal authenticity. Because the world we live in is itself full of confusion and contradiction. Because (as in our politics and everything else) simple either/or categories and labels no longer suffice. Because now that the god of modernism is dead, everything is possible. Because we’re all on-line, plugged into the ‘global village’. Because the past and the future have dissolved into ‘the Now’. Because what’s clear, clearly isn’t. Because we’ve increasingly found that only personal appearance is capable of expressing where we as individuals are at in a kaleidoscopic and enigmatic world.’

‘If fashion arose as an expression of Modernism, what approach to dress and appearance is appropriate to the Post-modern condition? Perhaps an initial clue is provided by the dress styles found in that most Post-modern of films, Blade Runner.

What then is the ‘New Look’ of AD 2019? The answer, of course, is that there isn't one - not some single fashion 'direction' which everyone will follow. Blade Runner's prediction is for maximum stylistic diversity with each character's style something which has evolved more slowly than here-today-gone-tomorrow fashion, more intuitively as a statement of ‘real’ (yet playfully, knowingly unreal) identity in a world gone mad with change, chaotic diversity and hype. Real and yet unreal, these style ‘statements’ are clearly not meant to be taken literally and this is at least as true of the humans as it is of the replicants - Deckard isn't an English lit. teacher, his sidekick isn't a pimp.

Who is real? Who is a replicant? Who cares? Life is a fancy-dress party. Enjoy.’

'Ever since the word ‘tribal’ came into common usage (around the time of Punk’s international lift-off), things have gotten progressively less tribal in any true sense of the term. Various styles proliferate at a rate that is increasingly difficult to keep up with - Techno, Hardcore, House, Garage, Jungle, Ragga, Handbag, etc., etc, etc. - but few, if any, of these carry with them the sense of belonging and commitment that must constitute the bottom line of true tribal identity.

A Masai or a Maori is a Masai or a Maori - they are not into it. Likewise in Britain in 1964, you were a Mod or a Rocker - you didn't tentatively, whimsically stick your toe in the subcultural pool to check out the temperature. You plunged right in, head first. And so, an irony. In this ‘Tribal Age’ it’s actually damn hard to find anyone who admits to being a member of a tribe.’

‘The aftermath of Punk saw a transition from the more or less orderly linear history of modernism (a ‘history’ perceived of as such) to the simultaneity of parallel universes (multiple channels on a TV set waiting to be ‘surfed’) that characterises the Post-Modern Age. While up to and including Punk a ‘story’ unfolds, Post-Punk it becomes harder and harder to discern an intelligible dramatic ‘narrative’. While previously the options were limited, the choices simple (Hipster/Square, Mod/Rocker, Hippy/Punk), now - Post-Punk - a veritable Supermarket of Style came into being, with ‘tribal’ options lined up like tins of soup on a supermarket shelf. History had ended. Now everything was possible. And all at the same time.’

‘Despite the stereotype (Mohican, safety-pins, plastic rubbish bags, DMs, etc.), Punk was never a single stylistic entity. As with the ‘Learn-Three-Chords-And-Start-A-Band’ approach of its musicians, its stylistic approach was founded on principles of individualistic DIY innovation. Such deliberate amateurishness spawned a rich eclecticism - embracing anything from old school blazers to dog collars, charity-shop peculiarities of previous decades to children’s plastic sunglasses, army surplus vests to Amazonian face painting, discarded bits of consumer packaging to customised motorcycle jackets.’

’And all this, more often than not, got jumbled together. The French use the word bricolage to describe a way of making something new from assorted - found, at hand - bits and pieces; it is a very apt way of describing the Punks’ approach to dress (and, indeed, to music, politics, philosophy). The objective was/is to mix together the most diverse, and unexpected, absurd and downright contradictory combinations of styles. Scavenging from ‘primitive’ tribal peoples, clandestine fetishists, a host of other style tribes (Bikers, Skinheads, Glam Rockers, Teddy Boys), 50s kitsch, 40s glamour, tacky sci-fi movies, military uniforms, etc., etc., etc., the Punks assembled for themselves individualised, unique looks and defied classification. Punk, in other words, was - from the start - such a rich rag bag of alternatives and contradictions that no coherent Next Big Thing could possibly have evolved from its eclectic diversity.’

‘It was Punk that (at least in terms of popular culture) emphatically put the sign of the ‘Post’ before the ‘Modern’: its chilling battle cry of ‘No Future’ heralded the end of history - the dead end of the yellow brick road of ‘progress’ and coherent ‘narrative’ - which previously had been discernible only to (then) obscure cultural theorists. Trashing history (e.g. the juxtaposition of ancient ‘primitive’ body decoration, classic 1950s jackets and tacky sci-fi futurism) and meaning (e.g. the iconography of Nazi swastikas, bondage gear and school blazers reduced to visual play), the Punks ushered in the Post-Modern condition. . .

In 1976, Andrew Logan and Derek Jarman held a party in their ramshackle (and then unfashionable) warehouse overlooking the Thames near Tower Bridge. The Sex Pistols came and gave their first ever public performance. Energised by these associations, Jarman enlisted the assistance of the likes of Jordan (of Malcolm McLaren’s and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX), Adam Ant and Toyah Willcox to create his film Jubilee.’

’Started before Punks were even much known as ‘Punks’, this extraordinary film defies the stereotyped conformity that the media subsequently strove to impose upon the budding subculture. Here is Amyl Nitrite (Jordan), with her face criss-crossed with black lines in the style of Picasso, hair spiked up to defy gravity and yet wearing twin-set and pearls. Here is Mad Medusa (Toyah Willcox) in a pink plastic boiler suit adorned with a fifteenth-century lace ruff, her hair dyed orange but cropped like a marine. Here is Crabs (Little Nell) in diamante tiara, old school tie and not much else. Here is Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) in jewelled, lace-embroidered splendour, surfing history to pick her way through the rubble.’

Here also, graffitied on a wall behind an opening scene where flames and thick smoke billow from a baby’s pram, is the word ‘POST MODERN’. Quite rightly. Eclecticism, the end of history and of narrative - losing the plot - confounding any distinction between past, present and future, the collapse of all meaning except the wall-to-wall pastiche, fragmentation and what Neville Wakefield has so poignantly termed ‘The Twilight of the Real’ . . . it’s all there in Jubilee. And, of course, in Punk’s vision of the next/last millennium.

‘Unlike those who feel and express a consistent commitment to a particular subculture, ‘Clubbers’ delight in promiscuously ‘cruising’ through all manner of clothing and musical Styleworlds - one month (or, indeed, one evening) plunging head first into the 70s, the next going Gothic or Techno or Fetish or New Romantic or Punk or Cowboy/girl or Hawaiian. It is this ‘surfing’ (as in ‘Channel Surfing’ or ‘Surfing the Internet’) that most tellingly identifies ‘clubbing’ as a post-subculture phenomenon. And which, in so doing, defines this world and those within it as Post-Modern. . . Clubland knows no time or place. . . This is what Post-Modern theorists term ‘synchronicity’ - parallel universes all out of ‘real time’ sync, all existing side by side in a past-present-future which stretches horizontally into infinity. Linear history trashed and irrelevant, everything is simultaneously available and possible - on line. On a given night in the Clubland International Departures Lounge you can take a trip to any place or any time you wish. Pre-Revolutionary Paris? Gate 26. LA in 2016? Gate 18. Swinging London 1965? Gate 22. Haight-Ashbury 1967? Gate 7. The Primordial Rain Forest? Gate 14. The choice is yours.’

‘Clubland is a Supermarket of Style where every world and every era you dreamed of (and these are, of course, all mythologised places and times) is on offer like tins of soup on a supermarket shelf. You can try ‘Cream of the 70s’ one night, then switch to ‘Chunky Heavy Metal’ the next night. Or, alternatively, you can ‘sample & mix’ your own brand of Gazpacho - throwing, say, a Hippy tie-dyed bandanna, a pair of Skinhead DMs, a 50s leopard-print cocktail dress, a Punk Mohican and Swinging London mascara into the pot. Give it a good stir and, presto, you've got your own, synchronic take on fifty years of popular culture.

Clubland thrives on plundering and pastiche. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is effect: Punk Effect, 60s Effect, Gothic Effect, Modern Jazz Effect, Psychedelic Effect, Back To Nature Effect, Smells Like Teen Spirit Effect, Slut Effect, Psycho Killer Effect, Sweet Innocent Effect, Sporty Effect, Caribbean Effect, Tacky Effect, Get Real Effect, Kinky Effect, Primitive Effect, Macho Effect, Babe Effect, Street Fighter Effect, Nerd Effect, Beat Effect and, of course, Ecstasy Effect. But rather than being swept under the semiological carpet, this simulation and artifice is celebrated. (Because in a Post-Modern age only the patently incredible is credible.)

Clubland is a place where the Replicants, rather than living in fear of the (now unemployable) Blade Runners, have come out of the closet to exalt in their artifice.’

Ted Polhemus