The Kids Are NOT Alt, Alright?
Sometimes, I see a snippet of a conversation happening on Twitter and I just have to go be nosy. Today, someone quote tweeted my latest infographic into a conversation about “boycotting fast fashion” (something I’ve never explicitly encouraged) so I took a look.
“…As someone who's really into alt fashion, Shien [sic] is literally the one place where I won't have to spend 200+ dollars for just 1 outfit”
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sentiment. A couple weeks ago, a so-called leftist went on a multi-thread rant to explain that without Shein, she might have to shop at Wal-Mart for her “alt” outfits, so we’d better shut up about those pesky garment workers lest she feel bad for not wanting to take a couple extra steps to find some pants with chains or whatever.
As always, I have to ask: how the hell did we get here?
What Is Alt?
The first alternative subculture to truly explode on a global stage and subsequently be commodified for people with no ties to the people who created it was punk. I have another article on the way about how the MTV generation all but destroyed what it meant to truly exist on the fringes but, to sum it up: punk was about standing with the working class, standing against the system, and making your own shit. DIY was, at the time, the only way you could truly express the punk ethos as you couldn’t yet buy pre-packaged identities at the mall and even if you could, why would you want the same mass-produced crap as everyone else?
When grunge took over for punk as “what the kids are into” and Marc Jacobs debuted his iconic grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1992—which may or may not have resulted in him losing his job as designer for the brand—many in alt communities considered it the beginning of the end. Designers like Vivienne Westwood, Mugler, Zandra Rhodes and Jean Paul Gaultier had been pioneering the art of punk and, in general, alternative subcultures on the runway for decades at that point, but, there was something about this collection that finally pushed the un-mainstream into the mainstream. By the time I was experimenting with weird styles and discovering bands like Sonic Youth and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the latter of which is my favorite band to this day), Hot Topic had already made it easy for dabblers and die-hards alike to get their weirdo wares. But, for those of us who couldn’t afford to don Tripp Pants and Lip Service, we had to be a little more creative with the ways we flew our freak flags.
Punk Is Free(dom)!
A short list of all the ways I made my “alt” looks in middle and high school:
I bought a highlighter yellow hoodie from Old Navy and dyed the cuffs black (they came out more gray, but, it got the point across)
Cut out dozens of eyes from felt and hand-sewed them to a tote bag I made from an old T-shirt to mimic a Commes Des Garcon runway look
Cut the bottoms off my skirts attached different skirts to the bottom
Tie-dyed cheap jeans with bleach and sewed the legs skinnier
Cut the graphics off T-shirts and attached them to other T-shirts
Affixed patches to my “nicer” jackets with safety pins so my mom wouldn’t get mad
The idea that you can only look “alt” if you buy specific items from a massive corporation that’s literally killing people (and the planet) goes against every punk ethos that ever was. It’s despicable!
Kids These Days
I recently tweeted and deleted about how younger generations seem to lack resourcefulness and nowhere does that show more than in how they shop. Call me a Boomer but a quick glance at comments on a TikTok video asking girls where they got everything from their plain white tank top to their “Bella Hadid socks” or even going so far as to ask “what aesthetic is this” and “what do I type in” when someone with a clear personal style shows off their home or outfits is…troubling.
What happened to figuring it out? What happened to making it work (word to Tim Gunn)? What happened to doing it yourself?
To bring it back to the sustainability conversation, it’s astounding to me anytime non-fast fashion brands are brought up and people genuinely argue that there are “no” ethical brands that make the clothes they want, or, the more persistent myth: there are no plus sizes outside of fast fashion. None! At all! It is disheartening that there are people who truly believe the only businesses that even care to cater to them are hyper-exploitative planet-killing labor-stealing behemoths, that they cannot fathom the idea that there are people out there doing good things with their needs in mind.
Beyond even that, there’s this pervasive idea that if something is not the very first thing you see, not on the first page of Google, not constantly advertising to you via Instagram, or not popular on TikTok, that it simply doesn’t exist. And that’s…bad.
We’re already veering toward a world where the only people that can survive in fashion or music are the ones with the biggest machine and most money behind them: if you value art, you simply cannot let this happen and the first step toward fighting that system is doing whatever you can to support the people operating outside of the system.
In an even grander sense: the world is shitty, but there are so many ways to make it even a tiny bit better, you just have to seek them out and really put in the work—whatever that means to you—to make them a reality. If you don’t even have the wherewithal to dye that cheap WalMart tee black instead of argue down about how Shein’s lead-lined black tees are actually the only way you can express yourself, how will you ever be able to create your own destiny?
Or am I just being dramatic, lol?
Support your local Lakyn: subscribe to True Style, today!