tie me up: a look at ap fashion over 30 years

March 23, 2010

What does an Afro-punk look like? Technically there’s no single answer to this question for punk style itself is a free for all, ranging from totally outrageous to simplistic. Hell, there isn’t even a solid definition of what an Afro-punk is either. However, there are a few slight differences in appearance that separate us from the stereotypical image of a rocker besides the most obvious: skin complexion.

Tie Me Up: A look at AP Fashion Over 30 Years
Featured Scribbler Amber Alexander
Original discussion can be found here

In other words, Afro-punk is not only a subculture but ironically a fashion statement as well.

(Attendee at the Brooklyn Afro-punk festival in vintage band tee and worn fatigue shorts)

When punk first emerged during the 1970s, urban youth immersed in this musical movement had little to no money. They scoured charity/thrift shops for used apparel at dirt-cheap prices and built their whole ‘wardrobe’ on DIY. Popular fashions included: ripped shirts, beat up combat boots or converse sneakers, tapered pants, fishnet stockings, animal print, heavy embellishment including spikes, studs, safety pins, and patches, motorcycle jackets, tees with offensive words, anarchy symbols, or band names hand written across the front, denim vests, thick silver jewelry, plus other controversial clothing choices.

Meanwhile, disco pretty much dictated how the vast majority of Black people dressed. Fortunately a handful of them refused to conform. Peep what these afro-punk pioneers wore:

Staying true to the punk aesthetic acts like Pure Hell and Neon Leon rocked out in leather, denim, chains, and chemically straightened hair.

(Pure Hell’s album cover, processed hair and leather)

On the other hand legendary bands like Bad Brains and Basement 5 kept it simple rude boy style donning kinky dos including short fros and dreadlocs, blazer jackets, plain button down shirts, skinny ties, suit pants, hats, and loafers.

(Bad Brains)

(Basement 5)

By the 1980s, punk fashion had already spilled over into mainstream culture but was still going strong in the alternative world. What was once considered bizarre suddenly became normal. Middle class kids would deliberately spike and dye their hair, punch holes in their t-shirts, or get body modifications to ride the trend wave. During this time, Hip Hop arose replacing disco, bringing forth new fashion trends that was closely associated with the Black community in addition to modernized forms of R&B. While most African American youth wore dookie chains and Kangols, fellow afro-punks continued to stand against the so-called ‘standard’ for Blacks as they’ve done in the previous decade. Check it:

Members of Ska Punk band, Fishbone, each member had their own individual look creating an eclectic image. Outfits included shorts, tall socks, loose fitting pants, sneakers, graphic tee shirts, studded belts, suspenders, trilby hats, acid wash denim jackets, sunglasses, tank tops, and kinky hairstyles ranging from dreaded Mohawks to baldies.

(Fishbone in loose pants)

Metal band Living Colour put a unique inner city spin on their ‘uniform’. Signature ensembles usually consisted of colorful elements including track jackets, basketball caps, spandex pants, muscle shirts, busy prints, distressed jeans, overalls, high top kicks, fringed leathers, crop tops, and hand painted tees. Hair was also in kinky styles like braids, dreadlocks, and high top fades.

(Living Colour, high top dread fade)

Another all black metal group Black Death had glam down pact clad in lots of leather, chains, spikes, tights, and bandanas wrapped around their dripping jherri curls.

(Death and the curls)

Front man Buzz Wayne of Buzz & The Flyers resembled a 1950s rockabilly in perfectly molded hair, polished shoes, cuffed pants, and chest baring button down shirt tucked in with a popped up collar.

(Buzz Wayne in straight edge)

The 1990s arrived and Punk fashion fizzed away into a more refined, watered down substance. High-end designers like Gianni Versace who used large safety pins on garments borrowed components and marketed it to the prestigious crowd and Vivienne Westwood went commercial. Fashion magazines coveted it, chain stores massed produced it, and today grommet covered bracelets are a staple in almost every local clothing store. What were afro-punks wearing when all this was going on?

Funk/Hiphop/Metal Band 24-7 Spyz embraced a baggy ethnic look which included rasta hats, sunglasses, tie dye vests, over sized patterned shorts and short sleeved button down shirts, wrist bands, graphic tees, bomber jackets, and sneakers.

(24-7 Spyz’s rasta look)

Twenty years later afro-punks have yet to receive decent recognition for being innovators of style. Taking cues from the fundamentals of punk fashion, honorary black rockers of the past, and mixing it with modern influences, we are in a league of our own.


(Saul Williams)

(Shangai Shoniwa of Noisettes)

(Duo J*Davey)

(Zoe Kravitz of Elevator Fight)

(Gabriel Cavasoz of American Fangs)

(Janelle Monae)

(Tash Neal of The London Souls)

(If you have any images of you that you think represents Afro-punk fashion, please, let’s see you post your shit below. Oh, and we’ll talk about ya, too.

Just kidding. Just kidding.

But really, post your pics. We’d love to check you out. -AP Team)