Mar 9, 2011

Give 'em the boot... but which laces?

Dear aap:
I'm 17 and have been into punk since I was 13. I love it, and now that me and my 2 friends are old enough to drive we can find some all-ages shows and clubs - there aren't any in our hometown which is small. We thought it would be great, but the problem is we go to these shows and we still get shit on by people there because we don't fit in or we don't dress exactly right. So how is that any different from the jocks and people who shit on us at home? How do you figure out what to wear that'll be right when we seem to not even know what color bootlaces we're supposed to wear. I didn't even know there was a code. Is there? If there is, what is it? We're all really bummed out about this. - Cotton.

Dear C-
I could tell you what the code for all the different color bootlaces is but there is just one problem: I would probably get it all wrong... That is because there is NO single universal code for this stuff - as much as people might tell you there is, trust me, there isn't. This is especially true because you didn't give me any idea what part of the country you were writing from or really even what country you're in. I'm just guessing it is the US or Canada based on the writing.

In some parts of the world for example, red shoelaces in your black Docs means that you're a communist or socialist, while in other subcultures it means you've spilled blood for your group's cause. In other places the color of laces doesn't mean anything - but the color of your suspenders (or "braces") means everything... or it doesn't. Or what you scrawl in white leather paint on the sleeve of your leather jacket means something... or it doesn't... or what color bandanna you have tied around WHICH boot (left or right) means something... or it doesn't.

See what I'm getting at here?

All that stuff, all those 'signifiers' of belief, stance, status, rank, what have you... no matter how carved in stone it might seem within one scene somewhere, you can almost bet that it has no relevance someplace even a few miles from where you're standing.

It is all about enforcing conformity... and some punk subcultures are as guilty of that as the most upper-crusty prep schools. All these things are a quick visual way of showing who 'belongs' and who doesn't... and if you're thinking to yourself "wait a second, I thought punk rock was about NOT conforming."'re right and you've stumbled upon a basic disconnect with the group-think that is created when ANY group of humans bands together... even when the people in that group think they're all free-wheeling Individuals with a capital "I."

We can't help it... Any group of humans will eventually organize around a basic principal of "us" and "them." ... I'm not saying that is good thing... It is actually probably one of our greatest flaws as a species.

Which of course means that this problem isn't going to go away any time soon, so you have a choice to make: Do you want to 'fit in' with these strangers just because they were hanging out at the all-ages club first, so THEY get to determine the dress code? ...or are you going to be true to yourself and dress as you please?

I say that with this disclaimer: Be prudent. You don't want to wear the wrong color in the wrong place if it is really going to get you physically hurt... shunned is OK, but there is no point in getting a beating (or worse) because you insist on wearing a certain color shoelace that makes the local goon squad go nuts. It would be like wearing the wrong gang color in the wrong neighborhood (which of course is an example of exactly what I was talking about.)

One of the most 'punk rock' guys I ever knew wore pennyloafers and a blazer to nearly every show... which was a pretty ballsy thing to do back then, or now.

If you're really trying to live for yourself, shouldn't you be dressing for yourself?