Defining Popular Subculture


The phrase “popular subculture” is a contradiction, an oxymoron, how can something become popular enough to enter the mainstream consciousness of society in general and yet still maintain the definitive nuances of a sub culture, such as esoteric terms which only those “in the know” will understand ? There is no denying that denim, particularly raw, selvedge and repro model denim, is currently riding the crest of a wave in popularity which has seen a veritable plethora of new brands and emerging markets. Even more indicative of how accepted these things are in general is the fact that denim, featuring both genuine and false selvedge seams, can now be found on the shelves of almost every high street retailer, and are almost a certainty for any denim made by a more mainstream fashion brand who wishes to show its quality.


Denim as an interest works in levels, the person buying from the high street may not even notice their selvedge (false or not), just as the guy wearing his Armani jeans may not notice his hidden rivets or carry many thoughts about the cinch back detail, but for the few who do it might lead them to the next level of involvement, and this is where denim blurs the lines between popular fashion and subculture. The divide between mainstream and subculture is reached at the point where the individual begins to care more about what matters to them about a pair of jeans in real terms of detailing, manufacture and ethics of production and supply, rather than approaching a pair of jeans solely from the view of which is the most aesthetically pleasing. Of course we all want our jeans to look great on us, but when that becomes one of a number of considerations rather than the primary focus then you begin to explore what it means to love denim on a geek (or otaku as they say in Japan) level.

As with any scene or sub culture there are those who embrace every facet and eagerly digest every shred of information available in an effort to become a “scene guru”, those who focus their interest on particular aspects, those whose interest doesn’t run too deeply beyond collecting things associated and finally those who like the idea of the scene but don’t really make any attempt to understand it or acquire any knowledge. Those of us who have an interest in things like certain music, movies, motorcycles will recognise the types and perhaps even acknowledge which stereotype best fits us (I know I have), and probably know your own level of interest and involvement, every subculture has its hierarchy of “nerdiness”, where those with knowledge or positions of power are venerated by the rest.

On a personal note, my interest has actually diminished from where it was a couple of years ago, which isn’t to say that I no longer have love for denim but is to say that I won’t sacrifice nights out and social time with friends in order to be able to afford a new pair of jeans….I have been there, sitting in my house in my $400 jeans without the money to go out in them, it’s a sad state of affairs. My interest at the moment is to own and wear a small collection of my favourite denims, which fit well and will see me through a good few years of rotated wear, I like certain brands, I like certain details and I think that I have reached a point where I know what works for me and keeps my interest, which is super important when you’re paying so much for jeans.


There will come a point where denim and work wear is no longer flavour of the month, when high street retailers discard fake selvedge and over embellished military style clothing, when the spotlight of trends moves onto something new and denim is returned back to those who love it, always have and always will. When the popularity is over, it will simply return to being a sub culture, until the next time.


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