It’s fair to say I am not, and never have been, rebellious in the most stereotypical sense of the word. Whilst some of my teen contemporaries were flagrantly rejecting curfews and swigging vodka in a park, I was wrapped in a duvet cocoon watching Skins and munching a family-sized bag of Malteasers to myself. ‘Why can’t I be like them’ I’d think, watching the young, edgy gang revel in the hedonistic glory of yoof. I guess I just assumed there would be a seamless transition from childish innocence to teenage rebellion. One moment you’d be idly messing around on your Gameboy when suddenly hormones would strike out of the blue in a whirlwind of angst and pop-punk music. The next thing you know you’ve undergone a radical metamorphosis and you’ve exchanged your Gameboy for actual boys. Say good bye to the benign childhood years, kid, you’re now a teen with a badass attitude and a disreputable, older boyfriend who you secretly meet every night on the street corner by climbing down your drainpipe.
But alas, this was not to be. Not least because I live in a bungalow in the northern English countryside.
It wasn’t until I was a little older when I realised that rebellion can be far more covert than screaming at your parents or getting paralytic at a Year 10 house party. Rebellion can be something as simple as staying true to your principles in the face of opposing views. Rebellion is not yielding to pressure and conformity; no mean feat when you’re part of a generation rife with insecurity due to unattainable ideals of beauty.
For me personally, these values were realised when I was first introduced to the world of fashion on a day trip to London when I was thirteen. From Camden Market’s labyrinth of eccentric, vibrant stalls to the opulent couture glittering under Harrods’ spotlights, I was well and truly
awestruck. I had been under the impression that the definition of ‘cool’ was to copy what everyone else was wearing, but a dude lounging by Camden Lock with a 1ft tall Mohican and the most out-there outfit known to man made me think otherwise. Whilst styling my hair into five colossal spikes and donning a pair of bondage trousersmight not have been the best way to undergo my ‘style rebellion’, I certainly felt ready to experiment with clothes. I soon found that having confidence in what I wore lent itself to being confident in myself. When I started putting together outfits in the morning, I felt like I could take on anything the day threw at me. I was expressing myself without opening my mouth. I was showing that I was wholly comfortable with being myself and what I had to say.
Cultivating my own style encouraged me to embrace my individualism and be inquisitive and zealous about matters beyond fashion, which is fundamental to the most subversive kind of rebellion. True rebellion is all about taking on new ideas and not being afraid to go against the grain of convention (see: Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier). It’s about assessing the world ourselves and not following the crowd; virtues which I have learned to internalise as a result of learning what true style really is. In that sense the ‘teen rebellion’ I thought I was shying away from as a kid wasn’t rebellious at all. It was fuelled by self-consciousness and the crippling desire to fit in with the crowd. ‘Being yourself’ is rebellion in its simplest form. It’s the ability to put your head above the parapet and stand out as an individual. It is, in my opinion, closely aligned with what it means to have style. In the words of Gore Vidal, ‘style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn’.
Fashion is a driving force for rebellion. It licences us to express who we are and what we stand for. So why not undergo a style rebellion and kick out against conformity? It might just be the most liberating choice you’ll make for a while.