Josie Bedford / Fashion and Dress History BA(Hons)

Exploring the significance of working-class subcultural fashion in the United States of America during the 1990s 

My dissertation set out with the intention of exploring the significance of working-class subcultural fashion in the United States of America during the 1990s. I was specifically interested in how subcultures form in working-class communities as a response, even rebellion, to oppression and exclusion from mainstream society. In order to illustrate the discussion of my dissertation I used two visual case studies. The first of these was the documentary photo-series titled RESPEKT (1992 – 1996) by photographer Joseph Rodriguez. The series followed the lives of a Mexican-American community on the East side of Los Angeles, showing the unique and distinctive ‘chola’ style sported by the teenagers. The supporting photograph I have chosen is from the RESPEKT series. It aptly encapsulates the themes of my dissertation, showing the teenagers in their distinct subcultural style, united as part of a group by their shared background and dress. The second case study focused on Larry Clarke’s 1995 cult film Kids, which tells the story of a group of working-class teenagers in New York City who belong to a skating subculture. In order to visually analyse this film, I used behind-the-scenes Polaroid photographs taken by the film’s costume designer, Kim Druce-Sava. The dissertation’s analysis was conducted by considering the photographs of the youths of East LA and NYC alongside sociological critical theory from the likes of Thorstein Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu. These considerations combined to lead the investigation to a natural conclusion regarding the significance of working-class subcultural fashion, considering the importance it held for teenagers in the USA during the 1990s.


photo of a group of people
Joseph Rodriguez. 12-year-old Jennifer (right) posed with guys from Varrio Dogtown who came to visit her in El Sereno. Los Angeles, CA. 1994. Photograph. Private Collection.