we’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint
DIY destruction and Chanel chic
in your culture of consumption
this is a culture of destruction
Once it gets dark, the alley outside the theatre fills up quickly. Girls in tight white jeans and huge faux-fur leopard jackets swish their backcombed hair at boys in spray-painted tshirts, tossing feather boas to other girls in second-hand army shirts and combat boots. Most wear heavy makeup: panda eyes and glittering cheekbones. Everybody feels very young. They are beautiful boys and girls tough as nails, and they are here to see the Manic Street Preachers.
As a band, the Manic Street Preachers are just over twenty years old, and for much of those two decades, their eccentric, glamourous, unmistakable style has been adored and emulated by thousands of fans all over the world. From their beginning in the late 1980s, in the village of Blackwood in South Wales, to their triumphant gig at the London O2 in December 2011, the Manics have inspired a level of devotion bordering on fanaticism in their massive fanbase. Manics fans are often notably creative and ingenious in their displays of fandom, designing painstaking replicas of the bands’ outfits, or taking inspiration from the band’s style to formulate a fashion all their own.
Music has always played a large part in the development of modes of street fashion through the years. It is an identifier, a uniting factor to which people – mostly teenagers and young people – can relate. Wearing the fashion of a musical movement signifies one’s membership in the ‘tribe’ and provides a signal to like-minded others that one shares their interests and, more than likely, their societal views and standing.
Musical fashion has also often been related to rebellion and the rejection of conventional, mainstream, culture. So it went with the young Manic Street Preachers, who cultivated an alternative look for themselvs from an early age and used fashion as a means to distinguish themselves from their parochial surroundings. “If you’re hopelessly depressed like I was, then dressing up is just the ultimate escape,” said lyricist Richey Edwards. “When I was young I just wanted to be noticed. Nothing could excite me except attention so I’d dress up as much as I could. Outrage and boredom just go hand in hand.”
The Manics’ fans would, by and large, agree. They follow in the path forged by their subcultural forebears in the punk and goth movements, adopting a style simultaneously designed to outrage the more conservative onlookers, and to mark themselves happily as ‘outsiders’. Elements of glam rock and sophistication (notable in the use of feather boas, leopard-print faux fur, and the iconic face of Marilyn Monroe) combine with torn shirts, battered leather, and DIY stencilled t-shirts: a look that goes from delicately androgynous to outright confrontational, but an unmistakable tribal calling card.
The Manics fandom is a close-knit affair, to which its members hold a familial loyalty – with all that that entails. They are the first to point out the excesses and hilarity that comes with their beloved band – a theatre full of glammed-up audience members cheering on a bouncing six-foot Welshman in a flowery skirt is certainly one of the more amusing sights I’ve seen – but will defend their band to the end in an argument with a stranger. More than anything else, then, in my view the outlandish style of Manics fans is a shibboleth to other fans – if you can appreciate this and sport it proudly, while retaining the ability to laugh at yourself all the while, you get to be in the gang.
And, of course, they look just fabulous.