Punk clothing evolution illustration by Jay Insult

I Dress Myself by Will Kenneth

May 03, 2022

My alarm started ringing at 6:30 AM.

Disoriented, I turned over on my futon, which was still in couch mode, and reached into my unfinished and lopsided dresser. I fished around for clothes, but my drawers were practically empty.

All that was left were clothes that were ugly or didn’t fit. I had a moment where I considered grabbing something dirty, but I didn’t leave enough time to think that through. I had only a few minutes to spare before I had to be at my unavoidable 7 AM class, which was also three hours long.

I got up, grabbed the last clean clothes in my drawer, made breakfast for my walk, promised myself I would go to the laundromat after classes were over, and then rushed outside.

I was passing by Gainesville’s iconic pizza stop, Leonardo’s by The Slice, when I heard someone yell.

“You’re not cool!”

I looked around, and I realized the only person nearby was this self-appointed arbitrator of cool, sitting with his feet up at a Leo’s outdoor table while the restaurant was closed.

I looked down at what I was wearing and I realized, “Fuck, he was right.”

In my delirium, I picked the goofiest combination of the shittiest clothes in my dresser, and let myself walk out the door wearing all of them. I had no one to blame but myself and my poor planning.

Any of these choices wouldn’t have been that terrible on their own, but together I looked like a mess:

* A black bandana I started wearing to keep pomade from ruining my baseball hats

* Half a jar of Murray’s Pomade in my hair, which takes days to wash out.

* A heavily worn in brown leather bomber jacket I borrowed from my dad, which he is never seeing again.

* A gray button down shirt, which I probably picked out from a clearance rack and was too short on my frame.

* Homemade bondage pants I made from a pair of blue jeans as a teen, which also had a patch that said “Punk Rock Is Not a Crime” and a dozen zippers and locks I added myself.

“Holy shit, you’re right,” I wanted to say to him. Never mind I didn’t know what life choices led him to be hanging out in front of a pizza place at 7 AM on a weekday.

“I look stupid as fuck in all this.” I said in the scenario that played in my head. “I’m going to go home and change into something less goofy. Thanks pal! You’re a real lifesaver.”

I imagined he would crack up even harder, and then say some shit like “Wow, you really look like an asshole,” as I walked away unfazed, went home, and put on clothes I didn’t have that would make me feel less humiliated.

Instead, I kept walking to class, and when I got home later in the afternoon, I gathered my dirty laundry, drove to the laundromat, buried myself in homework, and then retired my homemade bondage pants forever.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been weird, and it’s not totally my fault.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been weird, and it’s not totally my fault.

In my defense, I wasn’t afforded much independence growing up. I was expected to be a mini version of my father: a yuppy in training with no individuality of my own.

The clothing I was told to wear became a symbol of who he wanted me to be, and who I desperately wanted to leave behind.

My style became reactionary and was sculpted by the degrees of abuse I was willing to endure to just figure myself out.

When I was with my dad, I was told to wear some combo of khaki shorts, polo shirts, and boat shoes.

I hated boat shoes so damn much. Not only did they look ridiculous, but the back rubbed against my heels until I got blisters. I was told to keep wearing them even though they kept hurting my feet. Thankfully I didn’t have to wear them all the time.

I was given polo shirts two sizes too big, and I hated how they fit. Most of the time we weren’t doing anything that required me to dress nicely, like seeing my grandmother who was just happy to see me.

I also developed a hang-up about shorts after a shitty friend told me my knees looked fat, which was a strange comment about someone’s body who was also noticeably underweight. I might have internalized that one pretty hard.

Later in high school I realized the Ramones never wore shorts (or at least not in any photos that I could find), so if the Ramones never wore shorts, why should I?

I didn’t buy another pair of non-gym shorts until COVID happened, and that was only because I wanted to wear something that was one step up from pajamas but also comfortable enough to wear at home.

High school is when I started expressing my independence more confidently, and I probably looked dumb as fuck, but I didn’t care. If my dad hated it, I wanted to do it.

High school is when I started expressing my independence more confidently, and I probably looked dumb as fuck, but I didn’t care. If my dad hated it, I wanted to do it.

He held a tight grip on how I spent my money and how I dressed, so I had to get creative (in a way, my sense of style became as stunted as my emotional maturity).

I wasn’t allowed spikes belts or wristbands or any of the stuff I’d see poster punks wearing, but I discovered I could start spiking my hair using gel. At the time bands like Blink 182 and local favorites New Found Glory made short spikes preppy chic. I didn’t want people to confuse me for the other preppy kids so I kept my hair long to put up big spikes.

My dad hated that, and he couldn’t do anything except to complain constantly. I loved how powerless he was to stop me. What was he going to do, throw out all our hair gel? Was he not going to allow anyone to style their hair in our house? Styling my hair offered me power I didn’t have before.

Every morning I’d run a glob about the size of my palm through my hair, creating four rows of spikes, one on each side and two on top, so I looked like I had horns (the head of the English department stopped me once to tell me how much she liked it).

Gel would also harden and flake off, so by the end of the day my shirt would look like I had a dandruff problem that needed serious medical help to get under control. Ironically I already had a dandruff problem, so the gel just mixed with my already flakey scalp and made everything seem worse.

At the end of my junior year of high school I got mono, and I didn’t even do anything fun to get it. I shared a drink with a friend, who turned out to be an asymptomatic carrier.

Mono took weeks to recover from, and by the time I got better, my hair grew too long to spike up.

I figured this out while running gel through my hair. Thinking on my feet, I grabbed my comb and slicked it back like the guys on the back of my Social Distortion self-titled cassette.

My dad hated that, too, so I kept slicking my hair back for another few years. Unfortunately hair gel made me look more like Gordon Gecko than Mike Ness. I didn’t discover pomade until after high school, which helped my hair lay down better, though I’m not sure that was an improvement.

Here’s the part big pomade doesn’t want you to know: Pomade is gross as hell. Sure it might help make your hair look cool (depending on who you ask), but pomade gets everywhere: your pillows, your couches, your hats… anything your head touches will get permanent grease stains.

My dad had strange opinions about everything I wore, and he made no secret of them.

He had a real hang up on the color black. When I still lived with him, he would often say black was for goths, as if to justify the abuse he would hurl at me for daring to wear a Bad Religion shirt.

I’m not sure he understood punk and goth were two different things, and the closest I came to being goth was renting The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’m also not sure how I was able to get away with wearing bondage pants… no wait, let me clarify, homemade bondage pants. I didn’t have access to enough of my own money and a credit card to buy my own.

The conversation would probably go like this, “Hey Dad, can I borrow your Amex so I can order designer bondage pants off Interpunk.com?”

“Wait, what? No, why the fuck are you asking me? Go away. Fuck off.”

But I was able to trade in CDs to my local headshop/used CD store, walk away with three dollars, and then buy a zipper from a fabric store.

I tried to buy them from a local store first, but the owner got confrontational.

When I walked in, a group of older women were sitting around chatting. They were surprised to see a young person walk in the store.

After asking about zippers, I was directed to a whole display. They had zippers in different lengths and colors, and I started grabbing whatever I thought looked cool, but I must have grabbed one too many.

“I want to know what you’re using all those zippers for,” she said, demanding to know what I was up to.

“No,” I said with a defiant tone, while clutching several zippers in my hands.  “That’s not your business.”

“I won’t sell you any unless you tell me what you’re using them for,” she said, escalating her demands.

At the time, I had no idea where else to get them, and I wasn’t ready to walk away from my precious zippers.

I went from being defiant to sheepish, and blurted out, “They’re for bondage pants.”

I could have said, “They’re for a pair of pants. It’s the new style. Rock’n’roll!”, but instead I probably convinced an entire old lady knitting circle that I was into BDSM and was about to run off to some teenage sex party no one would invite me to in real life.

The owner said nothing, took my order, and then I left. I was too scared to ever go back.

I also slowly added locks on the belt loops, a bike lock for a belt (I bought this for a belt years before I started on the bondage pants when I forgot to pack a belt on a trip and decided to improvise), and a patch that said “Punk Rock Isn’t a Crime,” which is ironic because I never really got in trouble with the law.

(Though if a cop asks you if you’re on drugs, the answer is never to rattle off all the ones you learned about in D.A.R.E. I learned that lesson the hard way.)

Toward the end of high school I stopped wearing them because I realized they were goofy. They remained in my drawer for years, but sometimes I’d allow myself to wear them on laundry day when nothing else was clean.

The first time my dad called me a “faggot” was when I brought home a biker jacket.

I asked for a “black leather jacket” for Christmas, not realizing there were other kinds of jackets.

When I opened the box with my brand-new jacket, I was so confused. Where were all the cool pockets, zippers, and epaulets? The jacket looked preppy, sophisticated, and modern. I wanted to look like someone you should cross the street to avoid.

My parents said I could make an exchange, so a few days after Christmas I went to the upscale Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, Fla., where they bought my gift.

I walked into the leather jacket store but I didn’t see any that looked like the ones the Ramones wore.

When I went to return the jacket, I tried to describe what I wanted, and the sales rep understood.

“We don’t normally carry those, but we might have gotten one in a return,” he said. He then showed me to the back of the store, flipped through the rack, and found one buried behind several others.

Trying on the jacket gave me such incredible euphoria. Not only did I feel cool, but I never had clothes fit me and compliment my body like this.

I couldn’t believe my luck, and was beaming when I left the store with the jacket in a gift box.

I was so excited to show my dad. My heart sank when I got home, pulled the jacket out of the gift box to show him, and he started yelling at me that I looked “like a faggot.”

He was associating them with NYC leather daddies and not with rock’n’roll or Marlon Brando types in The Wild One. I didn’t understand this at the time, and to me the yelling and anger came out of nowhere, which was not unusual for him.

My father was profoundly insecure, and would often tell me he would kill himself if his kids turned out gay.

We got into a screaming match, where he insisted I return my new jacket. The fight only ended after I backed down and told him he had to return it himself. I couldn’t handle anymore verbal abuse to make it worth keeping the jacket.

This wouldn’t be the last time he would yell at me and call me a “faggot.” The next time he tried this one I responded by yelling back, “Yeah, I suck dick! You got a problem with that?”

He became so uncomfortable that he winced, begged me to stop, and never tried that line with me again

Later in college I thrifted a biker jacket from a vintage store, which never fit as well. The shoulders were too wide, and the chest was several sizes too big, even though the tag said medium. I wore it everywhere I could.

Teen angst can only get you so far when you’re driven by what you don’t want out of life.

I didn’t have a blueprint for how to fill out a wardrobe, so I had to figure it out on my own. Teen angst can only get you so far when you’re driven by what you don’t want out of life.

After some awkward trial and error, I learned clothes can make you feel good about yourself when they fit well and are attractive.

Spending a few extra dollars on something like a Fred Perry shirt is worth the cash compared to what I’d find at a big box store.

For some people that might seem obvious, but I was clueless until only a few years ago.

Unlike some of the other goofier fashion choices I made when I was young, I still love biker jackets. I’ve heard people say they’re corny, but they’re also not a fashion statement exclusive to punk, so I could care less.

I know it’s not punk to buy a brand-new biker jacket, but I spent months saving to get one that was sized right for me. My payoff was the same sense of euphoria I got from picking one out from the mall as a teen, except I was fifty pounds heavier when I ordered the jacket, and I was never going to look as thin as the Ramones again.

As a perk, my dad still hates it.

I’d like to think my taste has refined a bit since I was teenager, though I can’t wait until I’m in my sixties, looking back on my thirties, and thinking “what the fuck are you doing wearing that?”

Will Kenneth lives in New York City. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | Instagram | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)