Subcultural Stylin’, 1980s-1990s

Though remembered in popular culture as an era of power suits, supermodels, and the motto "greed is good," the 1980s and 1990s saw the proliferation of subcultures, including punk and hip-hop, in which girls were active participants in pushing back against the mainstream. Activism against AIDS in the 1980s also inspired a generation of queer youth to fashion a culture for themselves.

Punk

As an underground culture outside of corporate control, punk gave girls the means to express unruly politics and feelings in unconventional ways.

These bracelets...are part of what I called my 'armor,' and I wore many layers of these types of items when I was performing. I also wore the armor to shows, partly as decoration and partly for protection if I was on the dance floor in a club.

—Karen Maeda Allman, 1984

Courtesy of Karen Maeda Allman

Courtesy of Karen Maeda Allman

Karen Maeda Allman's

Karen Maeda Allman's "Armor," 1984

Gift of Karen Maeda Allman

Zines, 1980s–1990s

Girls used zines, among other forms of self-expression, to redefine fashion and body image, reject consumer culture, and express anger—something girls were not supposed to be.

 

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I bought Aqua Net and Maybelline eyeliner in black, the kind with the pointy red cap that I watched my chola cousins in LA heat with a match before applying to their eyes, rimming the water line dark black and penciling all around the outside, too, enhancing the almond shape of their eyes with a long black wing.

—Michelle Gonzales, recalling the 1980s

Michelle Gonzales's Shirt, 1984

Michelle Gonzales, around 1984

Michelle Gonzales, around 1984

Courtesy of Michelle Gonzales

Selena designed her own costumes.

Selena, 1993

Selena, 1993

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Alfred and Elizabeth Rendon

Curator Kathy drew this in 1986. MTV fused music and fashion.

Courtesy of Kathy Franz

Madonna, 1990

Madonna, 1990

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Woman at the Vex nightclub

Woman at the Vex nightclub

Courtesy of Gary Leonard/Shades of LA Photo Collection/ Los Angeles Public Library

A member of our team, Laura, seated.

Courtesy of Laura McClure

Girls and Hip-Hop

In the black expressive culture of hip-hop, girls found new avenues to express their pain and their joy through rap, dance, and a brash style for carrying themselves through the world.

Female Rappers, Class of 1988

Female Rappers, Class of 1988

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture © Janette Beckman

Nameplate Necklace, 2010s

Nameplate Necklace, 2010s

Nameplate Earrings, 2018

Nameplate Earrings, 2018

Salt-N-Pepa, 1989

Salt-N-Pepa, 1989

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Photo by Al Pereira © Al Pereira

B-Girls, 1984

Gift of Lane Davey

View object record

B-girls adopted particular fashions, like these shoes, to dance and make a style statement.

B-Girl Laneski's Puma Sneakers, 1984