There is no shortage of books on youth subcultures. Generally they fall into two types, popular and academic. Many popular works are written by rock journalists with strong editorial biases. Others are written by subcultural participants who also have agendas to push. Scholarly works are more objective but are often aimed at graduate level sociology students. Even if you are really interested in youth sociology these can be hard dry reading. Finding accessible, reasonably objective survey works for a reader who just wants to be a bit more “literate” about youth subcultures can be a challenge, but this book is good start.

Streetstyle: from sidewalk to catwalk by anthropologist Ted Polhemus was originally written as a companion book for an exhibition by the same name at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It stayed in continuously in print for more than a decade after the exhibit closed and is still readily available. It has a very visual approach presenting subcultures as “style tribes.” It covers nearly ever style based subculture that emerged in the English speaking world from the 1940s through its 1994 publication. Many of these groups, such as goths and punks, are still around. Those that aren’t still have influence on current issues of style and identity. Streetstyle is truly accessible but its biggest strength is the author’s clear belief in cultural relativism. Every subculture is of worth to its participants and Polhemus’ writing reflects that.

He introduces the book with a brief portrait The Edwardian Drape Society (T.E.D.S.) a teddy boy group in existence decades after the 1950s heyday of the original teddy boy subculture. He uses them as an example of tenacity of subcultures and the dedication of their participants. These are themes that run throughout the book. He concludes with examples of subcultural and stylistic cross over that was a growing trend in the nineteen nineties. New subcultures have emerged since Streetstyle’s publication and brevity of each section forces him to oversimplify frequently but as an introduction to the world of subculture I have yet to see this book equaled.

About Eric Chamberlin

Prior to becoming a librarian I studied youth subcultures as part of a masters program at NYU. I'm a contributing author to Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes. After starting my career as a substitute librarian I have moved into youth services. I currently work for the San Diego Public Library System.

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