Punk’s not dead!

How did Poland, a nation that had just regained its independence after more than a century of partitions, live out the famous Roaring Twenties?

Punk rock and its signature anarchist style was as much at home in Warsaw as it was on London’s King’s Road. The legendary Jarocin rock music festival was a carnival of punk style – with its leather jackets with hand-painted anarchist slogans, weathered t-shirts and clunky boots. You could see plenty of mohawked heads bobbing along to the music, as concertgoers sloshed about in the mud, channeling their frustrations and their palpable political undercurrent. 

Of course, each trend (itself a manifestation of cultural identity) stands in opposition to another.  In Poland, this meant the appearance of skinheads with their vile attitudes and nationalist beliefs.

There were also the metalheads with their long hair and their skull-embossed t-shirts. Over time, elements of each of these styles began permeating into the mainstream: ripped jeans, leather jackets, plaid shirts and wild hairstyles are a style legacy our generation gladly inherited from the punk rockers of the ‘80s. 

However, the decadent fashions that came over from the well-to-do West, such as shoulder pads and oversized clothing, see-through blouses and glittery evening gowns, also made their mark on Poland’s nightlife scene. And the polyester tracksuit made its foray onto the scene via Turkish bazaars.

The most intriguing aspect of ‘80s fashion in Poland was the way that politics filtered into self-expression. There was a conscious effort to create and wear pins or other accessories to exhibit a particular political stance. The most blatant examples of political messaging in fashion were the first statement t-shirts, made popular by Vivienne Westwood. These were paired with military-style pieces to create the “konspira” look, manifesting one’s individual struggle against an unjust regime.

A favorite place for Polish punks beginning in 1980, the Jarocin Festival takes place every year in the town of Jarocin. For many years it was one of the biggest and most important rock music festivals in the Eastern Bloc, if not all of Europe, in the 1980s.