A Golden Age for Metal Style
As they say in fashion, metal is having a moment. Black metal-esque logos, band tees and patches seem ubiquitous all of a sudden, but it’s not because extreme metal musicians are suddenly ubiquitous. Instead, these looks are the fad du jour for the likes of Justin Bieber and Rihanna.
A casual social media skim proves that this irritates a large portion of the metal community. But let’s dare to do the unthinkable and see the silver lining in this, because one exists. Beyond the commotion of rappers and pop stars appropriating the metal aesthetic, a fresh crop of really exciting metal clothing and accessory lines are on the rise, made by metal fans for metal fans. That means new ways to rep metal, most prominently in the streetwear vein. Love doom metal but feel most comfortable in sweatpants or leggings? Those options are growing.
First, the bad news: metal is undeniably a fad right now, and has yet to start its inevitable wane. Fashion has a penchant for plundering the sacred looks of subcultures. Marc Jacobs pissed off grunge fans with his infamous Perry Ellis collection in 1993, and a 2013 punk-themed Metropolitan Museum of Art event had celebrities sputtering to name their favorite punk band (Avril Lavigne and The Goo Goo Dolls, naturally) on the red carpet. But what attracted fashion to metal this time?
Back in 2012, designer Nicolas Ghesquière created sweatshirts inspired by Iron Maiden’s logo for Balenciaga. For this fall, Demna Gvasalia made those black metal hoodies for Vetements. And in between, Kanye West annoyed metalheads by sporting metal-inspired t-shirts, jackets and sweatpants, everyone from Hilary Duff to Lady Gaga have been photographed in band tees, Beyonce borrowed from Slayer on her Formation tour, and Justin Bieber recruited renowned metal artist Mark Riddick to design the merch for his Purpose tour.
This past spring, Steff Yotka theorized why this trend is happening now for Vogue. She mentions the recent shift in the fashion industry: social media saturation and a loss of creativity in favor of pumping out anything Instagrammable foments frustration in the creative sectors of the industry Many fashion lines have lost their creative directors or designers because of this. Yotka posits that those who care about fashion might be purposely choosing edgy looks that raise a defiant middle finger to creativity-crushing business.
Yokta also points out that some recent cultural factors (i.e., Black Sabbath’s much-publicized farewell tour and Deafheaven crossing over into a less extreme metal festival circuit) have bridged metal with the mainstream. David Fehnel of online retailer and New Hope, PA boutique Thirteen Vintage seconds that conclusion.
“In a strange way, Lemmy’s passing seems to have influenced the next generation,” he says. The loss transcended just Motörhead fans; people outside the metal scene took a moment to remember Lemmy--see this Perez Hilton story, for example--and reflect on what he meant for pop culture in general. The common emotion seemed to be one of inspiration. Fehnel thinks people far beyond the metal scene were influenced by Lemmy’s attitude.
He also points out that metal being a trend is like any other look being a trend: fashion is cyclical, and current generations discover past looks as if they’re brand new all over again.
“‘80s and ‘90s have been done for a while,” Fehnel says. “Boho and punk, pin-up--they’ve also been done. So with fashion always changing every couple of months back and forth, I think [people were] getting bored trying to rehash those same dame designs. Goth and metal seemed like the next transition.”
Metal fans need not worry about indie spots like Thirteen Vintage playing the metal dress-up game. Thirteen Vintage and comparable stores (Fetish in Asbury Park, New Jersey, or COSMO and NATHALIA in L.A., for example) are fashion-focused, yes, but have always catered to subcultures regardless of fads. Thirteen Vintage has been stocking metal tees since 2004 and Fehnel says metal/goth styles make up about 25% of the shop’s inventory. Metalheads are up in arms over retailers like H&M, Urban Outfitters and Forever 21’s faux band tees and battle vests.
“It’s lame, and thirsty, and still a little aggravating, but that’s how this shit works; the market sees a demand, it rushes to fill it with a high volume of goods, profits are made, but then demand eventually winds down and the next fad moves in to take its place,” Noisey editor Kim Kelly says.
“Ultimately, it’s not very rock n’ roll to give a shit about what someone else is doing, especially if they have no importance in your life,” says Danielle Statuto, costume designer and bartender at Brooklyn metal institution, Duff’s Bar. “That said, us metalheads are a bunch of stubborn bastards who can get territorial, but hey, we’ve earned every black t-shirt we’ve got. It’s always frustrating when something cherished by a specific group of people gets exploited by mainstream trends...for them to see what they’re passionate about and probably once mocked for now passively tossed in every hip magazine sucks.”
Currently, metal clothing and accessories fall under three categories: appropriated by the kind of stores populate every mall in America, true-blue band merch and under-the-radar indie designers that metalheads hold dear, and a gray area in between that might be too new or too murky to deem definitively positive or negative. Brands like KILLSTAR and e-tailers like Dolls Kill exist in this space. On one hand, both intentionally subversive sites actively target those who embrace a non-conformist spirit, and they’ve been doing so since long before Beliebers started sporting black metal-inspired logos. On the other hand, these e-stores toe a pandering line with their all-pentagrams-all-the-time motif, and the results can be cringe-worthy.
Blatant metal exploiters and overzealous pentagram sellers aside, metal’s mainstream moment has catalyzed a rise of authentic metalwear, sending attention and money to the underground designers who are actually metal fans designing for metal fans. When the trend-followers abandon metal for the next big thing, metal fans will get to keep these new clothing and accessory options for their shopping pleasure. We can bemoan metal being a fad, but it does open up the arena for new ways to celebrate metal style.
Creative types have always riffed on metal style beyond band tees and denim, but the metal fad is shining a brighter light on some new and intriguing designers who are gloriously free of pop star endorsements. Take Speed Clothes, a womenswear line of studded biker jackets and more uniquely, logo-printed leggings, tops and dresses in super sleek spandex.
Speed’s designer, Tanza, started tailoring men’s band tees to fit her the way she wanted them to when she was 14. When a friend asked to buy leggings she’d made in 2011, that put the wheels in motion for Speed Clothes. Now Tanza applies her body-con cuts to the artwork of bands like Ghoul, Satyricon, Possessed and Sodom. She explains her fresh take as an option for female metal fans that was well overdue in the metal community, and not an answer to any passing fad.
“It is time to do something and feel the equality, not just in society, but also in our music environment. [Women] are the same, we love metal as much as men and we work as much as men, sometimes even harder… and we don’t have badass clothing to wear and support the bands that we love, just like men can? I demand to be taken seriously just like any other metalhead, independent of [my] sex.”
For more legitimate brands to happily spend money on, look to Kelly’s 2015 Noisey piece, “H&M Sucks at ‘Metal Fashion,’ But These Independent Brands Deserve Headbangers’ Support.” Among them is ACTUAL PAIN, from the delightfully twisted mind of T.J. Cowgill, a.k.a. King Dude. The line is a clever and underground take on the newish streetwear avenue with darkly punny sweatshirts alongside leather-billed Sigil of Baphomet hats. There’s also Toxic Vision, where all the studded, lace-up and tribal artwork-splashed pieces are one of a kind and have a sexy, stage-worthy slant (the flared pants would be perfectly at home in Alissa White-Gluz’s closet). Kylla Custom Rock Wear creates and sells everything from men’s band-patched biker jackets to women’s band-logo-ed swimsuits, and dresses bands like Watain, Iced Earth and Prong.
Shredders Apparel make sure black metal enthusiasts are prepared for holiday sweater needs, and EMP has some gems if a shopper is armed with patience to sort through some Hot Topic-reminiscent pages. It gets frustrating shopping online for authentic-feeling items, as the majority of sites bounce from uncomfortably cheesy goth to fad fodder, but the good stuff is out there. Just see Speed Clothes or ACTUAL PAIN for proof, and when in doubt, there are the old stand-bys like Tripp NYC. By the time pop stars have moved on, we might have even more exciting designers to add to the list of brands we can call all our own.
That time of death for the metal trend in fashion is probably soon, according to store owners like Fehnel, writers like Kelly and MTV.com’s David Turner and fans like Statuto. Should they choose to engage in it, headbangers can look forward to the return of metal dressing into their well-deserving hands.
“It’ll run its course and fade into obscurity, as all trends do,” Kelly says. “Ten years from now, whatever Buzzfeed will eventually permute into will be running “Which of These Totally Retro 2010s Looks Are You?” with a photo of that Riddick-designed Bieber shirt as a header.”
“Remember back in the early 2000s when every pop star had a weird punk rock identity crisis?” Statuto points out. “That went away. Authentic punk rock did not go away, though, and it will be the same with metal, and whatever’s next. Trends come and go. The people that view metal as a life, not a trend, they’re not going anywhere.”
As metal fans with a sense of fashion awareness, both Kelly and Statuto promote an attitude of not getting too bogged down by A-listers faux-repping metalwear. Instead, metalheads can keep on keeping on, and enjoy the widened array of options for adding--authentically--to their wardrobes. Support the designers who have experienced a boon from increased metal “fashion” attention and will still be serving up unique metal looks for metal folks for years to come.
“Do what thou wilt,” Kelly advises. “Just ‘cause some silly pop star is wearing a hat with a Bathory logo doesn’t mean you can’t rep them, too.”