Reader Request: A Touch of Punk

punk styleIn response to my What Do You Want to Look Like? post, reader Queen of Sheba replied:

LOVE this entry! It has inspired me to ask my own question: I love a little punkiness or a little tough, but I have no desire to dress like a 12-year-old Hot Topic wannabe (I’m 27), and most of the places I shop (I’m cheap! thrift/vintage, H&M, sales) aren’t very heavy on the punk influence. How do I add some punk or tough influences to what I wear, and where do I look to find pieces that will help me do this? (I’m a lucky, lucky postdoc, so I can wear whatever I want!)

I was positively gleeful upon receiving this question because I feel the EXACT same way. I’ve heard many arguments about what it means to BE “punk,” a term that has floated around for ages but definitely morphed in meaning. I’m pretty sure that a little London Calling here and there is as punk as I get in real life, but aspects of classic punk style call to me like little rebellious sirens, luring me toward all things spiked and leathery. So here’s what I’d recommend to a woman who wants to add just a dash of punk to her everyday style.

Studded accessories

studd bracelet

Studs of all types fall in and out of favor, trend-wise, but they’re a classic embellishment for punk looks. The type that tends to get the side-eye from trend hounds is the silver pyramid stud, and it’s easy enough to embrace this accent without investing in a stud-encrusted black leather jacket. The Diesel bracelet shown above is one of my long-time faves (no longer available), and is composed of gunmetal discs in pyramid stud shapes. Studded belts are nearly always chic, and black leather boots with a few studs will never fall out of fashion. Studded accessories might be the quickest, cheapest, and subtlest way to inject a little punk into your look. If bracelets, belts, and shoes don’t send you, cruise around Etsy for some studded inspiration.

Motorcycle boots

moto boots
Boots of any type – studded or not – are key to many punk looks. Tall or short, flat or heeled, a good pair of black leather, buckle-adorned motorcycle boots is a fantastic asset to have on-hand. The Timberland Savin Hill pair pictured above is a classic tall, two-buckle style, though shorter versions like Frye’s Veronica Short are equally fun. Moto boots can also be thrifted or eBayed for cheap! While the taller style works best with tights during the fall and winter months, short motorcycle boots will get year-round use paired with flirty dresses or slim pants.

Layered necklaces

layered necklace
Delicate layers are lovely, but for a punk-influenced look, load on three or more chunky chains. This pre-layered version from Kim & Maki is no longer available, but you can make your own layered-look necklace using multiple thrifted or already-owned pieces. I love my pile o’ black necklaces, and plunk it on often enough to consider it a signature piece. Layers can be cheaply acquired via vintage, antique, and thrift stores.


plaid shirt
Tartan itself hints at punk, but to really bring out its Westwood-esque potential you’ll need to pair it with something black or leather or studded. Ideally, go for black/red-based tartans. Shirts like this one will work, though wool skirts or jackets are even better. (Never forget that tartans are eternal and can be thrifted!)

Asymmetric/moto style jackets

asymmetric jacket

Notice that this jacket is neither black nor leather? Any jacket in the moto style – with an asymmetric zipper and large lapels – will invoke punk. At least slightly. So if you’re hoping for overtones but not over-the-top, any moto style jacket will do the trick. (This one is J.Crew. Again.) Hit thrift and consignment stores for bargain/secondhand versions!

Those are my easy tips for adding some punk pops to a generally tame wardrobe. All will work with conservative looks, all utilize items that are easy to track down, and all can be done on the cheap. And, just as requested, Queen of Sheba can pull off these punky touches without looking like she raided her local Hot Topic.

Top image courtesy J.Crew

Originally posted 2009-03-06 07:15:00.

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26 Responses to “Reader Request: A Touch of Punk”

  1. Samantha

    Can I please tell you how much I freaking LOVE that last outfit? That is what I want to look like. All the time. I swear I’m quite nice and sane and not a crazy stalker-type, but OMG I am crazy about that outfit. Nicely done.

  2. enc

    You’re right about all these items. They’re all easily procured, and easily integrated into almost any wardrobe.

    If Queeny wants to take a giant Punk step, however, I’d suggest she get herself a black leather jacket. 😉

  3. K.Line

    I add asymmetrically cut clothes (but black) and distressed leather jacket to the mix!

  4. issa

    ooh all of these are great suggestions.. studded items are a plenty now.. and motorcycle boots seem to be in high demand as well.. what about those DIY shredded Tee’s.. not good on everyone.. but definitely lean more towards that punk genre

  5. kittyscreations

    I love, love, love this post. My overall style tends towards the feminine and soft, but I love to occasionally mix it up with some punk sensibilities, especially if I’m going to a show.

  6. Courtney

    Fantastic post! I love steampunk influences (kinda different, but related and LOTS of fun)! I just started trying to incorporate it into my wardrobe a few months ago. I add leather jackets, motorcycle/aviator cut jackets with floaty white scarves, distressed metal accessories like wide cuff bracelets, and high heeled boots with metal detailing. Metal seems to make all the difference in the world 🙂

  7. Hate This And I'll Love You

    I'd like to think I was an expert on this;

    – Big black boots. I have 20 eyelet patent doc martens.
    – Contrasting colours. I love red and black in a Pop Art kind of way.
    – Chrome accessories.
    – Fishnets / Lace tights.
    – Ripped black jeans (look good if paired with very plain clothing – these are a statement piece so need to take full stage with no accessories. The same applies to tartan. Wear it with black.)
    – Take inspiration from Rockabilly. Polka dots, hair flowers, tattoo motifs, fifties tailoring, pale skin – bright lipstick.
    – Grown up stripes. A stripy jumper dress with black hosiery and black boots can look really stylish.
    – Black leather jacket. (Easier said than done, I can't find one I like for less than 100 quid)
    – Sunglasses. I go for Rayban knock offs or cat eye sunglasses with diamantes.
    – Introduce colour to your hair, I know people in their twenties & thirties who do this in a stylish way. You might not be able to get away with bright vivid colours, but how about black with hidden elegant purple colours?

    Remember the whole punk clothes ethic is based on getting something cheap and customizing it – rather than spending lots of money on one piece. Maybe you could adopt that as a new style regime – rather than trying to adopt punk symbols in to your wardrobe.

  8. futurelint

    I love a good motorcycle jacket and have thrifted a few lovely black ones… but for spring and a less hardcore look, I really want a white one like this,-product.startDate&navCount=45&navAction=poppushpush&color=&pushId=W_APP_VESTS&popId=WOMENS_APPAREL&prepushId=

  9. Katie

    Though not really “punk”, retro stuff is EVERYWHERE these days. I really like the rockabilly stuff, which can be easily added to a somewhat more conservative wardrobe for impact. For instance, I have a red enamel swallow necklace that is styled like a tattoo and I’ll wear that with an otherwise standard outfit… here come the compliments! So, if it’s that rock style you’re into, pencil skirts and animal prints are a must 🙂

  10. Casey

    I tend not to veer into punk territory, but my younger sister does, so I’m slightly familiar with the whole look. Plus, I rather love the punk elements in Vivienne Westwood and Betsey Johnson’s fashion designs! 😉 I second (or third…) the suggestion for a good leather jacket. Nothing says punkish like that! A tip: if you’re on the smaller side, check out the children’s section of thrift shops. My sis found an awesome (like I tried to abduct it when I got married and moved 😉 brown leather jacket for under $5 in the kid’s clothes!

  11. Winnie

    Definitely the studded belt is a great punk touch! It always adds a little bit of an edge!

  12. lisa

    Great tips! Some other things I’d like to add to the list are chunky heels or wedges with thick straps, leather wraparound cuffs, something in a neon colour, and fingerless gloves.

  13. Kayleigh

    What a GREAT post — as a former punk myself (can you say CBGB’s, yup, I’ve played there!) I thought your take on translating little touches into your outfits was genius…seriously, GENIUS.

    Loved this 🙂

  14. Budget Babe

    ok leather jacket has already been mentioned. what about black or dark gray nail polish? that can be edgy and chic 🙂


    The necklace and bracelet are terrific!

    How about studded clutches and handbags? A gorgeous leather (or faux leather) clutch with metallic studs… tough and pretty.

  16. Keeg's Mom

    Make yr central focus a ’60s or ’70s polyester, slightly ugly piece that looks very out of place, and pair it with some majorly outrageous shoes (big platforms, wedges, many Fleuvogs would work) and one surprising accessory: huge belt? hair wrap (Aqua Net any visible hair!)? A scarf made out of a couple pair of knotted black tights?

    I think putting the completely unexpected together conveys ‘punk’ in one way or another. So do “untrendy” vintage pieces.

  17. Nina (femme rationale)

    another great post, sal! you really provided great tips. and can i just tell you how much i love the last photo of you…you are SOOOO PRETTY w/ur hair pulled back.

  18. BarkingDogShoes

    That last outfit is killer. You look so elegant with a touch of rocker chick. Those boots…who makes them??

  19. Laura

    I’d look to Kate Lanphear if I were to try to create a grown-up punk look.
    One thing that I don’t think was mentioned and that I think is essential is a good haircut. You don’t have to go all Kate for that, but her cut adds edge to everything she wears. Even a girly dress will look edgier just because of her haircut. I think that “punk” accessories are so mainstream these days, leather jacket included, that wearing, say, a regular outfit with a leather jacket and a studded belt does not come across as any punkier than the next girl, which is why I would insist on getting funky hair.
    Oh, and nail polish is always a plus!

  20. dapper kid

    It’s wonderful how a simple studded accessory can totally change a look. And I sooo want some motorcycle boots!

  21. The Seeker

    My dear Sal, I’m so sorry for not have been here sooner, but I don’t know why I’m not receiving your feeds trough Blglovin’.
    I was surprised that you weren’t posting so today I decided to come directly and OMG I saw you’ve been posting great stuff that i’ve been missing.
    I’m so sorry, something isn’t right, but I’ll take more care with it and would’t trust only the app.

    Great posts, food for thought and you looking always sooooooooo beautiful, here what I found.

    So hope you’ll have a great weekend, dear.


  22. Jen Hill

    I’m loving this look on you.

    Yay! I’m humming Violent Femmes right now…

  23. budget chic

    I like all these looks and I know you do it for pennies on the dollar!!

  24. Queen of Sheba

    OOH OOH OOH! That’s me!! I win!! Such good tips, Sally–and I love your commenters’ suggestion of a black leather jacket. I’ve been looking for a sleek motorcycle jacket forEVER, and so far I haven’t found one that I a) like and b) am willing to pay for.

    Sources of good, varied, and affordable leather jackets is another big question I have. . . *le sigh*

    But you rock, your advice rocks, your blog rocks–this totally made my day!