The Future is Unwritten: Joe Strummer's Punk Rock Americana Fusion | The Sound of Style
Sound of Style is a recurring series written by Logan Hannen breaking down style in the world of music and offering alternatives to musicians (sometimes) luxurious clothing choices
When I say “punk rock,” your brain probably goes one of two places - Place #1) The Sex Pistols, the loud and proud young lads with a penchant for getting themselves in all kinds of trouble and generally balking at the establishment, or Place #2) The Clash, the righteous fighters with a bone to pick, a plan for how to pick it, and the talent to make it heard far and wide. In the case of the former, we have some…interesting stylistic choices. With the latter, we have perhaps the truest symbol of punk rock we will ever see on this Earth - Joe Strummer.
Joe fronted The Clash for the duration of the band’s run, more or less, and went on to have a pretty stellar and eclectic solo career upon The Clash’s decision to part ways. Well, we say “decided to part ways”…let’s not get into the particularly nasty breakup that befell The Clash, but the point is this - Joe continued to make an impact on music even beyond the confines of his most famous project. He would carry this torch right up until his death in 2002, and his legacy of take-no-sh*t, raw honesty inspires millions to this very day (yours truly included). For that reason, and infinitely more, we’re going to take a look today at what made the indomitable king of punk rock not just sound cool, but look the part a million times over.
The above shot is probably what pops to mind when you think of someone like Joe - beat to all hell leather jacket, tight black pants, Mohawk, the works. And to be fair, this was definitely the look for a long while. It came with the territory to be sure, and while I would caution anyone against trying to copy it too directly (looking contrived is very much not a punk rock thing to do, after all), there are some things here worth stealing.
The first is the way the jacket has been beaten to within an inch of its life. This is a garment that has seen things. It’s been through rain and snow and wind and just about everything else Mother Nature can throw at it and, somehow, it’s still together. It’s a testament not to recklessness or negligence, but rather to a life thoroughly and completely lived. And sure, you could dig around for a jacket of a similar distress new, or find one at a thrift store that’s already been put through the paces, I’d hardly recommend either option. Joe would wanna see you in something that is uniquely yours, that’s a sign of who you are and how you’ve lived your life. Pick one up new and let it see the world alongside you - in a few years, you’ll be glad you did.
Next is the shoes. Yeah, a lot of the same applies to them as does the jacket with regard to developing your own unique patina and whatnot, but the thing I really want to hone in on here is who made them. Joe’s shoes here, and for much of his career, were made by a company called George Cox. George Cox is, to my mind, the unforgotten hero of the world of punk rock footwear. I touched on this briefly in my article detailing the history of Dr. Martens, but the whole thing is that, according to George Cox, they were the brand, not Dr. Martens, that were being stocked in Vivienne Westwood’s London shop SEX, the mecca for the cultural outcasts of the era. The shoes are how John Lydon (better known as Johnny Rotten) found his way meandering into being the frontman for The Sex Pistols, and they’ve been on the feet of everyone from Glenn Matlock to David Bowie.
It’s unclear if the pair Joe is always seen in is the same one, just perpetually resoled, or if he continued buying new ones over the years, but these, along with a pair of motorcycle boots, were a constant companion for him for much of his days. The beautiful thing about these shoes is this - they’re still available from George Cox directly. Now, they’re not cheap (they’ll set you back 240 Great British Pounds, or just over $300), but to get the shoes Joe wore, made by the people who made them when he did (or, at least, the company), if you’re a fan of the man and his music is totally worth it if you ask me. If you don’t like the ones he wore, they have a number of other options, including a pair of snuff colored suede chukka boots that remind me big time of the ones by Sanders & Sanders that Steve McQueen used to wear. Either way, a bevy of options there. If you’re looking for something more affordable, then I have just the thing…
Would it really be me if I didn’t somehow rope Doc Martens into it as a suggestion. To be fair, though, these shoes, the Dr. Martens Willis, work here on a few levels. First, they’re similarly styled. Second, they’re currently on sale for $91, which is the opposite of a bad deal if you ask me. Third, they’re from the brand everybody assumes all the punks were wearing at the time, so while you can still catch a bit of that subtlety by them not being obvious Docs, they’re still gonna carry the same kind of street cred that you’d hope such shoes would earn you. Oh, and they look damn good to boot. Now, they may be on sale, but knowing what that means in the world of Doc Martens, chances are once they sell out, they’re toast for the foreseeable future, so if you want a pair, best get on them now while you still can.
One of the stylistic choices Joe very deliberately made all the time was to allow as much Americana and Rockabilly aesthetic influence his wardrobe as he could manage without looking tacky. Before he was at the head of The Clash, Joe was in another band, this one called the 101ers. The thing that The 101ers did very well (or very poorly, depending on who you ask) is fused rockabilly music with the kind of volatile British climate they were living in in a style that nearly resembled punk rock, but only nearly. With that kind of musical influence comes one of a more sartorial nature, and Joe never fully managed to shed that part of his identity.
Take the above photo, for instance - in it, we see Joe playing guitar. On the surface, nothing fancy, but look closer at the shirt. It’s heavily western inspired in its design, exactly the kind of thing you might see the guys in The Stray Cats wear. The buttons are clearly white, very likely the standard Mother of Pearl snap buttons you tend to see on such shirts. The collar is wide, but not 1970s hysterically so. The arm holes are cut high enough that they allot for some all-important range of motion. The plackets on the pockets, perhaps most tellingly, are not only sharply pointed, but double cut to make them stand out some more. I can’t tell from here if it’s a shadow or not, but it even looks like he might be wearing a bolo tie, something he was known to do from time to time. Now, since I haven’t done much of this in this article, let’s take a look at some ways you can get this look yourself.
Now, for Joe, or really anyone in England in the era, there wasn’t access to some of the more purpose built, actually used in the field of ranching type garments that American artist may have been able to find. I can in no way confirm that a brand like Wrangler would have been any more available, but they’re certainly a more commercial entity, and that’s exactly the kind of brands that guys like Joe would have to work with. This Cowboy Cut Chambray Snap Front shirt is a prime example of that. Wrangler has the workwear cred, but also the affordability (this shirt comes in at about $30) to make them accessible to artists at any point in their careers. Stylistically, plenty of the same elements are there, and this particular example comes with the added benefit of being versatile enough to be worn no matter how rebellious you’re feeling.
Feel like taking it up a notch? The other thing that Joe would strongly encourage in the wardrobe department is accessories.
Now I know what you’re thinking - “But Logan, he’s literally just electrical taped a sweatband to his arm.” And you would be 100% correct. However, I’m not encouraging the same thing because, frankly, it sounds uncomfortable unless you’re playing on stage in the middle of the day. What you can do instead is get yourself a larger leather cuff that will give the same kind of look, but in a way that is infinitely more stylish. Take, for example, one that I actually have owned for a couple of years now. It’s by a company called The Urban Wrist, and this specific one is a replica of one of Hunter S. Thompson's from his time running for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. I love the thing, and it looks pretty sick on top of it all.
It’s an inch and a half wide and made in the USA, if that matters to you. I’ve got a couple of the brand’s products, and I’ve been into each one. They have a multitude of styles if Hunter’s isn’t quite working for you. The point being, you want your clothes to be nearly conventional, with a dash of something that’s just a bit different upon inspection, but when it comes to the shoes, and the accessories, that’s your shot to elevate the style and truly embody the raw, unbridled passion of the one and only Joe Strummer. The future is unwritten, geeks - write it how you see fit.
Other Articles in the “Sound of Style Series” by Logan Hannen