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subculture on a screen:

fashion subculture in the age of hypermodernity





Image 1: The Boy Who Knew Too Much, November 7, 2018, @lilacparis.

Fashion subcultures, who’s documentation only began in the mid-twentieth century, have been intrinsically connected to the materiality of the items which formulate their cultural meaning since the beginning[1]. However, as the fashion system develops throughout the twenty-first century in tandem with new technology, and new mediums for dissemination working at increasing speeds, subcultures cannot exist in the same way as they once had. While there are clearly still distinct fashion styles shared by groups in today’s landscape, it is necessary to identify the practices that participants of these groups engage in, and how the changing technological landscape influences their expression of fashion and subculture.

Activities of specific style genres are visible through their performance and self-identification on one of today’s most popular social media platforms, Instagram, through the creation of collages which feature fashion constructions and collections of objects that convey an idealized lifestyle. As the organization and cohesion of these groups necessitates a deeper meaning behind the creation of these collages aside from mere self-expression, these groups and their activities must be contrasted against known subcultures which predate them in order to clarify how they are an extension of original subculture.


These practices have come to exist in an increasingly digitized world compared to their predecessors, and their unique positioning as a new form of subcultural practice is related to the rise of a hypermodern society. Additionally, the images depict a reactionary response to hypermodernity, capturing elements of a nostalgic and purified lifestyle through the use of vintage symbols, objects and styling, as well as photographic editing techniques such as adding film grain, which are all elements featured in image 1. Through the analysis of fashion collages posted to Instagram by user @lilacparis, who’s images will formulate the case study of this research, as well as an exploration of the works of many authors of a plethora of backgrounds, this essay will affirm that the practice of Instagram fashion collages is a progression of subculture into the digital age of hypermodernity as fashion subculture is converted from a material form of lifestyle into images expressed in the online life. 

In order to properly discern whether or not contemporary fashion groupings of the 2010s can be compared to traditionally recognized subcultures, it is necessary to define what a subculture is. Firstly, this essay will conduct a historical exploration, which for the purpose of this paper will be considered as subculture activity beginning in late 1950s up until end of the twentieth century when online environments began developing, to recognize which attributes traditional subcultures consisted of and discern defining aspects. This exploration will outline how subcultures are produced, and by whom in comparison to the contemporary ways subculture is expressed on social media platforms, emphasizing the importance of collage. Once the phenomenon of subculture can be identified through its practices, it will be analyzed within the context of a forthcoming digital age to understand how the key aspects of subculture are reinterpreted for social media. This essay will discuss the online practices of those participating in fashion through both this new interpretation of subculture, as well as other spheres, such as blogging, that construct fashion identities as the fashion image exists in multiple versions in online environments beyond subculture.


This essay will, however, define which specific practices can be considered that of subculture in comparison to other meanings of the fashion image. The recognition of online practices in different fashion communities will provide an understanding of the meaning behind activities on social media, and the differences and similarities between these activities and the engagement of subcultures at the end of the twentieth century. Finally, this essay will analyze the shift in mediums through which fashion is disseminated and communicated, and how this change in media ultimately reforms subculture into this new iteration. This interpretation will consider the valuation of online subcultural practices, and whether the lack of proximity and materiality in the creation of subcultural images limits these collages from being considered true subcultural practice, through the theoretical lens of Walter Benjamin’s discussion on art in the mechanical age.


Attributes of the Instagram Collage

Despite Instagram’s original purpose as a social photo sharing application, over the years it has developed into a platform for different communities to collect and share images of all types that appeal to their hobbies[2]. A noticeable trend over the last several years is a growing community of Instagram users who create image collages of fashion items as well as other symbols that are representative of specific styles which follow patterns and have particular music cultures and attitudes attached. These collages are often accompanied by text on the image which describes characteristics of the style types represented to give further context into the attitudes, behaviours and preferences of these groupings. These collage makers refer to their images as “mood boards” or “niche memes”, and express and document particular fashion niches which are popular within these online environments.


Further, these accounts often feature personal stories and anecdotes of the image creator in the caption, such as the caption concerning schoolwork on @lilacparis’ November 20th 2018 post[3], showing community building and comfortable personal connection amongst those that create these images. Ultimately, these images portray an aestheticized version of reality, and utilize nostalgia and romanticism to construct an ideal lifestyle. Taylor Lorenz describes the Instagram collage community in one of the only articles published as of 2018 regarding this emerging group, stating “Moodboards are artfully designed digital collages. The moodboards on Instagram aim to mimic the physical moodboards that designers have utilized for decades. A 1970s-inspired moodboard, for instance, could include cut outs of things like bell bottoms, a disco ball, and other retro clothing.”[4], highlighting the collection and vintage aspects of these collages. The images frequently feature vintage objects as well as fashion styles, which are curated in a contemporary format, and imply the creation of an escapist and whimsical lifestyle. Although these notions are visible across the entire community of Instagram collage makers, this research will focus particularly on the work of popular user @lilacparis, as well as their collaborations with other members of the community to illustrate patterns. While the images are focused around created outfits, collected objects and written text supports this nostalgic dream world that the images suggest should be captured by participants.


Defining Hypermodernity

As this essay discusses the changes in subcultural practices under developments in technology, it is necessary to outline the concept of hypermodernity, describing it as an understanding of the new ways we interact as a society. Hypermodernity is a relatively new concept concerned with new technology that impacts the spaces we engage with one another in[5]. While some of the subcultures analyzed in the historical exploration of subculture drift into the technologized era of the new millennium, the Instagram collage is an absolute example of the shift in the expression of subculture under new media. This subcultural practice is a development entirely under the influence of hypermodernity, but what is hypermodernity, and what influence does it hold specifically over the expression of fashion?

In Eric W. Kula’s comprehensive exploration of hypermodernity, the author opens by describing this phenomenon as “the emergence of “technological spaces” (which are both spatially bound and temporally extensive) and to form a technologized interpretation of human behaviour that occurs in and between such spaces”[6], insinuating that hypermodernity is concerned with the new digital space that society is confronted with, and how we behave and take up these spaces. A common example of hypermodernity is the societal shift from being concerned with the physical object such as a smart phone, and instead focusing on the capabilities of the object, such as its connection to online environments.


The rising prominence of the fashion image over the physical garment is exemplary of this phenomenon within the fashion world. Images in themselves are the focus of fashion in the online space of sharing and curation, and the practice of Instagram collage is an extension of this change in the realm of subculture. As our environments expand beyond the material,and into a digitized realm, there is less concern with physical fashion objects, garments, and collections which form the symbols of a subculture, and instead these physical objects can exist purely online as two-dimensional images which are posted and shared to ones personal account. This dematerialization will be outlined through the contrast with previously defined subcultures throughout this essay, in order to understand how exactly subculture has adapted for an online world.


Subculture: A Phenomenon of the 20th Century

Traditionally identified subcultures began to gain notoriety in the 1950s, and were not only a fashion statement but also a set of symbols, cultural practices, and lifestyle. These early subcultures shaped the styles and practices of the youth of the time, and because of their prominence in popular cultural, countless authors have covered the process and practices of these groups. In his essay “Style”, John Clarke studies one of the earliest recognized British subcultures, the Teddy Boys, in an effort to determine where style and subculture develops, and how signs and symbols are assigned within subcultures. While analyzing the Teddy Boys, Clarke describes the way subcultures are fashioned through “transformation and re-signification”[7], taking styles from previous periods and assigning them new meanings that are solely interpreted through the specific subcultural grouping. From the beginning of subculture, these cultures have been constructed from a collection and reinterpretation of symbols, images and meanings.

Clarke attaches Lévi-Strauss’ concept of bricolage to this phenomenon, quoting Lévi-Strauss’ definition as “the re-ordering and re-contextualization of objects to communicate fresh meanings, within a total system of significances, which already includes prior and sedimented meanings attached to the objects used.”[8], clarifying that subculture is consistently identified with the construction of meaning around collected and juxtaposed symbols since its inception. The Teddy Boys were deeply associated with pieces of Edwardian style, such as the iconic morning suit jackets that marked them, but styled the historical-look garments with contemporary quiff hairstyles and creeper shoes[9]. It is this contrast of the historical garment and contemporary styles that created a unique culture compared to the original of the individual objects selected. While Clarke notices the ways Teddy Boys engage in a form of collage on the body to create new subcultural meaning, participants of the Instagram Fashion collage community specifically curate pieces together as well, forming meaning through their flat lay collages of images of clothing and items. By associating selected descriptive and poetic text alongside clothing articles and objects together, some of which have been borrowed from their past, formulate new style context in the same way that Teddy Boys engaged with Victorian fashion. Evidently, this is one of the earliest markers of the construction of subcultures, and comparisons with Clarkes work place the Instagram collage in dialogue with one of the earliest and most definite subcultures of the twentieth century.

Dick Hebdige follows Clarke’s work in his paper “The Meaning of Mod”, researching notable subcultures of the twentieth century, and defining characteristics of the British mod subculture, which followed the Teddy Boys into the 1960s. This subculture was also heavily focused on fashion aesthetics which marked the subculture as different than polite society, such as motor scooters and clean-cut Italian suits[10], but Hebdige describes the way mods further fleshed out a more detailed lifestyle beyond visual symbols. Hebdige asserts that subcultures are more than a collection of aesthetics, but rather a way of being in response to popular society, as mods intentionally lived outside of societal expectations[11]. The author describes the importance to redefining meaning in every aspect of the mods life when he states “This pattern, which amounted to the semantic arrangement of those components of the objective world which the mod style required, was repeated at every level of the mod experience and served to preserve a part at least of the mods private dimension…”[12], asserting that mods convey the core meaning of their subculture through all material aspects selected to represent them. Essentially, through the collection of commodities, there is a constructed way of living, or lifestyle of the mod, as opposed to a simple fashion centered style.


Image 2: A Rainy Day Autumn Date, October 18, 2018, @lilacparis.

Instagram fashion collage makers mimic this phenomenon in an online environment in their incorporation of symbolized objects in the collections they post to Instagram. Along with the added text, there is a clear narrative and aura developed around the life they construct through the curation of images. Much in the same way mods conducted their lives through a similar template of youthful partying, consuming amphetamines, and travelling by scooter to low income jobs to support their unsustainable lifestyle[13], these collages construct a clear aestheticized teen lifestyle focused on the creation of art and adventure in every aspect of life which is exemplified in the title, imagery selection, and narrative text in image 2. Collections of objects within the collages, such as vintage looking books, records, and old-fashioned home wear indicates an escapist desire to curate a preferable reality to that of today’s hypermodern existence. Lorenz’s research explains how this online space becomes one of escapism, claiming “Moodboards provide a digital escape, essentially allowing users to create small fantasy worlds.”[14] which mirrors the construction of eternal youth by the mod through the consumption of specific symbolic objects, and the practice of partying[15] in response to a societal imposition of security. Ultimately, this Instagram community creates an image of their own idealized lifestyle through intangible collages as our society and lifestyles become more digitized just as mods formed a distinct lifestyle in reality, and both are in response to a dissatisfaction with their current reality.


Heike Jenss contributes to the analysis of Mod culture from a more recent perspective in her chapter “Icons of Modernity: Sixties Fashion and Youth Culture”, and describes the role of women in mod subculture, arguing that female mods were equal members and participants, as Hebdige, and Clarke before her make no effort to research women within subcultures. Jenss asserts that female mods had their own system of cohesive symbols and styles that were in tandem with male mods but were unique in their development[16]. Throughout history, the majority of work pertaining to subculture focuses on the fashion practices of male participants, however, this does not mean female participants to not exist[17]. Taylor Lorenz describes how the majority of the Instagram collage community is female stating, “The community is comprised almost entirely of 12-to-18-year-old young women (though there are several prominent teen male mood borders), who use mood boards as a creative outlet.”[18], and it is evident that the participants primarily construct feminized images of their idealized lifestyle.


Jenss maintains that young women within subcultures are creating their own space within the subculture[19], and while many young women on Instagram do practice proliferating of trends, the collages in question do not imitate what is currently disseminated in pop culture. Instagram collage makers, much like the young mod women studied by Jenss, forge their own collective identity as a community which differs from the many current style directions of the late 2010s, as they are not reflective of the popular athleisure, “baddie” or Parisienne styles that are recognizable as popular fashion trends on the app. The clear identification with vintage fashion and objects, and textual additions that forge a sense of nostalgia are distinct from mainstream fashion in the same way female mod fashion was. Evidently, the Instagram collage community is responding to popular fashion trends and stepping outside fashion norms with their distinct style, just as mods had in the past, but within the new hypermodernized space of social media where these trends are ever present.


The definition of subculture throughout history is traced into the 1980s with Caroline Evans’ focus on rave subcultures and their subversion of a distinct image in her work “Dreams That Only Money Can Buy… Or, The Shy Tribe In Flight From Discourse”. Evans discusses rave culture as an intentionally hidden subculture which seeks to exist behind the scenes through the use of unremarkable fashion choices[20]. This differentiates rave cultures from many subcultures of the past, as they intentionally showed difference from the typical fashions of popular culture. However, this difference is even more substantial between Evans’ rave culture and Instagram collage as Instagram collage is purposefully broadcasted to the world through online environments. This new mode of expression removes the participation of subculture from reality, placing it in the digital world with an intention to be visible to a vast audience around the world. The importance of sharing to a mass audience is fundamental to this culture, which can be understood by Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch and S. Shyam Sundar’s research on social media and sharing when they state “Rather, the overall activity of engaging in photos with one’s network represents the ritual of participating in a community around common interests and ideals.”[21], which outlines how common experiences and styles must be accessible to a network to create a cultural community in this environment. Bruce E. Boyden recounts that “social media are a part of a growing trend of the increasing documentation of the daily lives of individuals.”[22], highlighting that in the age of hypermodernity, we are far more likely to find importance in sharing information about who we are to the expanded collective of knowledge that our society draws from. It is this new technological development that encourages visibility in subculture today, as subculture is increasingly constructed in an online environment.


Evans also states that subcultural identities are difficult to fix, as this requires assigning a singular identity to people of multiple backgrounds, which is relevant in a vast and constantly changing online environment such as Instagram. The many stylistic facets of subculture are glaring within the Instagram collage community, as while there is a consistent connection to nostalgia and the desire for the highly aestheticized and ideally feminine life, there are many different tangible “styles” outlined by the content creators. In fact, some posts feature a multiplicity of these styles that audiences are invited to choose between, as is exemplified in @lilacparis’ November 21st 2018 post[23] featuring different iterations of a vintage bookworm style, however each style is still an idealized caricature. She adds that we all engage in styling ourselves, and that because of this, subcultural participants will reject labels affixed to them[24]. Essentially, Evans maintains that subcultures should not necessarily be pinned down as they are not a solid entity, but a process, which is relevant to Instagram fashion collages in that the figures created by these posts develop as more posts are added to each account. These Instagram accounts function as a catalogue which displays the many iterations of the escapist culture portrayed, and it is clear that ideals shift quickly, just as most media does in the hypermodernized reality of social media. No posts or communities are stagnant in the ever-updated realm of Instagram.


Vintage Subversion

One of the key elements of Instagram collage content is the inclusion of vintage objects, and clothing to produce a particular feeling when consuming the image, as is evident in the way these aspects are juxtaposed with atmospheric imagery and selected poetry in image 3. While vintage shopping can easily be connected to subculture today as it is an alternative mode of consumption, Aleit Veenstra and Giselind Kuipers describe it as an alternative to consumerism in their work “It Is Not Old-Fashioned, It Is Vintage, Vintage Fashion Consumption and The Complexities of 21st Century Consumption Practices”, stating that vintage is simply a form of consumption and personal identity construction[25]. The authors develop their argument from Clark and Hebdige, asserting that because vintage shoppers do not practice a collective and intentional rejection of societal norms and culture, it cannot be considered a unique subcultural group[26].


Image 3: And not to mention, despite pretension you are INFINITELY interesting to me, October 8, 2018, @lilacparis.

In the case of the online community of Instagram collage, however, it is the desire for the simplicity of a bygone era which users express through collected old-fashion images that rejects the hypermodern society. They claim that there is meaning and symbolism to the pieces collected by vintage shoppers, and that they intentionally communicate individual character to the world through a reinterpretation of products[27]—which mirrors the collection and positioning of different images to create Instagram fashion collages. However, this is not done out of subverting norms, but rather nostalgia. In today’s technological world, this drive for nostalgia, and building of nostalgic meaning is instead a subversion of the technologized direction of contemporary culture. In 2018 it is culturally normative to be interested in the innovation of new technology, and an increasingly digitized way of life as identified by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie’s interview-based article[28], and while this concept seems to be considered the norm, there is an absolute lack of desire for technology within this community. It is evident through the lifestyle these users construct through collage, that they reject increasing technology in contemporary lifestyle—ironically within a technologized environment—and instead construct a new mode of living which reflects that of the pre-personal technology era.

Fashioning Online Behaviours and Identities

While constructing an aestheticized image is key within the community of Instagram collage, there is also a facet of personalization which attaches the creator to its content in the same way a wearer is attached to their material clothing. This personal construction in online environments, however, is not unique to this particular environment, and subcultural expression has existed online since the invention of personal platforms on the web. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in the case of early 2000s goths on the emerging internet. Paul Hodkinson’s “Interactive online journals and individualization” continues the thread subcultural practices into online environments, discussing the use of blogging in the goth subculture. Hodkinson’s research identifies the ways in which goths use the social blogging platform Livejournal to express their identities, and participate in a multitude of goth communities online, building individualized friendship groups[29].


This engagement on a personal level is visible in the collage community on Instagram as well in the textual addition to images, and especially the captions of photos posted. While the in-text image can be extremely personal, reflecting posters real world interactions as well as personal opinions, there is also a common theme of posters adding personal captions to their images which are irrelevant to the actual image content, as is evident in @lilacparis’ caption on their November 20th 2018 post[30]. These captions invite other users to engage with them on a personal level regarding their daily lives and builds a strong interpersonal community with shared concerns and experiences. Lorenzs personal interviews with community participants reveals this, paraphrasing a young collage maker named Nora and stating “Nora said that the friends she made through her moodboard account have become an integral part of her social life. She said that she's a different person online”[31] showcasing the importance of creating community interaction and togetherness. Through the construction of their personal pages, the goths of Hodkinsons work, are observed to have considered their pages an extension of their personal identity in the same way that contemporary Instagram users express their own personalized and aestheticized image. It is evident that online engagement is not a new tool to build community within subculture but has instead been leveraged by existing subcultures as long as its inception, and that identities are easily constructed with the help of easily accessible online images and connections.


In today’s social media landscape, expressing ones identity has grown from interactions within intimate and selected communities, to self-identification on a mass scale. Theresa Senft notes the modern need for social media users to brand themselves to large social media audiences in her work “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self”, and links this to late-capitalism. While self-branding can be considered an aspect of online identity construction, it fosters the ability to sell oneself as an aestheticized object. Senft highlights the popularity of this practice on social media, and how functional it is in today’s economy, connecting capitalism to the identity construction of online participants[32]. The author states “these same young people have noted that, whatever condition capitalism itself is in, opportunities to make and distribute media within capitalist markets exist as never before.”[33], insinuating that it is a shift in the economy towards the online world that drives this self-expression on social media platforms.

Despite the fact that teens interacting in the Instagram collage community are not receiving direct economic gain from their subcultural collage practices, they are still encouraged by the now-common social practice to broadcast oneself online in the mere possibility that their posts could grow into a career[34]. It is less a direct attempt to forging an online career, but more of a symptom of this societal belief that has been born of the new “attention economy”[35] of social media that Senft refers to. It has become a societal norm to exist as visibly as possible in online environments, leading to distinctly material experiences being translated to social media platforms. Clearly hypermodernity grasps multiple aspects of post-new millennial society to encourage online participation, through both the hypermodernization of social communities as well as economic opportunities.


The concept of personal branding is particularly central to the online world of fashion, as it is a key aspect in launching the careers of fashion bloggers. Although fashion bloggers exist in a realm of their own apart from the Instagram collage community, it is still necessary to understand the specific fashion practices in online environments, especially considering these two worlds interact occasionally on the vast hyperlinked environment of Instagram. Agnès Rocamora analyzes fashion blogs as a practice of fashion communities online in her work “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media”, highlighting the impact of new media on the way fashion is participated in and disseminated. Rocamora gives a brief introduction to the history of fashion mediation and the impacts of different medias, concluding that online fashion media adds an element of hypertextuality, which communicates fashion to users in a non-linear way lacking temporal organization[36].


Further, this lack of temporality, notes Rocamora, is bolstered by the rejection of fashion cycles, encouraging the endless development and newness that is central to the contemporary fashion industry. The author states “Indeed, where in the field of fashion newness was once restricted to a twice-yearly event, it is now a permanent present, a situation the Internet has fed off and sustained.”[37], enforcing the concept that fashion has become a never-ending, never slowing presentation of newness, which is central to the Instagram fashion collage communities. Rocamora notes that fashion bloggers are highly concerned with speed as their environments enable them to frequently post the latest trends and looks, claiming “In their constant, often daily, updating of sites with new posts, fashion blogs feed into this tyranny of the new, constructing, more than any other media, fashion as transient, passing, already gone.”[38], and as this constant posting is also an allowance of the social media platform Instagram, this behavior is also central to those engaging in the Instagram collage community. Hypermodernity is explicitly concerned with speed as well[39], linking this practice to the hypermodern experience. Through the analysis of @lilacparis’ posts, it is evident that the user maintains a daily post regimen, consistently updating their followers and community members with the newest collections of nostalgic fashion imagery. Further, the identity of the subculture in question develops at a much greater speed because of this ability to post, compared to subcultures of the past who’s unique identities are much easier to define.

Lorenz highlights the consistent sharing and development of identity, recounting how “Each moodboard account features a specific theme or color scheme, with users posting sometimes as frequently as once or twice per day.”[40], explaining how style is intentional with each individual post, despite constant additions to participants profiles. User @lilacparis’ post from July 19 2018[41] is visibly more reliant on actual vintage photographs, as pictured, but in the span of less than a month has shifted to become a more modernized interpretation of vintage style to invoke nostalgia as is evident in @lilacparis’ July 28 2018 post[42]. While Caroline Evans, as discussed earlier, asserts that subcultural identities are not fixed and shift with personal development, it is evident that these changes are catalogued and visible in an online world and an observer is capable of noting them by scrolling through a participants Instagram profile. Continuing, they change extremely rapidly due to the ability to post constantly, and pull any information and imagery needed to edit one’s identity from the image laden internet around them. Ultimately, as asserted by Rocamora, online behaviours are connected to high rapidity in the new hypermodern world of online communities of both fashion blogging, as well as Instagram subculture.


The majority of subcultures discussed in the historical engagement in this essay existed before the advent of the internet or did not function primarily on the internet as it was in its infancy as far as social spaces are concerned. However, there are more traditional subcultures compared to the Instagram fashion community that exist today, and also are deeply connected to online interactivity. One of the most clearly defined subcultures contemporarily is the sneaker subculture, as discussed by Yuniya Kawamura in his chapter “Sneakers as a Subculture: Emerging From Underground To Upperground”, which is both highly present on Instagram, and well known in popular culture. Kawamura covers the history of the sneaker subculture, noting that his identified “third wave” had been bolstered by new technology, such as the smart phone[43]. The author attributes the current wave of sneaker culture to social media stating “We see the global spread and diffusion of the sneaker popularity in the fragmented postmodern age with an increasing usage of the social media as a communication tool.”[44], giving importance to the online participation in the sneaker community, and making it clear that subculture is increasingly practiced online as a default today.


Kawamura’s chapter provides a description of how subculture is expressed and documented in digital environments and highlights the connection between online participation in subculture and the increasing speed outlined by Rocamora[45]. Kawamura explains how sneaker culture has now shifted into a competition of status where participants are constantly in search of the rarest and most advanced sneaker to prove their worth in the community, and that the trends and system of value is constantly changing through the highspeed ability to post online.[46] The case of sneaker subculture clarifies the fact that the increasing use of online platforms as a space for subculture exists is a new form of subcultural expression in hypermodernity, and that the interactions online are key in subcultural structures and values. Essentially, social media platform participation is essential in the communication and participation of subculture in the late 2010s.


Subcultural Practice in a Technologized Era

Ultimately, it is clear that applying a technological lens to different aspects of subculture highlights the way changing media shifts our perception of expressive practices. Walter Benjamin provides a keystone theory regarding changing production and consumption practices as technology becomes more influential in the creation of culture. Benjamin focuses on how reproduced cultural material lacks its original context and aura, stating that a reproduced cultural object cannot evoke the same authentic experience that the original is capable of when consumed by an audience[47]. As this paper will consider subculture objects as a cultural product, it is necessary to use this perspective to analyze how the subcultural experience has changed as it is now reproduced as images in online environments. When contrasting Instagram collage subculture to its material counterparts of the past, it could be concluded that the practice of creating collage images to post on Instagram from photos of real objects is a reproduction of the actual process of collecting and curating items as a subcultural participant. Considering that this process is completed entirely through the technology of photo editing applications and social media platforms, this interpretation of the phenomenon is an easy claim to make, however, this overlooks the fact that Instagram collage is less concerned with the singular material objects which would be considered the “reproduction” as an image, and far more concerned with the collage as a whole object in itself. It is not the aim of Instagram collage participants to recreate collections of a tangible subculture, but instead create a unique collage of carefully selected images that create new meaning as a singular work. It is this new meaning between collected symbols, as discussed by Clarke[48], that is the essence of subculture. Therefore, because it is these creations are the centre of the online subculture, the collage is the unique work of art as discussed by Benjamin in itself, generating an aura of its own to be experienced by those who participate in the community.


Walter Benjamin is concerned with the authenticity of original objects and stresses the importance of the aura of experiencing them authentically[49], and authenticity is frequently brought into question when discussing subculture. Rachel Lifter’s analysis of indie in her work “Fashioning Indie. The Consecration of subculture ‘stylish’ femininity” questions the validity of the movement once it had been adopted and pointedly disseminated by popular fashion and included in mainstream magazines[50], implying that there is a difference between those who are “real” participants in a subculture, and those who inauthentically coopt stylistic choices for their personal aesthetic. This issue of authenticity comes to a head within the Instagram subculture as it is nearly impossible to be certain that users participate in the nostalgic and idealized lifestyle that they curate on their personal pages in other aspects of their lives. Maria Mackinney-Valentin and Joanne B. Eichers study of Scandinavian metal fans is interested with the purity of participation in subculture. Specifically, the authors discuss the band t-shirt and its authenticity when produced by fast fashion brands such as H&M. Through their interview process, they determine that those who have been a part of the subculture claim that it is less important how one expresses themselves in other aspects of their lives, as long as they “…know and love the band.”[51], insinuating that subculture need not impact every aspect of ones life as long as the participant is dedicated to the key practices. In the case of Instagram collage subculture, this means a concentration in upkeeping ones posts, continuing a narrative of idealized nostalgia, and interacting on a personal level with peers through the captions of images. For the Instagram collage subculture, authenticity does not lie in your material practices outside of the social media landscape, but instead the content you form in the online community which is central to this culture who’s existence has been forged during the hypermodern era.


Benjamin is, however, primarily concerned with the way technological innovation provides new channels for cultural artifacts, such as art, to be created, and as a result, experienced.[52] Evidently, through the use of new technology, subculture is being mechanically produced for a purely mechanized environment. The object of the Instagram collage is created using photo editing software, as opposed to a material collection created by hand, and then is shared in an environment which reproduces physical interaction and communities in a technological environment. According to Benjamins theory, this causes subculture to be experienced in a completely new way, however it is an evolution that is symptomatic of technological advances of society, and not an entirely separate experience of the phenomenon of subculture. Through the lens of Benjamin, it is interpreted that the shift towards a hypermodern way of living due to new technology alters subcultural experience as they must adapt to new online spaces and a technologized lifestyle. As our society continues its trajectory to an online world that is centred entirely around digital technology, it is evident that this is the natural progression of subculture, into the new social media space of community gathering.



Subcultures have only been noted by academics over the last sixty years since the emergence of the Teddy Boy, yet the creation of new technologies has caused the practices of subculture to evolve to be nearly unrecognizable. The practice of Instagram collage differs greatly from the collection of material objects, both fashion objects as well as other functional and non-functional objects, to create meaning as a subculture. However, through an analysis of subculture throughout the twentieth, and twenty-first century, the Instagram collage maintains many key characteristics that pertain to subcultures but interprets them in a way to better suit hypermodernity. As hypermodernity is a shift towards the intangible space of the online away from physical objects and towards the images and words these objects can present to us, subculture also shifts from a material collection to creating meaning through a collection of images.


Subculture is not unaccustomed to online identity expression and have been intrinsically linked since the beginning of personal posting online, as is exemplified in goth culture. Subcultural practices are a form of identity construction, and as constructing ones identity in an online environment becomes more central to our hypermodern society, participants are further encourage to relocate their subcultural identity construction to the online. Through a theoretical interpretation, the Instagram collage subculture applies Walter Benjamin’s aura to the technologized creation of the digital collage, asserting that the collage remains a unique cultural artifact different from the many items collected in its creation. Still, the evolutions in technology that has created a new hypermodern society cause subculture to be consumed in a mechanical way which changes how subculture is experienced by those who partake in it. Ultimately, the Instagram collage is the successor to earlier subculture practice in a hypermodern world that moves to the online. While it is not performing in the same way as subcultures of the past, the Instagram collage community creates a space for subculture to exist in a world that drifts between the material and the digital.



[1] Dick Hebdige, “The Meaning of Mod.” in Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006), 89.

[2] Bev Humphrey "Instagram." In School Librarian, Winter 2016. Academic OneFile (accessed December 1, 2018). 211.

[3] @lilacparis, Tag yourself as the 1975 song. Instagram, November 20, 2018, accessed November 12, 2018,

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[8] John Clarke, “Style.”, 177.

[9] John Clarke, “Style.”, 178.

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[26]Aleit Veenstra and Giselind Kuipers. “It Is Not Old-Fashioned, It Is Vintage.”, 363.

[27]Aleit Veenstra and Giselind Kuipers. “It Is Not Old-Fashioned, It Is Vintage.”, 359.

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[34] Theresa M. Senft “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self.”, 349.

[35] Theresa M. Senft “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self.”, 350.

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[37] Agnès Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media.”, 97.

[38] Agnès Rocamora, “Hypertextuality and Remediation in the Fashion Media.”, 97.

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[40] Taylor Lorenz. “The Instagram Moodboard Community Is Having a Breakdown Over Polyvore Closing Down.”

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[49] Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”, 6.

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[51] Maria Mackinney-Valentin and Joanne B. Eicher. “The Devil’s Playground: Fashion and Subcultural Identity.” In Fashioning Identity: Status Ambivalence in Contemporary Fashion. (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2017): 109.

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