The notion of youth as a distinctive, age-centred stage in life with its own identity grounded in fashion, music and other cultural commodities first took shape during the mid-1950s with the advent of rock ’n’ roll (Shumway 1992). Although style-based youth cultural groups had existed before the 1950s (see Fowler 2008), this was the first time that a dedicated youth market had existed to produce goods and services specifically aimed at catering for the tastes of young people (Chambers 1985). This new youth market responded to the fact that during the post-war
period young people had significant spending power. Across North America and Western Europe unprecedented levels of employment among young people between the ages of 16 and 25 gave this group an economic freedom unheard of among previous generations of youth (Bennett 2000). This ‘youthquake’, as Leech (1973) has termed it, propelled a succession of spectacular youth cultural styles across the western world for the next 3 decades (see Hebdige 1979). These included mod and the hippie counter-culture beat music, psychedelia and the counter-culture in the 1960s; glam and punk in the 1970s; and New Romantic, goth, metal and rap in the 1980s. Although temporally and stylistically distinct, what connected each of these youth cultures was their significance as platforms for collective manifestations of youth taste, ideology and lifestyle. While some of the aforementioned youth cultures, notably the counter-culture and punk, were more overtly political than others (Bennett 2001), each embedded a particular aesthetic sensibility through which the young people involved could attempt to define themselves as distinct from other social groups.