Lace Code was once an informal way to express yourself in the punk scene, but is it still used today?
Fashion can communicate what kind of person you are. If you carry a canvas bag with groceries in it, people may assume that you’re an environmentalist. If you have piercings, you look like a hard rocker or a deviant. Even though the way you dress doesn’t have to label your personality, that’s where our first impressions come from. When it comes to punk culture, you can tell a lot about a person by their shoelaces.
Lace code is a way for those in the punk community to communicate their views on race, sexual orientation and gang activity. It was once a popular way of communication in the punk scene, and today it is recognized by some. However, it begs the question: is lace code dead?
Cross burnings, confederate flags and white hoods are all associated with Nazis and white supremacists. In the 1960s, there were members of the punk scene called the Skinheads, who were a symbol of racism. Skinhead is a close shaven haircut paired with aggressive behavior. A majority of them came from working class backgrounds, so their everyday work attire became the uniform of skinheads. They wore cuffed jeans, white shirts, overalls and Doc Martens. However, even though there were exceptions to the rule, there were those who were the poster children for the idea of racist Skinheads in the first place.
Lace code was a skinhead subculture that began in 1970s London, according to an essay by Mary McMican. During this time, those in the punk scene wore steel-toed Doc Martens for work, but they were also helpful in a fight.
In order to prevent laces from crossing each other, ladder lacing became popular. It was developed into a communication tool by using colored laces and it then spread to other countries. In Southern California during the ’80s, punks began using this trend to communicate a complete opposite message than its skinhead forebears. Colored laces told someone if you were gay or anti-racist.
Dan O’Mahoney says, in an interview with L.A. Magazine, race-related violence was not tolerated by the L.A. punks. When you grow up in a very racially diverse area like Los Angeles, you typically accept all races. However, places like Fullerton and Costa Mesa were flooded with the Neo-Nazis that the L.A. punks wanted to keep out of their community.
Orange County has a long history of involvement with the KKK. They attracted prominent members into their ranks and Plummer Auditorium and Fanning Elementary are both named after KKK members. Recently, the auditorium had Plummer’s name removed and Fanning is considering changing their name as well. This is a step forward for the city, but back in the ’70s when there were still KKK rallies in the O.C., skinheads felt comfortable spewing their racist ideologies. The most notable ladder lacing colors worn in those days by skinheads and anti-racist punks were yellow, purple, white, and red.
Yellow means you’re anti-racist. S.H.A.R.P. members, or Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, will wear these to separate themselves from racist skinheads who they are commonly associated with. Today, the social justice warriors of the new generation make their voices heard and want to make it clear they stand with all races through activism and social media. The punk scene takes a stand by incorporating their activism into their fashion.
If you see white or red laces, turn the other way. This means they are white supremacists or Nazis. These laces typically have to be earned by shedding blood for the skinhead movement by attacking anyone who was non-white. However, some use it if they identify with this group still. To punks that still follow the code, seeing red or white laces gives them full rights to call white supremacists out for their views.
Blue means that you killed a cop. In the current climate of Blue vs. Black Lives Matter, this ladder lacing method could carry a lot of weight depending on who sees it and knows the meaning.
Purple is another popular color, and it stands for gay pride. For a long time, it was dangerous to be gay. It still is today in many areas, and the LGBTQ+ community is fighting to be protected. In the United States, you are legally allowed to have a same-sex marriage, but it wasn’t like this until half a decade ago. Ladder lacing gave them the freedom to let their sexual orientation be known among their peers, but without anyone outside of their community judging them.
In order to stay neutral on all matters, you would wear black laces. They are the default laces color for most Doc Martens, making them the safest color to wear if you are uneducated on lace code.
This trend was popular back in the day, but it has died down significantly with today’s generation. It is still recognized, which can be seen when there was an outcry after Doc Martens released an ad in 2017 that showed red laces on a pair of their boots, which is associated with racism. With the increase in political interest among the youth, from 47% of planned voters in 2016, aged 18-29, to 63% in 2020, according to a Harvard youth poll, you would think that lace code would make a comeback, but it hasn’t.
There are the purists who take the meaning of your laces seriously, but there are also those who do it for the look. If you look at social media platforms like TikTok, you will see people who are new to the punk scene wearing red laces on their docs without even knowing the meaning behind it or not caring. With that in mind, it could mean that lace code is officially dead, or at least dorment.