Bikies are adorned in outsider emblems that decorate them like a coat of arms. From swastikas patches to 1%er diamonds and tribal face tattoos, bikies embrace an aesthetic that's determinedly at odds with societal norms. Arguably it’s their physical presence on the road that demonstrates their outlaw philosophy, more than their behaviour.
Originally, bikers were never about elitism. The scene was founded by disenfranchised Vietnam war veterans returning to America and finding themselves alienated by mainstream society. So they began to wear their misfit status as a badge of honour, rocking dishevelled denim vests soaked in urine and beer, while embracing a lifestyle of impulsive gluttony—which became their disfigured version of the American dream.
The subculture has always been hyper aware of their look—how style can signify someone's place in society. For this reason bikies dressed in a way that set them apart, but in recent years the goal has shifted. Now bikie fashion incorporates the worst offerings of popular culture—high-end designer labels—to express wealth and elitism.
In Australia, the shift occurred in the early 2000s when bikies began aggressively expanding beyond white-Australian by recruiting Middle Eastern migrants, and offering dangerous prisoners financial stability upon release while forging alliances with notorious street gangs. All of these pockets of the criminal underbelly brought with them their own branding; Adidas bum bags from the Western Suburbs, Nike TNs from street gangs, and disciplined work-out programs from prison.
In terms of fashion, bikies—with their alpha military ideals—were naturally at odds with conventional standards of stylish dress, but now that they're incorporating labels like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. They have essentially created a bastardised style that has neither subverted classism nor become part of it.
VICE interviewed active and ex-bikies, to talk about the legacy and transformation of their iconic style.
Mick / 34 / Melbourne - Fashion
Hey Mick, What is the trending fashion in the bikie scene these days?
When I got my colours in 2009, everyone was wearing pretty out-there stuff. Bikies were always about standing out, so we wanted to stand out in the most unique fashion, especially when we went to the strippers because they wouldn’t let us wear our colours inside. We used to wear Ed Hardy shit back in the day. The jeans were always Cipo & Baxx. Affliction shirts came in just after that, then it went to high-end stuff like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, which was followed by Balenciaga and Givenchy. But now everyone just wears [German designer] Philipp Plein. You got to remember that gangsters have been rocking designer shit like Versace and Armani since the 90s—it's nothing new.
I think there was this thing of looking classy a few years ago, everyone was rocking plain Rolex without diamonds but more expensive models like Yacht Masters and Sky Dwellers. But brands like Givenchy and Philipp Plein have brought back that aggressive look. And the young guys have gone back to icing out their watches. I guess it's about making a statement when you’re out. Bikies are loud and we don’t give a fuck about how you feel about us expressing ourselves.
Where do you think these influences come from?
Honestly, I think it’s just word of mouth. We are pretty small circles and everyone is trying to outdo each other. So when you see someone in something different, everyone follows suit pretty quickly. The Philipp Plein thing came from Europe, a lot of gangsters there have been rocking it for a while now, Australia is coming into it late.
The watches and jewellery are probably more of rap thing. Back in the day it was just about rocking a thick gold chain. Around 2010, everyone started putting diamonds on everything because we were making more money. Nowadays, blokes are getting full long chains iced out with 30k pendants on them. It’s becoming like more stereotypical gangster shit from the states. But every club is different too. There’s still some old-school clubs who haven’t changed their style up, like the Coffin Cheaters and Outlaws.
What makes the clothes you wear and the way you look so important?
I guess it’s about having an identity. When we earn our colours, and are handed our patches, it’s an achievement. Like a graduation ceremony but you’ve earned a family. And earning the right to wear something, and your brothers having the confidence in you to allow you to represent them is really special. We are all unique weird outsiders who have come together under one banner. We might look like misfits and it’s because we are. Some have been to jail. Some are from broken homes. Yeah it’s about looking different but it’s also about having our own thing.
We call it invading. We like invading Louis Vuitton, getting looked at like criminals and buying more than every other dickhead in the store. We like invading what you think is reserved for yuppies. When we fly first class we like sitting with the snobs and fucking with them. Because you know what? Why shouldn’t us oddballs have what they have. We just do it on our terms and rock the classy shit with a pair of Nikes. We don’t give a fuck mate.
Blake / 38 / Sydney
Hey Blake, what’s up with the tanning beds?
I know what you’re thinking…tanning beds cause cancer.
No. I’m thinking why does a 150kg bikie own a tanning bed.
I’m white. So tanning really brings out the sharp angles in my muscles and all the vascularity we bust our asses for in the gym. And if you know what you're doing, it’s not that bad. You won’t get cancer unless you smash it every day. I just hit it a couple of times a week during winter.
How important is bodybuilding to the bikie scene?
I guess there has always been bodybuilders who are in bike clubs because it was an army thing. You want to be the biggest bloke in the club I guess. It shows power, strength, and dedication. You want to lead from the front and by example. The pres [president] told us, “every day you don’t train, the enemy gets stronger.” And that always stuck in my head, it became a bit of an obsession. And then I got into bodybuilding as a sport for a short period. But fucked it off. I prefer it as a more personal journey. It helps me in my head. Overcome goals and stuff. See results.
What do you use the needles for?
Ha! Roids, HGH, Test-E, melanotan, or botox? Plenty of injecting here buddy but nothing disgusting and junky. Everything has a purpose. Everyone judges you on appearance. Some people just take it more seriously than others. With me, I competed professionally and you can’t get rid of some of the habits and routines you get into. Yeah, bikies are becoming more into men's health, with botox and anti-aging creams. Everything evolves with time, we don’t want to be seen as bearded hillbillies anymore because that’s not what we represent. We’ve still got our military roots because of our strict discipline. Doesn’t mean we cant get our teeth whitened Hollywood style, mate.
Is it about beauty or intimidation?
Looking tough can be beautiful. Call me old fashioned, but back in the day it was the warriors that got all the women. Not these Hollywood poster boy, arty farty types. Bodybuilding is an art form that takes a shit load of time and effort to get right. It’s about being relentless and some people find that attitude attractive. In our circles, in the bike scene we have that in common. We still value or think that shit is beautiful; like being disciplined, loyal, having courage, and being a man. Bodybuilding is just a physical example of our values.
Aldo / 55 / Gold Coast
What was your first tattoo?
My first tattoo was a club tattoo. After being in the club for two years, I was allowed to get a 1% diamond on my right hand. I like the idea of earning tattoos. Not just sticking whatever you want on there. It gives the tattoo meaning. And you can look back on it and think about the highs and lows behind it.
How have tattoos changed over the years in the bikie scene?
Well the styles have changed completely. Back in the old days, you got your tattoo at the clubhouse, with a needle, ink, and bottle of bourbon. There was none of this fancy shit with numbing cream and all that. And there certainly weren’t any dragons and fucking tribal stuff that the young guys are getting now. They aren’t even Asians or Islanders. Must be something they’re smoking. To get your hands or neck tattooed in the old day, especially with a club tattoo, you had to be a hardcore motherfucker. The hardest blokes in our club were only allowed full back pieces, and in my time of being in the club for almost 20 years, I only ever saw two blokes wear them. Face tattoos were the same. You just couldn’t get them. You really had to earn that shit and back then it was that much harder because we were all snorting speed and we were trigger happy. Guns were being let off at the clubhouse like it was the fucking wild west.
What makes the tattoos you wear and the way you look so important?
A lot of the old school bikies would get tattoos of their brothers’ names, of the club, and nude women. Sometimes we would get the date of a wild run or weekend on our arms. It wasn’t about looking good. Which it is now. Like all the tribal shit that the new guys get, I guess it looks good on the eye. And to some people that are Islanders, I guess it has some deep meanings. But then there are other blokes, who get skulls and guns. That stuff is a bit more traditional for bikies because it’s like a fuck you to society. Except we were getting swastikas and shit. I guess that’s what they’re going for when they get guns and “fuck the police.” Like shock value. Nowadays, people think too much about the tattoos they get. Whereas in the 80s, we just fucking got whatever when we were half pissed. Because that’s what it was about. Just going with the flow, not giving a fuck…being free from what people think.
For more, follow Mahmood on Twitter