Story: City styles

From rock ’n’ roll to punk rock and hip hop, from bodgies and widgies to bogans and emos, cities have fostered the growth of diverse music and fashion subcultures – often leading to moral panics in mainstream society. Graffiti is another hotly contested urban practice.

Story by Kerryn Pollock
Main image: iD Dunedin Fashion Show, 2005

Story summary

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Cities and culture

Cities have long been centres of civilisation and culture. New music and fashion trends often begin in cities and move out to suburbs and smaller towns.

City music

Early colonists were encouraged to bring musical instruments to New Zealand. Music was played in homes, churches, pubs and hotels. In the 1920s jazz became popular in cities.

Rock ’n’ roll arrived in the 1950s. Performers had to move to the city if they wanted to do well. In the late 1970s the first punk bands were set up in Auckland, followed by bands in other cities. Auckland is the centre of New Zealand hip hop, often performed by Māori and Pacific Island artists.

City fashion

In the past people dressed up to go to town, but over the 20th century clothing became more casual. In the early 2000s cities were known for street wear – hoodie sweatshirts, baggy low-slung jeans, caps and sneakers.

Different subcultures have their own ways of dressing. In the 1950s bodgies wore tight trousers, baggy coats and bright shirts. Later, punks had torn black clothes, spiky hair and piercings. Emos wore tight jeans and heavy eye makeup.

New Zealand’s fashion industry is based in the cities.

City language

New words and terms sometimes appear in cities and then spread to smaller places. In South Auckland, ‘homey’ or hip-hop culture mixes local accents and terms with American slang.

Graffiti and billboards

Graffiti in cities today includes tagging (writing a stylised name) and pieces (graffiti murals). Some people see graffiti as vandalism, while others consider it art – but most is illegal. Billboards and other outdoor advertising are also common in cities. Some people think billboards make cities lively, but others see them as visual pollution.


People in cities often follow codes of behaviour to help things run smoothly – such as giving up seats on buses to elderly or sick people, and keeping to the left on escalators and busy footpaths.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'City styles', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 11 March 2010