If "punk never dies", as the infamous slogan goes, then how does it age?

The original punk generation of the late 1970s are now well into their 50s, with a potential arsenal of anti-ageing technology at their disposal. But how has the generation that stuck two fingers up at conformist beautification back in the 70s adapted to the post-millennial beauty culture? Have they mellowed and evolved into more orthodox-looking women like say, Viv Albertine of The Slits, who played an artist in the 2013 film Exhibition looking lightly bronzed, blow dried and creaseless. Or have they continued to wear the warpaint, like Siouxsie Sioux, who appeared on a November 2014 magazine cover all angular eyebrows and ankhs of kohl, looking as much like a warrior of nihilistic glamour as she did when she appeared on stage at Hong Kong's Baptist University, with her Banshees, in 1982 - albeit without a wrinkle in sight.

It's hard to imagine now, in our world of celebrities with crazily coloured hair and make-up brands marketing to the unconventional, just how rupturing punk was of conventional beauty norms. Think back to the drab, dull, closed-on-Sunday world of 70s Britain and the punk revolt that erupted in 76 and 77, and chemical-green mohicans, diseased-looking cobalt blue lipstick, vicious ink-black cat eyes and death-like white skin all come to mind.

Countess Pasha du Valentine, 52, who is now a Brighton-based artist running a gallery and Brighton Arts Club, remembers her look back then as a vertiginous mohican dyed weekly, plucked eyebrows, a Union flag in the shape of a streak of lightning across her face, lips done in four quarters black and red and a pierced nose with seven holes in her ear often chained up together.

"I was definitely rejecting feminine beauty ideals. I hated the passivity of the status quo female look," she recalls of the motivation for her punk beauty manifesto. "I hated the sameness, the normality, the lack of imagination. Most of all I detested the lack of power … The 'come get me fluffy rabbit' look."

Gail Thibert, 50, now a professional psychic as well as backing singer and keyboard player in punk band Flowers in the Dustbin, also wanted to rail against convention.

"I didn't feel like one of the 'normal' people. I wanted to be different. I felt I was different."

For Karen Amsden, 50, of the punk band Hagar the Womb, it was not so much a rejection of normative beauty as an appreciation of women who looked alternative.

"I just had different ideas of what was beautiful," she says. "I looked up to the female musicians and performers that were admired so much at the time, like Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, The Slits and Poly Styrene. We wanted to look like these women because we wanted to be performers with such distinct identities. I went to see the film Jubilee repeatedly, mainly because I really loved the look of Jordan."

Some punks, like Jordan - the model and actress, born Pamela Rooke, was noted for her work with designer Vivienne Westwood - actually looked very feline and feminine with their cat-eye make-up and saturnine dark lips. For these women, it would seem that the objective was to reject a commercial and received vision of feminine beauty, rather than to stop being a woman.

"If you mean was I defeminising myself by challenging and trying to destroy the patriarchal, cultural constructs of masculine and feminine, then yes we were," says Michelle Brigandage, 55, who runs clothes label Sexy Hooligans and sings in the band Brigandage. "Thanks to Roxy [Music] and [David] Bowie, we already had a basis in identity exploration. I cannot explain how powerful it was to walk down the road where men would usually pass daily value judgments on your appearance and see them flinch and recoil in horror."

Making such a bold political statement is relatively easy when you are young, but what happens when you get older?

"As a young punk rock feminist anarchist I always swore I'd get old disgracefully," says Brigandage. "But here's the bad part; once you hit menopause everything just starts dropping instantly and it's suddenly, 'Whoa! Where did my face go?' I'll be very honest; today in the hair salon I just wanted to cry seeing myself in the mirror - it was like, 'How did this happen? Where have the years gone?' But after my hair was done and the colour put on and some make-up I felt I had my groove back." Edgy hair is still very much part of her identity: she has it shaved at the sides with a quiff on top, which is dyed light blue.

Ageing can be tough on a woman, punk or not, and personal style does evolve over the years.

"Yes I have mellowed with age," admits du Valentine. "I would still have a mohican if I could get away with it. I did have an undercut a year or so ago but couldn't rock it. I felt it made me too masculine. Women's faces tend to look more square as we age and the exposed scalp didn't feel right. I do like a more feminine appearance as I am getting older … softer lines."

Nowadays, her minimal day-to-day make-up routine involves penciling in her eyebrows (which she plucked away as a punk) and lining her lips. She is planning to have semi-permanent make-up applied in the next year to save time.

"For events I dress up with lashes, lippy, hair and clothes which are pretty unusual," she continues, describing an outfit she wore recently as a New York police uniform with Doc Marten boots. She also wears a lot of the bondage gear "we did as punks"; her latex thigh-high boots and corsets get a regular airing at the fetish club she runs.

Amsden, meanwhile, has come full circle. In 1981, as a 17-year-old in Hagar the Womb, an anarchist feminist band, she sported a mohican in various hues including pink, red, blue and green. "A whole can of Boots extra-hold hairspray was put on it every week to keep it staying up rigid."

However, after the band split up her taste in music and style became more conventional. Between the ages of 22 and 46 she describes herself as "not looking very punk". "I think that most people I knew during this time would have been surprised to find out about my anarchist punk past." But when her band reformed after 27 years she rediscovered her punk roots, going from a self-proclaimed housewife with greying hair and two young children to "a working mother in a punk band".

She says she has "reverted in many ways back to my original style of 50s dresses, bright hair and make-up. I think my original style was still lurking but just got lost for about 20 years, and it has been quite a shock for my family as I rediscover it."

Zillah Minx, 53, lead singer of the band Rubella Ballet, who toured extensively with two heavyweights of the anarcho-punk scene - Crass and Poison Girls - hasn't mellowed in the slightest. Since coming out as punk as a 15-year-old in 1976, when she would dye her blond locks with food colouring, she has retained her confrontational style, with a bleached multicoloured fluorescent dreadlock mohican and black eyeliner with fluorescent make-up.

"No, I haven't mellowed. I am more determined to keep my appearance; it is part of who I am. I want to look different from others, don't try and brand me with your ubiquitous blue jeans and trainers."

But how does such an appearance work with regard to employment in mainstream society?

"Most punks are intelligent enough to have created their own employment, with bands, fashion and tattoo parlours, photography, etc," says Minx. "I have maintained my punk identity and appearance throughout my band life and employment in the mainstream. As a punk with pink hair I have met and talked to the queen whilst employed as a charity fundraiser. She didn't bat an eyelid as I introduced her to my trainees."

It seems that for punks and alternative rockers in the public eye there is pressure to stay youthful looking, however they achieve that. First generation pop punk icon Debbie Harry, 70, frontwoman with the band Blondie, recently revealed to The Telegraph newspaper that she'd had cosmetic surgery, commenting, "It goes with the job." Alternative rock queen Courtney Love, 51, a scion of first-generation punk, has admitted to cosmetic surgery. In 2013, she told Canadian magazine Fashion that actress Goldie Hawn advised her to get a facelift at the age of 35 and, in November last year, she told United States talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that she had undergone rhinoplasty in the mid-80s. Brix Smith Start, 52, who once raged against the machine as a guitarist in post-punk band The Fall, told The Guardian newspaper in 2012 that she had had Botox.

Arguably, though, those three women are celebrities (Love as part of the Hollywood scene and Smith Start as a television presenter), so the burden is incumbent on them to conform to the celebrity norm and stay young.

Of course, you could argue that surgery and injectables are a form of subversion, in that you are putting two fingers up to the onslaught of nature. But others might postulate that you are selling out and conforming to mainstream ideals of youth and beauty.

"I can understand a few nips and tucks if it makes you feel better," says Brigandage. "I wouldn't consider Botox as I don't have many wrinkles at the moment and I don't want a static face. But my friend has had it and it's different and softer. But she has what I call the hound dog lines around the mouth and chin (as do I), which are hereditary and bloody upsetting, and she's had filler and looks great."

Not all punks are so forgiving when it comes to the issue of surgery and Botox, and some of that boils down to their ideology.

"I think Botox makes people look stupid and fake," says Thibert. "Yeah, maybe it is part of the punk ethos as none of my punk friends would consider it, either. Why would I want to look like plastic?" She is equally dismissive of cosmetic surgery, again because it conflicts with punk values about embracing ugliness and disfigurement.

"Punk is about acceptance of the self and in all shapes and sizes," she says. "Flowers in the Dustbin have a slogan: 'It's OK to be ugly', and really, it is. Punk attracts people who feel they don't fit in with the norm, and that would be people who have disfigurements and unusual body shapes. No one judges them on it and it's safe to be who they are."

Minx is not only against Botox and surgery, she eschews hi-tech skincare too, opting to stay youthful by drinking a lot of water, eating raw vegan food and making her own skin creams (which she used to share with the late Styrene, from first-wave punk band X-Ray Spex) from coconut, cacao butter and honey.

"We know the advertising industry is part of our capitalist society - it's a tool for consumerism," says Minx. "A lot of commercial beauty products contain chemicals you would never dream of putting on your face. But they are mixed into a beauty product and sold to the masses through branding and advertising. Punks see right through that."

 

She's an exception to the rule, though. It's rare to see a crazy-haired fifty-something punk on the streets of Britain - or anywhere else; the alternative types from the 70s and 80s have mellowed and conformed as wives and mothers with nine-to-five jobs. It tends to be only those with careers as artists who opt for bright hair and a vintage style. But ultimately, perhaps, it doesn't matter what anyone looks like on the outside.

"Punk rock is an attitude not a look," says Brigandage.

 

"It's better to be punk on the inside," concludes Thibert. "You will find that many members of punk bands didn't actually look as 'punk' as their fans. It's more about attitude and if someone thinks all you have to do to be punk is put on some bondage trousers and spike your hair, then they are guilty of following fashion, which is exactly what punk was rebelling against in the first place."

​IFA-Amsterdam