THERE'S a school of thought which says the internet killed the fashion subculture, and that the demise of style tribes as we used to know them soon followed. Thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook, a selfie culture now proliferates which views the in-it-for-life subcultures of the 20th century – Mod, Rocker, Punk, Skinhead – as little more than dressing-up boxes for stylists, or something to dip into when your profile picture wants updating.

At the same time, virtually any music from any era is available for downloading or sharing, robbing subcultures of the cachet of knowing about and liking a particular genre of music. Crate-digging for rare or obscure albums in dusty record shops is cool: scouring iTunes to the same end is not.

To this way of thinking, the ubiquitous street style of the 2010s – the hipster – isn't a true subculture at all nor are its adherents a proper style tribe because the look is assembled from a grab-bag of reheated (and often conservative) fashion influences which are steered, shaped and manipulated by fashion bloggers and expensive brands. It isn't attached to a particular kind of music either: its cultural currency is beards, fixed-gear bicycles and tattoos and its knowledge base is as likely to encompass food as it is fashion.

Edinburgh-based fashion writer and former-Herald journalist Caroline Young is more forgiving, however. For a start, she isn't so down on hipsters that she doesn't include them in her new book, Style Tribes: The Fashion Of Subcultures. She'll even gift them a music genre for their origin story: Electroclash, born in the late 1990s and a blend of modern dance music and retro electropop.

“I suppose hipsters are made fun of because they take themselves too seriously while also trying to be ironic,” Young says when we meet in an Edinburgh cafe. “I think it's because of that idea of being too cool, one step ahead. It creates a sense of ridicule. And that name was given to them as a way of poking fun. Nobody says, 'I am a hipster'.”

As well as cutting hipsters some slack, Young is also far less pessimistic about the ability of new and vibrant subcultures to bubble up from the streets, the clubs or anywhere else they may be lurking. In Style Tribes she dips into some of the freshest and most intriguing of them, runs her experienced eye over old favourites, and introduces less heralded but equally fascinating examples.

“There is an argument that you don't get street styles and subcultures happening any more. I think you do,” she says. “There will be subcultures we don't know about because we're not 18, or which are on Tumblr or Reddit, people connecting from different parts of the world but sharing similar ideas.”

Nor does Young agree that Emo was the last genuine subculture, as some suggest. Look at Africa, she says, where today you find vibrant fashion subcultures such as the Sapeurs of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, cities in the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo respectively which face each other across the Congo River.

The name "Sapeur" comes from the French acronym for the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People, a typically self-effacing moniker for the collection of dandies who make up the group. The Sapeurs value tailoring and slick accessorising – canes and umbrellas are almost de rigueur, as are pocket squares, tie-pins and cufflinks – but most of all they value display. “South Africa has its own version of the Sapeurs as well,” says Young. “And there's a group in Botswana which has a sort of cowboy look.”

Another part of the world that still regularly throws up new style tribes and subcultures, as well as fresh twists on old ones, is Japan. Mori Girl is a new look that Young describes as “girls who dress like woodland creatures, as if they've just come out of the forest”, and two older style tribes that she focuses on in the book and which feed into Mori are Harajuka Style and Kogal.

Kogal is a take on the Californian Valley Girl look and the name is a contraction of k?k?sei gyaru, meaning high school girl. Fake tan is the order of the day, and the darker and more unnatural looking the better, to the point where a new take on Kogal emerged called Ganguro which contravened and subverted traditional ideas of Japanese beauty by darkening the skin and dying the hair blonde. Around 2011, it took on another form with the rise of the Kuro Gyaru, who added white lipstick and talon-like fingernails to the fake tans, dyed their hair in pastel shades of pink, purple and turquoise, and sashayed around Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district wearing massive furry boots.

Harajuka Style, meanwhile, is named for another of Tokyo's go-to fashion areas where various style tribes meet and compete with their differing takes on what's known as kawaii. It translates as “cute”, which is simple enough, but in Japanese youth culture it's a sprawling aesthetic which covers everything from food and design to behaviour and, of course, clothes. Helly Kitty is perhaps its most obvious expression. On Harajuka's pedestrianised shopping streets you find elements of kawaii in the many various takes on what's known, somewhat disconcertingly, as "Lolita Kei", a sort of Alice In Wonderland-on-acid look that relies on Victorian style frills and bows. Sometimes it's given a Gothic twist, to the extent of smearing fake blood over clothes and faces but despite the name and "a pervading 'Lolita' complex in Japanese culture", it isn't meant to be sexually suggestive, more "innocent and elegant" in Young's words. The look, she continues, allows its adherents "to express themselves outside of school and work, as well as providing a sense of protection from an overly sexualised and pressured adult environment". Decora Kei, meanwhile, takes "Lolita Kei" and adds kitsch touches.

Like these Japanese examples, many of the subcultures which Young examines give women a place in the style tribe story which they aren't always accorded, a fact which becomes obvious when you think of some of the names that subcultures have gone under such as Teddy Boys, Rude Boys and B-Boys. Punk and Skinhead are two other subcultures which tended to be defiantly male, though there were plenty of women in both movements. The New Romantics, on the other hand, were rare among subcultures and style tribes for blurring the lines between male and female fashions. So Young includes a worthy chapter on the feminist Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s, which is often overlooked because it grew up alongside grunge. She also discusses another overlooked subculture, the Teddy Girls of the 1950s. From the pre-rock'n'roll era, meanwhile, she dips into the world of the Flappers of the 1920s, whose pin-ups were women like actress Louise Brooks and heiress Nancy Cunard, and in her chapter on Beatniks she gives space to writer Joyce Johnson, French singer Juliette Greco and even Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

So, crystal ball time: with her optimistic view of the present health of subcultures, how does Young see the style tribes of the future developing?

“I think people will go back to not being so dressed up,” she says. “Things have to come in a cycle, so I'm thinking that people might get bored of this narcissistic, selfie thing. But it's difficult to know.”

It really is, which is the wonderful thing about style tribes and subcultures. In fact the only thing you can know for definite it to expect the unexpected.

Style Tribes: The Fashion Of Subcultures by Caroline Young is published on September 29 (Frances Lincoln Publishing, £20). Caroline Young will be talking about the book at Waterstones, Princes Street, Edinburgh on Wednesday, September 28 at 6pm.