TEN STYLE MOVEMENTS
Come June, London will be blessed with its very own men’s fashion week. About time, too, etc, etc. It makes sense, though, as Britain has been the birthplace of practically every significant fashion movement in the past century or two – the home of modern menswear. It’s time, then, to celebrate our bringing of fashion to the world. Without us everyone would still be in loincloths.
Emerging in the 1950s on a crest of American rock’n’roll, which had just recently crossed the Atlantic and was causing a musical revolution, the teds were probably the first significant style movement to emerge post-war. The aesthetic was smart. They wore suits. Tailor made. Three piece. The jackets had sleeves that grazed their knuckles and their collars were velvet. Shirts were white and ironed. These had cutaway collars and were worn with skinny ties held in place with a clip. Trousers were hitched up to reveal a pair of white socks and a well-polished brogue. Brothel creepers in suede came later. Hair, cut close on the sides with a long fringe sprouting from the top, was sculpted into a greased pompadour that had a sheen that was not dissimilar to that of their shoes.
This tribe were modernists. They took their cues from the modern jazz heroes, such as Miles Davis, and new-wave European actors such as Marcelo Mastroianni, Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo. They wore their hair short in an updated version of a crew cut. The clothes continued in the same minimalist vein. Clean, white shirts, button-down and worn under a crew-neck or V-neck jumper. Suits, as with the teds’, were tailor made but more streamlined. Slim fit. They really arose in the wake of the teds and beatniks, taking elements from both, sharpening them – adding, if possible, an extra layer of smartness. They were also the first post-war generation who, due to growing affluence, could afford to spend money on themselves and they did.
This lot were smart. People often forget that. Their shoes, either brogues or heavy lace-up walking boots in black or a dark burgundy, were always polished to a high sheen. A polished shoe indicates pride in one’s appearance. It’s not something normally associated with them. But in the mid-1960s, when the skinhead movement was born, pride is what one took in one’s appearance. They wore button-down Ben Sherman shirts and Levi’s Sta-Prest jeans and a Harrington jacket. Heads were shaved. The boots and braces were seen a reference to their working-class roots, whereas the button-downs and blue jeans were a nod to Americana, which had begun permeating popular culture in the 1950s. The way it was all put together, though, was Jamaican rude boy. Especially the trousers hitched up just that little too high. They adopted ska as their own, both the music and the look, coming up with a rude “white” boy swagger. The 1960s were also the beginnings of our multicultural society. Skinheads, before their reputation went downhill, were a reflection of that.
Towards the end of the 1960s there was a move away from strictness and, in a sense, smartness. Glam rock came in the wake of hippies, a riff on their aesthetic but more decadent. Camped up. First came Marc Bolan and T Rex with their glitter platforms and wide satin and crushed-velvet flares, followed closely by David Bowie and the birth of Ziggy Stardust. Dressed in a skintight jumpsuit with knee-high boots, with a shock of brightly coloured hair and a face to match, he hailed the birth of androgyny and experimentation with who you were and how you appeared. You were either infatuated or recoiled with horror. It was in your face. It provoked emotion. It was the ultimate rebel statement. And then the likes of Elton John came along, camping it up to the extreme and removing any sense of rebelliousness and counterculture association from it. Their approach was more drag queen than statement (though glam rock’s death might well have arisen, anyway, when Rod Stewart appeared on Top of the Pops in a pair of platform boots).
This changed everything. Punk was a revolution. Punk involved trousers that bound your legs together and a ripped slogan T-shirt. It was tight and finished with a heavy military boot or DM. Technicolour mohawks also featured. As did safety pins. Its spiritual home was the Sex boutique on London’s King’s Road, and its high priest and priestess were Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Weirdly, it was a revolution that began with the look and, from there, fed into the music. If you couldn’t afford Sex, you made your own outfits. If you couldn’t play an instrument, you picked one up regardless and formed a band. It was DIY. Punk turned everything on its head. In his book The Way We Wore, Robert Elms described it as “a culmination of years of a largely working-class, organic, self-regulating, clothes-obsessed counterculture. It was not a collective, intellectualised response in the way hippie had been, but a narcissistic one, from kids who had found a way to enliven their lives in a stale and gloomy England”.
If any style movement has lasted for longer than the immediate period post its inception, it is goth. Repressed teenagers still flock in their droves to bow at the altar of white skin and black clothing. Goth is black. Goth looks dead. Goths wear velvet and regency shirts. They have ratted hair and wear silver occult-referencing jewellery. The origins behind their style can be traced back to the Victorian cult of mourning, and the origins behind the emergence of this movement can be traced back to the late 1970s and the arrival of bands such as The Damned and Bauhaus. Both have a fondness for Dracula.
This tribe was born out three things: the release of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters; a rejection of punk, while keeping the do-it-yourself approach and an embracing of glam rock, though not necessarily the latter’s aesthetic but more its flamboyance; and, most importantly, the androgyny. The new romantics congregated around London’s Blitz club, making every effort to outdo each other in the extravagance stakes. It was flouncy. There were ruffles. Balloon sleeves and air-brushed make-up. Like Marie Antoinette on Ritalin. Inspiration came from decadent periods of history – Romanticism, Russian constructivism, clowns, cabaret and pirates. Its emergence into the mainstream coincided with Vivienne Westwood’s Pirate collection of 1981 and culminated with John Galliano’s Les Incroyables graduate collection in 1984.
Before the bling, magnums of Cristal and the supersizing of everything on your person – before it went “ghetto” – hip-hop had style. There were labels. There was aspiration. But in the beginning, in the early 1980s, it was a case of style and the right label. It was all about the look. It re-appropriated classic sportswear as a statement. Before that, tracksuits had, as a rule, been confined to the track. Now they were on the street. Hip-hop fans favoured Le Coq Sportif and Adidas. Run-DMC even went so far as to immortalise their love of the three stripes in song. These were worn with leather or sheepskin bombers and Adidas shell toes. With “phat” laces. Jewellery was heavy and gold and big. It suggested wealth and prestige. In the later stages of the 1980s, along with the growth of black nationalism, it was seen as being influenced by Africanism. As were the hairstyles.
For the most part, rave was confined to the clubs in which it was celebrated. With the arrival of Acid House from Chicago, a style movement was born in the UK that had as much to do with ecstasy as it did with the music. More than a music phenomenon, this was about the freedom to express yourself, through dance and, to an extent, dress. It was, in the main, made up of boiler suits, neon tie dye and smiley-face logos. Luminous vests and white gloves. You blew on whistles and carried glowsticks in your hand. You could even suck on a dummy if you were so inclined, which was probably introduced to help with the girning. The colours were chosen for their ability to shine under UV light.
This started with Mark Arm sometime in the early 1980s, hit the big time with Nirvana and the release of Nevermind and resulted in the firing of Marc Jacobs from Perry Ellis. The clothes were “thrifted”. Flannel shirts and anoraks. Jeans. Durable outdoor clothing. Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman described it thus: “This clothing is cheap, it’s durable and it’s kind of timeless. It also runs against the grain of the whole flashy aesthetic that existed in the 1980s.” The aesthetic that grew out of grunge wasn’t a conscious effort, though. More a culmination of laziness and a lack of money. That dirty dishevelment was achieved through a lack of frequent washing. Later, people would spend hundreds trying to get the look, which defeated the point and signified the downward decline of grunge. That and the death of Kurt Cobain.
Image courtesy: Rex Features
by Natalie Dembinska