Newspaper advert from 1985




Farahs. Take your pick.

Men's Ravel boot from the 1980s.

An Argyle sweater. A V-neck was preferred.


Clothing has been an integral part of youth culture worldwide, probably since the 1950s, when teenagers were for the first time, able to dress differently from their parents. West Indian immigrants arrived in the UK with their smoothly tailored suits, featuring long pencil skirts for the women, and American inspired baggy pants for the men. These were often accessorised by a wide brimmed hat, and a much needed winter coat and gloves. Italian Winklepicker shoes with highly chiselled pointed toes, and sometimes different coloured uppers, were also in vogue. Their offspring in most instances, would also adorn similar attire, unless a hot summer dictated short trousers and skirts. Although the youth of the time often rebelled against conformity and wanted more freedom of choice, ironically in the decades that followed, they were all too eager to wear the same apparel as their peers.

Ska was the music of choice in 1960s Jamaica, years before reggae took hold on the island. Prince Buster was one of the leading figures of the genre, while an up-and-coming guitarist called Bob Marley, struggled to break through. Around 1979, British Ska revivalists such as The Specials, Madness, and The Selector, brought the music to new fans, back into the charts, and many memories to old enthusiasts. A number of these bands were signed to one label, keyboardist Jerry Dammer’s Two Tone, which became synonymous with racial harmony in Britain. As far as dress sense was concerned, they took their lead from Jamaica's so-called Rudeboys, and Britain's Modernists (Mods for short) and Skin-headed soulboys of the late 1960s. Men’s shirts from brands such as Ben Sherman, Slazenger, and Fred Perry were the order of the day, yet again. Stay-pressed two-tone trousers with perhaps a pair of suede desert boots worn underneath for the Mods, and Levi jeans with tassled loafer shoes and white socks for the Skins. Accessories could include the formidable Crombie overcoat. Unfortunately, the skin-head style was also appropriated by right-wing groups at the time, with the main difference being that those skin-heads often wore boots by German designer Doctor Marten, with short ankle-swinger jeans, army surplus bomber jackets, and their aggressive behaviours. Panelled shift dresses and flat shoes with a bobbed hairstyle, ensured that teenaged girls maintained their fashion status.

For some of the ladies on the soul music scene of the late 1970s, fitted cardigans over a tight polo neck sweater, garnished with a necklace, completed their look. This was usually underpinned by a wide pleated skirt, while discerning soulboys would not dare be seen in flared trousers. Classic brands of the era such as Farah and the Italian label Gabicci, have seen a resurgence and now sell reproductions of earlier designs. Gabicci sweaters often featured very elaborate geometric line patterns, and a young black man about town during the late 1970s, may have felt lost without one of their essential wardrobe items, zipped below the neck. Or even an Argyle V-necked sweater, with the aforementioned polo, and a figure-hugging pair of Farah trousers in one of the many lurid colours that they offered. One would also have to ensure, that there was enough Dixie Peach or TCB massaged into their hair, to make it manageable. Regularly spending one’s hard earned cash in shops like Cecil Gee or Baron John, became an expensive habit for some unless they paid via HP (Hire Purchase credit), much like the Mods would have for their obligatory custom-made Mohair suits. But if one could not afford such expensive garments, similar unbranded styles could be purchased via the mainstream shops of the day such as Marks & Spencer, C&A, Dunn & Co. or even John Collier.

As the 1970s and 1980s merged, another dynamic came into being. English football fans brought back very exotic looking sports clothing, from their travels across Europe supporting their teams. These heavily branded items soon permeated through to the fashions of the streets. Sportswear by Italian design houses Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Robe Di Kappa, and the French brand Lacoste, created yet more reasons for youngsters to part with their money. Much like Fred Perry, René Lacoste who is credited with creating the tennis shirt, had won many tournaments such as the French Open during his career, and decided to start producing his own line of clothing in the 1930s. The popularity of Tacchini in the UK, was no doubt boosted by the patronage of John McEnroe, during the classic Wimbledon final in 1980. But a tracksuit and trainers was not appropriate attire for nightclubs, and fortunately the brands mentioned also fabricated sweaters and casualwear in their names. Hence came the term Casuals for the exponents of these brands. Sweaters and shirts by Lyle & Scott, Pringle, and Benetton, along with Lois, Pace, C17, Pepe, and Levi jeans were essential purchases. But of course, one had to ensure that the hem of the jeans was split precisely, so that the two halves rested on one's pair of trainers correctly. Those of a fastidious nature, would also meticulously sew a seam down the legs, to ensure that a permenant crease was always visible.

During the early and mid 1980s, English marques established since the 1850s such as Burberry and Aquascutum (translated from Latin as Water Shield) made scarves which became de rigeur. One could consider themselves either fortunate or broke, if they owned one of their raincoats. A Burberry trenchcoat, though long lasting and well made, cost in excess of £300 at that time. At present, a men’s Burberry or Aquascutum raincoat would relieve it’s new owner of nearly £700. Meanwhile back at street level, true fashionistas could buy some of their trainers and sportswear from Lillywhites or Olympus Sports. Adidas Samba and Adidas Gazelle were the most popular training shoes for a while. For those who couldn't manage premium price brackets, Admiral, Gola, Patrick, and Mitre trainers were also available. Dress shoes could be purchased from Panache, Nickleby’s, and Ground Level in London’s West End. Saxone, Ravel, and Shellys, were renowned for their affordable footwear. Coles, Manhattan, and again Cecil Gee were good places for both sexes to purchase branded apparel. Those on a budget could try waiting in vain for these items to go on sale, or venture to Hepworths, C&A, Mr Byright, or even the eponymous Top Man stores for look-a-likes. There were also many small retailers across the country, who sold fashionable branded clothing on the high street.

The mid '80s called for big and baggy jackets and pants for both men and women, shoulder padded to the hilt. Silky shirts and blouses were buttoned to the neck, usually with a brooch in place of a tie. The television series Solid soul proved to be an ideal hunting ground for the pervayeurs of such clothing.

The new casuals of the 1990s discovered even more brands, and were highly secretive about the outlets from which they were purchased. Even if the store was abroad. Chipie, Chevignon, and Chambers made the must have chino trousers and sweatshirts, while Nike, Champion, Travelfox, and Converse trainers and boots adorned their feet. As before, many of these youngsters proved to be very creative, by cannibalising and altering these clothes to a more suitable fit. For example, wide legged chino trousers were taken up at the bottom, using the pin-roll technique. This was a very urban look that was slightly reminiscent of previous years, but as the decade progressed, many of these labels have seemed to disappear entirely, having apparently fallen out of favour. A recent advertising campaign by Burberry aimed directly at the youth market, appeared to have backfired as the brand was heavily embraced by the so-called chavs and hoodies.

As ever, these fashions have been constantly recycled because many of the current designers lack the creativity needed to produce new and innovative styles. Although to be fair, there is a demand for so called vintage clothing, from a generation who missed out.

*Updated 4/12/16



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