As I strolled out of Liverpool Street Station, I picked up a limited edition of Holly Nichols (Harvey Nichols Magazine) and read the homage to 80’s fashion. I couldn’t help but wonder … was that the 80’s I remember? Did my siblings, friends and their friends run around dressed in power suits, like Alexis Carrington? Was the 80’s really just about shoulder pads, big buckle belts? Did young working class kids really dress like a Flock of Seagulls?
For many of the teenagers I grew up with in Birmingham, the 80’s was a time to show what tribe you belonged to. Rasta’s, Skinheads, Jazz Funk Heads, Casuals and New Romantics; each subculture had their own unique style of expressing themselves sartorially.
Our street style was flamboyant, brash and in your face. We were unapologetic; we wanted to appear rich even if we lived in council houses, and the best way we knew how to do that was through our style.
It wasn’t unknown for teenagers to dress head to foot in Benetton and Aquascutum (well before the 90’s rage, which was later derided due to its association with the working class). Any teenage girl who lived in an inner city during this time will tell you that nothing fit a teenage boy better than a pair of ‘Farah’ Trousers.
This is because back then, Farah had the menswear market cracked. If, for example, the boy teamed it with a pastel Benetton jumper, and Adidas or Nike trainers, he could literally have any teenage girl he wanted, even if his face looked like the surface of the moon. His labels and the way he put them together gave him the confidence to try it on with the fittest girl in the area.
Yet it was the Casuals (or football hooligans in our case) that had the most powerful influence on street wear and youth fashion.
These older teenage boys and young men, often in their 20’s from various class and ethnic backgrounds, who loved Drakka Noir and Ralph Lauren aftershave, wanted to express their status and subculture through their bucket hats, Sergio Tacchinni, Ellese, Fila, Lacoste, and Adidas two piece tracksuits, and the trainers by Puma, Nike and Adidas would rival anything being designed now.
The Casuals would return from away games in Europe with the best sports wear; the better the brand, the richer they appeared and felt themselves to be. Their style seemed to filter down to us younger kids; we wanted to be rich and successful like the people we saw on the telly, and one of the ways many of us chose to do it was through labels.
School would be a fashion parade of the latest Nike, Adidas, Kappa, etc. (our uniforms would follow the school colours, yet be made up of luxury sports and fashion brands). You had to guard your gear with your life as it wasn’t unusual for your clothes to disappear during lunchtime!
This was the first time I witnessed the power of clothing, and if your parents weren’t prepared to buy these clothes (or if you couldn’t secretly nick them from your older siblings), you were ostracized and considered uncool.
This need to feel and look wealthy created a divide amongst the teenagers I knew, i.e. the in-and-out crowd. If you weren't 'in', ultimately this influenced the way you were viewed by your peers; how you were treated, who you could hang out with etc., which impacted on how you viewed yourself and your confidence.
If you look at the Spring/Summer 2019 collections; sportswear inspired by the look and fabrics of the 80’s is abound. This era was about excess, possibility, and fantasy. By the mid to late 80’s, sportswear, which was the domain of the rich, had become a staple for many working class kids and it’s the aesthetic of the Casuals that has had a lasting impression on fashion. Where I grew up, this was the real street fashion. We loved Ra Ra Skirts, Canvas Pixie Boots and curly perms too!
© Jeraline George 2018. All Rights Reserved.