THE ‘WORKING CLASS’ INFLUENCE ON FASHION

As we’ve said before, Britain has a rich Subcultural fashion history. Most Subcultures are organic formations, consisting of groups of youth who all stand for something.

Since the late 50’s British fashion has consisted of many Subcultures, from Mods to Goths. Most of these trends were not formed with a designer paving the way for youth to follow. For example, the Mods of the 60s decided to take a direct turn away from the Teddy boy style of the 50’s and swapped the grease for a clean cut, smart look.

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Mods in Piccadilly Circus, London, 1960’s. Photograph taken from Reddit.

Isn’t it just amazing how something can evolve from nothing more than a mere thought of rebellion?

All of the Subcultures Britain has witnessed have consisted of masses of working class youth creating an up rise. Take Acid house for an example, this particular Subculture swept Britain taking nearly every working class youth with it. They loved being part of something original, organic and most of all, their own. British Subcultural youth all strive for one predominant thing, which is freedom from the hegemony.

Their has been some controversy with this working class aesthetic though. Take Burberry for example, a high end luxury British heritage brand with strong iconography. The luxury brand was vexed when in the early 2000’s their iconic designs became the uniform for the working class kids of Britain. Eventually Burberry axed their original iconic nova check design adapting it with a more exclusive look.

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British Chav’s donning early Burberry, circa 2000. Google images.

Fast forward to now, Burberry recently collaborated with designer Gosha Rubchinskiy on a collection which donned the original nova check print and working class aesthetic. Typically enough, Burberry clearly jumped on the bandwagon of the streetwear trend that is booming currently, diverting back to their original designs and contentiously donning that aesthetic they loathed. Maybe it’s cool now to carry this working class style?

 

Burberry X Gosha Rubchinskiy and  Adwoa Aboah for Bailey’s final Burberry campaign, SS18.

What my main point is, no matter what the designer creates, it’s the youth on the streets who create the trend. We may not all love the Chav aesthetic which gave Burberry its British fame, but surely we can appreciate how youth began to take this trend and make it their own,  can’t we? They tarnished all the of original connotations attached to the heritage brand, the same way Punks defaced Tartan. It is undisputedly obvious that these Subcultural youth create and form these trends and then more often than not, the designer follows, look at Skinheads, Mods, Goths, Casuals, Ravers.. the list is endless.

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THE BLITZ KIDS

Flashback to 1980 in Britain, the atmosphere of general life seemed almost bleak, until you enter the Blitz nightclub, London. Enormous hair, freaky eyeliner and dandy-esque outfits fill the room.

The beginning of New Romanticism is stated to have began in London and Birmingham, in nightclubs such as Blitz and Billy’s. The New Romantics; like other youth cultures, began due to feelings of diversity to culture at the time, they were bored of Punk fashion and didn’t agree with the archaic rebellious style they carried. Instead, they wanted a more flamboyant, soft and glamorous look. Although youth of the scene were regularly labelled ‘New Romantics’ they were also regularly dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, sheerly because they were regulars of the Blitz nightclub.

Darren, Chelsea 1982.

A New Romantic By Derek Ridgers.

Most of New Romantic clothing was inspired by period costumes, donning ruffles and oversized silhouettes made from luxurious laces, brocades, velvets, satins and silks. The New Romantics wanted to use new outlets to get themselves noticed and unlike the Punks, they chose a softer approach. It is widely stated that New Romanticism is the one Subculture that directly connects with fashion, unlike the Punk’s who were more anti-fashion. New Romanticism was a direct turn away from the Punk scene, although the Punk scene had given people the authority to do as they pleased in regards to Fashion. The scene was also a reaction to the casual sporty style that was dominating regular fashion during the 1980’s, New Romantic fashion couldn’t be any further away from lycra leggings and sporty jackets.

Vivienne Westwood’s A/W 1981  ‘Pirate’ collection was the epitome of all things Blitz. Westwood stated that the collection was a ‘blunder’ of idea’s from the past, with multicultural and 17th century references.

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An ensemble from Westwood’s 1981 Pirate collection, Photo by the V&A.

The New Romantics were very gender rule breaking, women regularly donned masculine silhouettes and and trouser suits where as the men regularly wore eye-liner and lipstick. I personally think Bowie was the first massive influence on this, although he was around before the scene, his femininity made it acceptable for men to follow, making it ‘cool’. Boy George, probably the most famous member of the Subculture, carried this gender mixing style, donning eclectic make-up and a feminine look. The true New Romantics were known to dress up everyday and carry this strong intoxicating style around the clock.

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Boy George by Derek Ridgers.

In the modern day, references to the era can still be noticed, but they are subtle. Frilly blouses, soft fabrics and feminine prints can still be recognised throughout general fashion. Recently, Art School, a London based brand have focused on the Blitz Kid era for inspiration of their recent collections, their designs evoke feelings of outrageous decadence. Although the Subculture may not exactly be prominent anymore, the Blitz Kid Subculture has been enormously impactful on British style, it is a part of British fashion heritage and always will be.

Art School SS18, Photographs taken from Dazed Magazine.

THE THEORY OF SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM

Yes, I promised in my Welcome post that I would introduce you to this. For me, this theory is probably the single most important part of Subcultural history, it is the theory that connects those dots between trends and people. The Theory of Symbolic Interactionism questions the emblematic meaning of trends, such as the colour black to the Gothic scene, and the importance it holds.

Connecting with personal identity, the theory exposes WHY people choose to wear these trends and what they mean to them. Another significant example is how Dr Martens were a symbol of sheer rebellion and non-conformity from the Punks and Skinheads of the 1970’s. All trend’s within a Subculture mean something, they hold an importance.

In the modern day, it is becoming harder to notice these symbols within fashion, everything is becoming over commercialised. There is still one recent trend which connects with this theory and it is the relation between Grime and Nike Trainers. Since Grime first began trainers have been a dominant symbol, and in the early days of Grime, the trainers you wore represented your status within a gang. With Grime booming in the last several years, this meaning has dwindled and now trainers are a part of nearly everyone’s wardrobe, but yet again, this trend was started through a SUBCULTURE. 

This theory will probably mentioned in around 80% of my posts, so I just wanted to give a brief overview first! My next post will be centred around New Romantics, stay tuned!

ANARCHY IN THE UK

Yes, that’s right, my first (proper) post will be all things PUNK. The Punk Subculture has always been close to my heart. I will never forget being 15 and hearing the Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ for the first time. I’m naturally a very rebellious person and I think this is maybe why I love it. Punk is a Subculture which was formed through angst against the establishment and created a moral panic throughout the UK.

Punk is said to have blossomed during the very early 70’s with pioneers of the Subculture, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren opening their first Punk store ‘Let it Rock’ on the Kings Road in London. To the wider nation Punk first emerged in 1976 when The Sex Pistols made front page news for their display of “the filthiest language Britain had ever heard” on national TV.

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Punk is one Subculture, like many, who used their personal identities to disperse their feelings towards culture in Britain at the time. The Dr Martens, Tartan pants and use of Safety Pins were all a massive middle finger up to British society. In the past Tartan was classed as a noble statement, until the Punks came along and tarnished every noble connotation attached.  When you see Tartan today do you think Punk or of Royalty? Yes, I thought so, you picture Johnny Rotten in his skin tight torn Tartan trousers.

Although it is widely disputed that Westwood and Mclaren started Punk, I think Punk began on the streets. Punk was probably Britain’s first real street style. Real Punks didn’t have the resources to buy the latest items from Westwood and Mclaren and instead created their own fashion. DIY items such as painted leather jackets, safety pin vests and even bin bags were a huge part of the true Punk’s wardrobe. Garments were defaced and torn as a statement of anti-establishmentism.

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Westwood still had a huge influence though, her items from Sex and Seditionaries are iconic to the period and still to this day are the emblem of Punk. Her designs are what brought Punk out of the streets and into high fashion (although Punk was actually anti-fashion). It is said that Punk’s would hang around Sex in the early days of Punk, and the Sex Pistols were even formed by Mclaren inside the store. Sex had a paramount influence on the building of the Subculture, the store was non-conformist and was unique in Britain during the time.

Punk today lacks the originality of Punks of the 70s, I even ask myself ‘does punk exist anymore?’ regularly. One thing I am certain of is the impact Punk has had on fashion. Without Punk, would Topshop be selling those Tartan trousers or torn jeans? I don’t think so. The impact Punk has left is massive, it is most certainly one of the most revolutionairy Subcultures we have ever witnessed. The trends that were created are everlasting and will always be connoted to Punk.

 

WELCOME

Hi, firstly I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Beth Chappell and I am a total fashion history nerd and vintage fashion collector. The whole purpose of this blog is to share my passion of British Subculture fashion history. Since being young I have been obsessed with all things British, especially the fashion Britain has created. We have an amazing fashion history, don’t we right?

Subculture fashion has formed such a huge part of the fashion industry and even in general fashion. Who’d have known it that those Dr Martens you whole heartedly love were a statement of sheer angst and rebellion against society? Or how the mini skirt’s we see all over the high street were part of the sexual revolution? That’s right, these paramount trends are more than a mere item of everyday fast fashion, they’re a part of history, culture and most importantly they came from a SUBCULTURE.

Whether it’s the Mod’s of the 60’s or the New romantics of the 80’s you love, we have got it covered. This blog is going to be you’re one stop shop for all you’re British fashion history interests, exploring themes of fashion, vintage style, rebellion, personal identity, gender and symbolic interactionism (don’t worry, I will introduce you to the theory of Symbolic interactionism very soon!).

Anyways, I hope you enjoy my blog, Happy reading!