My greatest sadness as a parent of three now nearly adult kids, is that I’ve never been properly appalled by what they wear. It has always been portrayed as one of the rites of parental passage that you have a stand up row with your son or daughter about their hair and/or attire, as the sartorial generation gap is made manifest in the latest tribal teenage style shocking mum and dad. But it never happened. I never got to utter the immortal words: “You can’t go out dressed like that!” My kids all dress far too well, far too sensibly, to ever really provoke much more than a mild smile. They are cool, decent, tidy reminders that British youth no longer play the great street style caper, which so marked out my generation. And I think we are all a little poorer for that.
In The Way We Wore, written over ten years ago, I stated that I thought the glorious stylistic lineage of Teddy Boys, mods, skinheads, soul boys, punks, new romantics and casuals, which took us from the 50s to the 80s had run out of steam. Acid house was that last great truly new, truly British upsurge of collective sartorial and musical lunacy from our nation’s disaffected youth, and I thought at the time it would be the last. This whole story which started with dapper lads in bomb damaged London aping the style of Edwardian dandies and dancing to rock ‘n’ roll came to a grinding halt gurning in a field in lilac OshKosh dungarees somewhere beyond the M25. And there has been nothing new since.
Not that kids can’t still look stupid. The arse showing, jeans around the knees trend of a couple of years back was patently preposterous, but it was a direct lift from US ghetto life, not an indigenous British style. It was also remarkably tame compared to say the Sex Pistols in Bondage gear or Boy George in full 80’s slap. This innate conservatism is also a sign of the rampant globalisation and corporatisation of teen style. There was a time when I could tell which part of London kids came from by the socks they wore. Now young people dress identically in LA, Lagos, Latvia and Ladbroke Grove. Unfortunately the marketing men have won and the global brands from Nike to Levi’s have triumphed. Street style always came from the gutter up, now it is promoted and marketed from the boadrooms on high with compliant ‘celebrities’ as their main marketing tool.
But the real reason today’s youngsters aren’t as sartorially and musically obsessed as we were – the two were always hand-in-hand, though in TWWW I argue it was always the clothes which came first and the music made to fit the look – is because they’ve got lots of other things to do. Back in the 60s and 70s when I was first appalling my parents by adopting a number one crop with a razor parting or wearing a kilt and wing collar shirt to a nightclub, clothes and records were all we had. Street style was a largely working class invention and working class kids back then often only had the clothes they stood up in.
Music and clothes simply do not matter as much anymore to a generation that is more likely to define itself by computer games or social media, and spend its money and energy on the digital accoutrements of modern life. My kids like music and have loads of all kinds on their phones, they buy nice clothes and care about their appearance, but neither of those define who they are, they do not have the tribal urges to dress and dance in such a way that marks them out. They all go to festivals in jeans like everybody else.
And all of this makes me slightly sad, the nostalgia perhaps of a middle-aged man who loved the days when the streets of London were a riotous teenage catwalk for the competing tribes fighting glorious style wars.
The Way We Wore is available to buy from Autharium now. The paperback version is available through Amazon.