The Bag I’m In
Music and style – they go hand in hand. Youth culture through the decades has always consisted of a specific type of music paired with specific sartorial elements that defined each trend. Imagine A Flock of Seagulls in anything other than the winged hairdos and the snap-front overlapped shirts or Kurt Cobain without his ratty sweater.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, music and style in Britain changed so rapidly that it must have been hard to keep up. Movements around a particular scene (punk, for instance) gave way to styles associated with specific bands, record labels, and clubs (Smithsmania, The Postcard Look, and the Blitz kids, specifically). Many of these scenes were short-lived, many morphed and melded, punk being the seed for almost everything that came after it, and some even came back around as revivals of themselves after a few years.
Documenting all of this is Sam Knee. Himself a life-long Mod and vintage clothing expert, Knee’s book The Bag I’m In documents 36 “youf” cultures of Britain between 1960 and 1990, all of which were associated with a specific genre of music and a specific style of dress. Starting with Mods and Rockers, Knee moves through Hard Mod to get to the original Skinheads, looking in on Beatniks, Boho/Art School and Hippies along the way. He traces the move through Punk to its various offshoots (2nd Wave, Goth, Crust, Anarcho…) and then the influence of indie labels and New Wave.
Each group includes a write up describing the related music and main style elements, including brands, as well as explanations of fashion developments, such as the full circle skirt worn by the Northern Soul girls, chosen for its flowy movement on the usually hot and sweaty dancefloors. The description is complemented by photos showing examples of the style, taken back in the day, and all sent in to Knee (over 2000 that he had to weed through) by friends and readers. Some celebrity faces show up (for instance, the famous pic of Sid Vicious, pre-punk, when he was a glitter kid with feathered hair and a Bowie t-shirt), but this is mostly regular kids, now all old geezers, wearing their regular styles of the day.
One of my favourite parts of The Bag I’m In is the set of illustrations by Florence Bamberger. Depicting a typical guy and girl of each scene, these drawings are sadly collected together at the back – I’d have loved to see them paired with each genre throughout the book. But that’s a small issue, they’re fabulous either way.
Knee admits to leaving out some non-music based scenes such as The Casuals, and chose 1990 to end his collection (The Baggys of the rave scene), pointing out in his introduction that by the 1990s, the music scene was very US-influenced and headed to the mainstream. But for those 30 years, Britain really did lead the world in youth culture and style, and The Bag I’m In is a fantastic document to that sartorial contribution.
What I am most enthralled by is that every one of these sub-cultures found their way across the pond to even the smallest towns of Canada and the US. We maybe didn’t know about the Blitz club, or that Postcard Records had its own set of followers that dressed a certain way, but I recognized every one of the 36 styles Knee includes from the streets of Halifax, where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s to Toronto where I moved in 1987. Pre-internet, it was somehow all assimilated thanks to music magazines, videos and summer trips abroad.
Whatever bag you were in, Sam Knee has documented it in this fantastic book. Totally worth tracking down.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.