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.
Northern Soul is a little film by director Elaine Constantine that came and went without so much as a whisper. Released in the UK in 2014, Northern Soul debuted in North America at TIFF in September 2015 and opened to a limited release in October, disappearing the following week.
In as much as the plot was formulaic, Northern Soul the film mostly flew under the mainstream radar because so few people (especially in North America) know what Northern Soul music actually is.
Northern Soul grew out of Mod, separated from its skinhead twin in style and sound but with much of the same working class attitude. In the wake of Motown and other successful US R&B labels of the 1960s, many smaller, much more obscure labels began recording, pressing extremely limited quantities of discs by artists who would, for the most part, remain unknown. In northern England in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while everyone else was listening to prog rock, pub bands and more psychedelic-oriented mainstream rock, working class kids in the north were listening to soul music, competing to find the most rare and obscure titles. DJs would travel to the US specifically to comb record stores to find even more rare discs.
While it would have happened eventually, a slow burn rather than an explosion, on this day in 1965 the mini skirt had its official debut as worn by model Jean Shrimpton at the Derby Day races in Melbourne, Australia.
The invention of the modern day mini is attributed to British designer Mary Quant (there is some historical reference to a garment similar to a miniskirt being worn in Egyptian times), but Shrimpton’s appearance in a short dress that would seem demure by today’s standards caused a fashion revolution to go mainstream.
Shrimpton was the world’s first supermodel, paid to appear at events in garments by certain designers or manufacturers; in this case textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International had engaged her to promote their new fabric, Orlon. The whole wardrobe was custom-made by designer Colin Rolfe, and kept secret, with no media previews.
So when Shrimpton appeared at the derby revealing her knees – and a few teeny inches of her thighs – the official excuse was that Dupont had not sent enough fabric to make the dress the intended length. That the model also appeared without gloves or stockings at a very stuffy and conservative event probably didn’t help.
However, changing morals, youthful rebellion and that crazy rock and roll music meant that the mini skirt was quickly embraced by British – and then world – youth culture and has never really gone away. The hemline has moved up and down, as hemlines do, but it’s no longer considered risque, even when it reveals underwear.
Alternative sub-cultures also embraced the mini skirt and encompassed the garment into part of the uniform for punks, goths and mods. Here’s a look at the progress that little bit of fabric has made…