I’m always a little confused when people dis the fashion of the 1980s. 80s fashion was cool and innovative, political, even… then I remember that most people equate 80s clothing with baggy acid wash jeans, huge hair, shapeless over-sized t-shirts, and too much neon. But that would be off the mark.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1984, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of alternative fashion. If you were a young person inclined towards punk, post-punk, mod, new romantic, or new wave music and styles, your best bet for cool clobber was to write away to the UK clothing shops that advertised in the back of Star Hits magazine, wait impatiently for a catalogue that may or may not ever arrive, make your selection based on black and white, usually photocopied images and weird European sizes, purchase and send an international money order, and hope like hell that your gear arrived and (haha!) actually fit.
Stumbling into the darkened bedroom she shared with her younger sister, Beth turned on a table lamp and gasped in shock. It was one of the ‘beauties’. Right there in her sister Alice’s bed. Not just one of them, in fact, but ‘her’ beauty, the girl Beth had been fascinated with for months, ever since the young woman had started showing up at Rumours, the town’s only gay bar, where Beth worked the door.
“What the fuck?!” Beth muttered, leaning in to get a closer look at the girl’s long eyelashes resting on her alabaster cheek.
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.
Lipstick, big hair, floppy shirts and synthesizers. “New wave” was a unique trend that was the conglomeration of many things – punk, post punk, new romanticism, technology and attitude. And in the early 1980s it defined a generation.
While bands were always making albums, the genre was defined mostly by singles – songs with a quality that stood out as a representation of a band (especially a new band) and helped to sell both albums and concert tickets as well as the 7-inch single itself. While some bands exist only as one-hit wonders, others have used their success in those early days to create music – and careers – that spanned decades.
Mad World by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein is a collection of those songs in book format, each with an introduction, some snarky facts, a “where are they now” update, a “mixtape” list of suggestions of similar songs and, most importantly, an interview with the principal artist in each band.
Yesterday, I moved into a new marketing demographic. Now in the void known as the 40 – 49 market, I no longer hold the cachet of youth, but have not yet achieved the financial stability or respect of the baby boom. Essentially, I’m supposed to stop caring about being cool and hip and be fully ensconced in paying off my home in the suburbs, while contributing to a RESP for my 2.5 kids. I’m hoping this means advertising agencies will stop co-opting the music of my youth and will move on to early 90s bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana so I can go back to listening to the Cult and Modern English without picturing automobiles or cheeseburgers.
I’m not hung up about being 40. I spent the last year working up to it. “I’m almost 40!!” I’d declare when required to admit my age, instead of just saying “39″ and being done with it. I’ve had lots of practice getting it out there. Nor am I self-consciously starting to refuse to admit my age. That’s the one benefit to being festively plump – I look a good 5 to 10 years younger than I am.
No, as usual, my issues are more with where society says I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. At 20, being “alternative”, or “marching to your own drummer” is considered to be a phase of growing up. At 30, it’s a little odd, but there’s still time for you to settle down. However at 40, continuing to be a bit of a freak tends to take on new meaning, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever “settle down”, and be “normal”.