Potato Necklaces and Banana Peel Hats — An Ode to Le Chateau Circa 1984

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.

So the arrival of Montreal chain Le Chateau to the Halifax area in early 1984 sparked a shopping frenzy among anyone looking for clothes outside the mainstream, including my 16-year-old self. In September of that year, the store created a flyer insert that was distributed with local newspapers. Even among the freaks and weirdos, it caused a stir. Copies were slipped out and hidden before straight-laced, disapproving parents might come across them and forbid their kids from setting foot in the place.

Halifax had three Le Chateau locations in 1984. The most popular was located in the Halifax Shopping Centre and the draw was less the clothing and more a salesclerk named Phil who was a dead ringer for John Taylor of Duran Duran. A waist-high wall directly across from the store made for an optimum viewing spot for young teenage girls, both to see and be seen, and to ogle poor Phil, who mostly took his newfound popularity in stride.

Considered pricey at the time, nobody had the cash to own everything in the catalogue, but every person of freakish demeanour that I knew owned at least one thing. Sadly, “Le Crapeau” quickly became known for the poor quality of its offerings and even though we all continued to shop there, everyone I knew would cut the tags out, in a delusional and hilarious attempt to prove that the garment was from somewhere else. Never mind that you’d show up some place and three other people would be wearing the exact same dress or shirt, every single one of them would deny having purchased it at Le Chateau; it was still the only place offering anything for freaks and weirdos, so it’s where we spent our money.

When I moved to Toronto in 1987, I had no need to shop at Le Chateau anymore. Between Kensington Market and Queen Street West, there were so many cool shops selling unique clothing that I had no need for the stuff from chain stores that everyone else had. Soon after that Le Chateau changed direction and became the place where young people bought party and event outfits. The dalliance with the freaks and weirdos was over.

To this day, however, I still immediately cut the tags out of all my store-bought clothes as soon as I get them home. Old habits die hard.

For the sake of posterity, I’m reposting the catalogue in its entirely. Found on the blog of the Le Chateau website, I figure it’s likely to disappear once the chain closes for good, and these images spark so many memories for me that I think they deserve to be saved and remembered.

I desperately wanted these pointy, buckled shoes but my Mom forbade me from buying them, even with my own money, declaring that shoes should cost no more than $30. At $12.99 I think pretty much everyone had that mesh sweater, sans dog biscuits.
Some of it was just too weird, even for the freaks and weirdos, or fashionistas who devoured Vogue. This was one of those images that most of us just didn’t understand.
This grey and black sweater was freaking ubiquitous in the halls of my high school.
Potato necklace, banana peel hat. This image will be burned into my mind until the day I die.
My favourite image; I copied this look right down to the ribbons and pearls.
I always wondered if they got lucky or had to search really hard to find a model who could sneer like Johnny Rotten. Halifax freaks picked up on the big plaid shirt thing in 1984, mostly because it could pass for “normal” and wouldn’t cause a conniption with the ‘rents.
No freakin’ idea. I do wonder about the fat bald guy who appears in many of these photos though. Was he there for the paycheque or in on the joke?
Is this the first image of the soon-to-be-everywhere ornate throat brooch? It was a look that became synonymous with Le Chateau in later years. Also, every Goth-inclined dude I knew had that coat. And WTF is up with the socks and stockings?
Oh, those red boots.
Oh the shoulder pads! This was the beginning of that trend, and it would go on to be (literally) massive. I recall a winter subway ride once I moved to Toronto where two friends and I couldn’t side side-by-side in a 3-seat section because we each had two or three layers of shoulder pads on (shirt, jacket and overcoat), and our shoulders wouldn’t all fit.
Maybe it didn’t all make sense, maybe nobody ever actually wore their gear just like that, maybe those ladies were more than just friends, it’s none of our business, and maybe bald dude wasn’t just an innocent bystander. But all together, it made us remember — and talk about — Le Chateau, and that was the point.