Youth Fashion – what’s that about?

Now I’m not talking about high culture here or looking to get into the range of styles. It matters little.

winkle-pickers, beehives, split jeans, arses hanging out, no laces, mini-skirts, levis, Italian suits, waist coats, plastic coats, what-ever.

Goths, Punks, Hip-cats, Rockabillies, Hippies, Skinheads……….

What’s it about?

Every new generation creates a new set of equally daft fashion statements.

It’s all about sex isn’t it? It’s a statement of fertility and accessibility isn’t it? It’s saying – ‘we’re available’.

But people hang on to their youth and fashion long past its sell-by date. Each youth fashion and haircut sticks around long past the youth, fertility and availability it signifies.

That is why youth fashion has to change all the time.

Other cultures – like some African cultures – have a ceremony where the youths are stripped of their hair and youth culture and enter into an age of adulthood. They marry and settle down.

But hey – fashion is fun – right?

Anecdotes – Fashion – statements and sex appeal.

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Singer Elvis Presley performing on stage in Hollywood, California. June 22, 1956 Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Singer Elvis Presley performing on stage in Hollywood, California. June 22, 1956 Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA

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I find it fascinating looking at the different fashions. There is a real drive to fit in and yet be an individual; to create a style of our own. As a teacher I saw all these hairstyles and fashions come and go. Some were great and some very iffy.

They are all statements. They define the relationship to the establishment but more importantly they shriek out about our availability to the opposite sex. Fashion is biology. It’s the plumage of the bird in full flush of testosterone/oestrogen-driven frenzy.

My own style and fashion started up in 1962 at the age of thirteen. I went to the cinema with my friends Dave and Mutt and we hooked up with three girls. My girl was a dainty, exceedingly pretty heartbreaker of a French girl by the name of Danielle. At that time my idea of sartorial elegance ran to a plaid shirt, jeans and my favourite plimsoles, complete with ragged holes. Danielle was not impressed but none the less made a date to see me again. I headed off to town to sort out a suitable style. I bought myself a white polo-neck T-shirt, a denim shirt with button-down collar, hipster jeans with wide belt and some chisel-toe boots.

I liked it.

Danielle liked it too. Though she led me quite a chase.

I favoured skin-tight hipsters and button-down collars for quite a while. In France I bought a great grey denim shirt with pockets, lapels and buttons that were very different.

I moved on to Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots with a seam down the middle or beige suede desert boots.

School took a dim view of my tight low-cut trousers and boots and sent me home.

By the mid-sixties I had moved on to wide flared trousers. I wore a leather flying jacket and fur-lined motor-bike boots.

The school took a dim view of these too and sent me home.

I found that quite ironic. I was sent home for having trousers that were too narrow and trousers that were too broad.

We had regular assemblies to check uniform. The girls had to kneel and have their skirts measures. More than a few inches above the knee and they were sent home. The task of measuring was very popular.

There was a lot of hitching down on the way into assembly and hitching back up on the way out. The boys had the width of their trousers measured. That was not quite so popular a task.

It was a wonder any of us received an education.

By the late sixties I was wearing flared jeans with patches that I sewed on myself, bright jumpers and coloured shirts.

Liz then started making my clothes and I was wearing bright tunics made from colourful Indian materials, hand-knitted sweaters and a long sheep-skin coat.

I loved all that colour and ethnic material. It shouted out that I wasn’t part of all that greedy, selfish establishment.

I was doing it my way.

What is cool?

Singer Elvis Presley performing  on stage in Hollywood, California. June 22, 1956 Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Singer Elvis Presley performing on stage in Hollywood, California. June 22, 1956 Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA

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What is this thing we call cool?

I see all these kids walking about wearing clichés with their hair and clothes. They ape each other, and their idols, in attitude, costume and posture as they try to be cool. Most are merely achieving ridiculousness. Fashion victims are manifest on every high street.

It seems that every age has its version of cool. I bet the cavaliers and 1920s flappers thought they were cool.

Modern-day cool comes right out of black 50s culture and Rockabilly. Black culture epitomised cool. They were discriminated against, lived in poverty (I stereotype) but knew how to have a good time, let their hair down and develop a style that was full of flair. They did not have to fit in. They could wear garish pastel coloured suit, dance and express their sexuality.

White 50s culture was prim, proper and strictly coded. Your life was mapped out. Your hairstyle and clothes carefully manicured. You did not deviate. It was all ordained.

Then came the Blues and Rockabilly and Youth Culture and Cool were born.

Kids no longer worried about their futures and how they fitted in to the status quo; they cared about how their peers saw them. To be in was to be cool.

In the 1950s Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation focussed on Jazz and the Cool Negro life-style.

1950s Rockabilly adopted ducktails, flouncy skirts, side-burns and hi-heeled sneakers, contrasted clothes and posturing.

The sixties epitomised youth culture and the alternative culture.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the crooners came out of white culture and can never be cool.

Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, 1956 Elvis and Captain Beefheart are cool.

Cool is not fashion.

For me ‘cool’ has to be born out of rebellion and alternative vision. You can’t ape it. You have to have it inside. It is a state of mind. Cool is an attitude.