I wrote this article last January during my research into Skinhead dress and contemporary fashions.
This is England ‘10
We are all addicted to the fashion nostalgia drug. Walk through any trend setting locale of London and those eras you had firmly packed into boxes and gladly forgotten seem once again to be adorning our streets. If you thought the ‘90s had died with curtain haircuts and double denim, it appears, sadly, you would be wrong. Luckily, with the power of hindsight and perhaps selection, the reinvention of fashion history to form a new amalgamation of contemporary style can only be a good thing. In the wake of Dr Martens 50th anniversary and with the progression of Shane Meadow’s This is England into a televised series it seems the essence of the Skins has been revived in contemporary culture and the style has inevitably followed, unsurprisingly in exactly the same place it had started, east London.
The Skinheads are fundamentally misunderstood, marred by the nationalist right wing factions of the 1980s revival; the core ethics of the original 1960s ‘Trojan Skinheads’ are largely forgotten. To be a Skin first time around was to recall a time of the dying working class community, before the machine replaced the worker, before your row house was bulldozed in place of de-personalised flats, a time when you actually knew your neighbours. They originally rejected anything mainstream, including politics, and chose instead to form an unconventional “family”, one with its own values, music taste and style. Jack asked a contemporary ‘80s revival Skinhead Dan Purcell, why he thought people became Skins, he said, “It’s a belonging, it’s like everyone who I know who is a Skin, has had something in their past happen to want to give this reaction…and I would agree”.
Their style was an extended caricature of the traditional working class labouring hero or the misled boys of the Victorian borstal, it’s classic Brit, when everything is changing, we retrogress. Check shirts, buttoned to the top, Levi’s jeans with precise turn-ups, heavy denim jackets, Crombie wool coats, pea head beanies, Dr Martens boots, shaven heads (sound familiar?). The girls too chose to dress like the blokes, shaving their heads as an emblem of alternative femininity. These young women did not want to run a stable home or express their opinions eloquently and calmly like their mothers, they carried weapons, hung around on the back streets and were living testament to the we “can look after ourselves just as good as you lot” attitude. Although the 1960s was seen as a period of sexual and social liberation for women, mainstream fashion, characterised by the designs of Ossie Clark and the ‘Twiggy’ look still adhered to an image of ultra femininity. In true Skin style, the girls of the movement refuted this completely and their presence within the public sphere could be said to have provided an intro to the escalating androgyny that has persisted in fashion since the ‘80s.
The cyclical nature of style trends is no state secret. With Daisy Lowe fronting the new Dr Martens campaign, the success of This is England ’86 and Britain’s love for anything old school it is no surprise that the Skin style has filtered through to contemporary street fashion. The trend this winter for ankle length rolled jeans, plaid shirts matched with oversized hoodies, denim jackets and Dr Martens boots is certainly reminiscent of the workman Skinhead style, if with a baggier grunge twist.
Of course that doesn’t mean if you strap on a pair of DMs and a check shirt you’re trying directly to be a Skin and importantly the people wearing the clothes have drastically changed (I don’t think a St Martin’s student, partial to blogging and Thursday nights in Dalston would have quite fitted in with the Petticoat Lane Skins of ’69). The reason for the styles persistence is perhaps tied up within a distinctly British ethic, nostalgia. We continually re-imagine and re-appropriate the past through our present style, whether its modeling yourself on Rayenne Graff in My so-called life, or on the image of the 1960s Skinhead, out of fashion will inevitability be in, authentic will always be prized above the re-made and Britain will always look to the past.