January 30, 2017

Style Tribes – review

Posted in Book review, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:26 pm by historywardrobe


Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures

Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures – Caroline Young (Frances Lincoln, 2016)

When you first discovered fashion, did you want to fit in or stand out? It seems that no matter how much we might want to assert our individuality, we can’t help making connections with others who like the same togs. And, while we think of clothes as being civilising, author Caroline Young is pretty certain that clothes are actually tribal.  Frankly, the first human adornments are believed to have been declaration of status and availability.  Has much changed?

In this attractive, picture-rich book, Young explores the links between youth, music culture and fashion.  Couture barely gets (or deserves) a look-in.  If you remember your own teenage years, much of the themes she covers will resonate.  Mine was the era of the New Romantics… on a very strict budget. My clothes were indeed influenced by music subcultures, and the cover art of those lovely LPs we flipped through at Woolworths and the local record shop. Alas, my solitary Duran Duran t-shirt soon became naff.  Since it was black, I next wore it back-to-front under a dubious fringed jacket during a moodier Goth phase.

Young’s descriptions of the sheer inventiveness of subculture fashion certainly rings true to me.  As teens (and beyond) we created our own looks from what we could afford, and what we could customise. To my chagrin, I remember attending one teen party with loops of coloured paperclips over my turquoise bat-wing top.  My best friend (always fabulously dressed & accessorised) complimented me on looking “so different.” Frankly I’d rather have been kitted out in shop-bought branded goods.  Now, of course, the high street can provide any look, often at minimal cost.  Funky, maybe, but punk it ain’t.


Style Tribes – punk


Reading Style Tribes is like wearing a pair of well-loved classic jeans – you know what you’re getting and you like it.  The chronology takes us through a cavalcade of cutting-edge fashion, all of it ultra-modern in its day.  Though mainly Western, the cultural span is broader than most fashion books, encompassing white surfer dudes and Black zoot suits; Asian harajuku and goa trance.

20170130_165101.jpgLooking back we can raise an eyebrow at outlandish extremes, or smile in admiration at the glorious rebelliousness of it all.  Beatnik, disco, riot grrls and steampunk, all are now immortalised in history.  What next?  Young says look to organically growing moods and moments in society:

“There are always new tribes… We just don’t know about them yet”


Style Tribes is smart, insightful and occasionally edgy. It celebrates all those outfits that made conservative parents shudder and say, “You can get back up those stairs – you’re not going out looking like that!”  Forget catwalks, think catcalls.  This fashion is high street & back alleys. It is attitude, not platitude. Tribalism at its most colourful and courageous.

May 21, 2014

The Future of Fashion…

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:06 am by historywardrobe

… from a Victorian perspective.

1926 men

A prediction of 1926 menswear. Hardly the sober 3-piece suit of actuality

In 1893 The Strand Magazine published a bizarre article by W. Cade Gall.  It claimed to record the dream of a snoozing gentleman in which he read a history of fashion written in 1993.  This mock history explored the absurdities of fashion’s evolutions, complete with zany illustrations (all featured in the article).

Fashions of 1893

Fashions of 1893 – perfectly ‘normal’ for their time

The true delight of the piece isn’t so much in the flamboyant costumes depicted.  Nor is it quite in the squirm of superior knowledge a modern reader might feel comparing predictions with reality. The real pleasure is in turning the spotlight on our own preconceptions.

Any culture struggles to see outside its own social and technological norms.  We assume that what we wear and how we wear it are ‘natural’ and inevitable even.  There are strong often-unexamined beliefs about the ‘correct’ gender of clothes, and also what’s appropriate for a certain status, profession or religion. 

Take trousers.  The imaginary 1993 fashion history recorded women actually breaking with convention to wear breeches of many forms – ‘In 1897 the divided skirt threatened to spread universally.  But it passed off, and nothing of a radical order was attempted in this direction until the revolution which brought in trousers for women in 1942.’  Given the rise of women cyclists in bloomer suits in the 1890s, and the adoption of trousers by women in World War Two, this isn’t too far off the mark.  However, it is clearly inserted as a joke.  A sort of cosy ‘women in trousers… whatever next! Harrumph!’

In 1893 it was inconceivable that men would leave off neckties, shirts and jackets.  Or that anyone could go out hatless.  That clothes would fit sleek to the body.  That legs would become a new erogenous zone.  That corsets would shrink first to girdles, then bras; that women’s drawers would become so scanty they disappear between the rump cheeks.

1980s and 90s

Female fashion of 1989 (left) and male peacocking from 1993. More suited to a couture catwalk fantasy than reality…

As for fabrics, the late nineteenth century saw early developments in cellulose fabrics leading next to rayons – ‘art silks.’  Until DuPont’s work with fully artificial fabrics in the 1930s and the invention of nylon, the only way to form-fit fabric was through rubber elastic, or clever bias-cutting. 

The late 20th century has seen a dazzling surge in textile innovations.  Garments made of Kevlar, Gore-Tex, PVC, Mylar etc have expanded the range of enviroments and scenarios in which humans can survive and thrive.  All very Space Age.

Frocks on Parade

…although these genuine outfits from the 1980s might well look outlandish to future costume historians. (As featured in the History Wardrobe presentation ‘Frocks on Parade’)

But I can’t help wondering what a fashion history of our lifetimes would reveal about our clothes.  Will we be admired for wearing digital prints, spray-on fibres and ‘intelligent’ weaves… or will we be ridiculed for our conventionality, impracticality, informality and over-consumption?

I look forward to finding out in the future.