Disclaimer – Card reader broke. OCD means this blog had to get updated, so my shots had to wait. The images here are the 80s Casuals ones – I’ll replace them with something more comprehensive in the next day.
With no personal ties or pastel-shaded emotional baggage affiliated with the whole casual movement, it’s long been something I’ve looked upon with a detached admiration and no small amount of amusement. Flamboyant hooliganism, chasing after the next oddball wardrobe totem? You can’t help but take an interest. With my interest in trainers* informed by hip-hop, there was inevitably some crossover between terrace and what was lusted after by those ineptly attempting windmills on lino, and a lot of the UK clientele picking up heritage sports footwear – retro training pieces, is presumably a trickle down from an aspirational era when a piece like adidas’s Training P.T. was something very exclusive indeed.
Even my first trainers – the Nike Bongo – a cheapo version of Nike’s cutting edge runners, and the PUMA Jopper seemed like a bargain byproduct of the casuals’ demand for sportswear – in fact, rather than being a Channel U ‘ting, the provincial lust for affordable sportswear as pub and street wear surely owes a lot to casual looks.
Much of what I’ve obsessed over through the years style-wise has a twin grounding in the terraces and hip-hop culture alike. Champion, according to adidas’s man in the know, Gary Aspden, was briefly worn by Manchester casuals in the mid ’80s. Obscure? Bold colours? Hard to find? That’s a brief craze in the making. Brooklyn hustlers and Doug E. Fresh were making Fila look good in the same decade top boys closer-to-home could command respect with the Terrinda. Boosters heisting Polo Ralph Lauren goods, shoplifters pilfering Marc O’Polo. Different worlds, with the same obsessiveness, More clean living in difficult circumstances and good old fashioned oneupmanship. Me? I had to make do with Le Shark rather than Lacoste.
Forget the man still sporting the feather cut, scooter and Desert Boots – one of the final resting grounds of the mod movement’s core attitude, before fragmenting into a plethora of clobber cultures was the swaggering casual look. Working the same restless, elitist progression from must-have to passé with mayfly-length fad lifespans briefly elevating brands before leaving them to sink like a stone or swim as populist everyman attire, modernist comparisons aren’t without foundation. It’s in those on-to-the-next-one localised fashion phenomenons, that the most amusing, offbeat crazes materialised.
It’s not just menacing Henri Lloyd and Forest Hills matchups. That misses the point. I assume those that were there, and as with those claiming attendance at the Sex Pistols’ Manchester Lesser Free Trade Halls show, more claim casual credentials than ever played a part – just owning a pair of Lois cords doesn’t qualify a scribe to document it any more than owning a pair of Jordan IVs in ’89 (anyone over 18?) certifies anyone to claim they’re hip-hop through and through.
The combinations the high street peddles in the name of casual resurgence must grate as hard as the ’92 renaissance causing kids to mix late ’80s rope chain styling with a vintage Nautica from ’94 as a botched resurrection. Folk are wandering around looking like a walking summary of the ’80s rather than locking down a specific look. Each to their own. I can’t escape casual style permeating my own outlook. It leached into popular fashion – not in the “oi oi saveloy” tribalism, but in the small details and vast logo alike on an endless stream of garments.
Documenting something that tried to evade the pigeonhole makes for a tough thing to categorize, and that makes any document of casual looks the subject of debate, scorn and correction. Dave Hewitson, Jay Montessori and the 80s Casuals team have suffered their fair share of bandwagon hop-alongs over the last few years, but the forum still works as the best barometer of a product, and their passion is undeniable. With their book, while it’s deeply nostalgic, they’ve sidestepped the reminiscing that made Phil Thornton’s book fun but hampered by the personal approach, by giving you what you want – store shots, the adidas Cities series, Benetton, Tacchini, and Inter-Railing, with a clean but image-heavy approach to the topic. The crew could’ve been snide and kept this trove to themselves, but they opted to share. This is the best tome on the topic so far.
Those tutting at the past preoccupation need to understand how cyclical things prove, how defiantly British this is as a scene, and that plenty of what’s on display is a work of art. Independent and currently confined to 2000 copies, presumably a reprint beckons. A lot of content you need in your life is right here for your perusal. As a self-professed hater of ‘The Football Factory,’ ‘The Business’ and ‘Outlaw,’ Nick Love has made some toxically bad Brit-flicks for pricks, but his ‘The Firm’ was more than tolerable, and his foreword here can only help shift some units. Respect. Go grab a copy here.
Any preceding paragraph vaguely related to a Canning Town plonker like Danny Dyer requires a reference to the original wideboys of the area in the classic 1983 documentary ‘The Knockers’ Tale.’ Why is there no DVD release for this and the follow up ‘Whatever Happened to the Knockers?’ A decade later? Hoolies going door-to-door selling dishcloths and bad houseware, pretending it’s for charity made for hilarious television. Playing up for the camera in the original to the point where it resembled ‘Ghostwatch,’ the fakery reaches its apex with a broom handled “rumble” against a rival “firm” that makes Phil Davies ruining a Sunday pub league game by tearing across the field in a Golf Cabriolet look like the Battle of Helm’s Deep by comparison.
It’s still an amusing depiction, and with some of the surly salesmen going abroad by ’93 to make money from club culture and the illegal trappings there it sums up a generation in its own curious, blockheaded way. The only footage online is Bob Mills making some salient points about part 1 from ‘In Bed With MeDinner’ in ’92, all Lyle & Scotts, scowls, side partings and “Come on boys, let’s take ’em” bollocks dialogue…
*Sorry, trainers not sneakers when it comes to this subject matter.