We’re all guilty of living in the past, but the point when you developed a fashion awareness seems to leave an indelible mark on the psyche that means regressive revisits are an inevitability. That’s what seems to have put us in this retro rut where we just keep going back to the point where we’re rocking olde world railmaster attire. We’ll be in Dickensian garms before long. Beyond sports footwear experiences as a young ‘un, it was Def Jam patches on MA-1s, Suicidal Tendencies caps, Vision Streetwear and some regrettable lurid grails in the clothing stakes that really set me off. Then a Stüssy preoccupation and the rumours of Troops costing £150 followed by unwarranted racism allegations that effectively put that brand to sleep. The rudeboys round my way were the true style masters who really activated my preoccupation with apparel and footwear.
We’d had the piss-trickle of shit Le Shark, bad Hi-Tec Micropacer knockoffs and pastel trousers that casual culture instigated (the Italian Paninaro crowd played their part there too), but the terrace-inspired gear hit harder with a generation above me. I was transfixed by the ragga-inspired pinroll, Burlington, vast Chipies (or for us Bedford dwellers, Chipie copies from the market) and Chevignon (or as before, a knockoff with an appropriately Euro name) and the footwear oneupmanship. This rudeboy look never really seems to get the reverence it deserves beyond smirking “Do you remember?” forum threads, or regrets over hefty purchases that were immediately robbed or out-of-favour. I think it’s one of young Britain’s (alright., it’s a London thing) greatest looks. The parallels with so-called casual culture —the cost, the dole money, the rivalries and the swagger are there, but while it might not have sustained like a Massimo Osti masterpiece, at the time it seemed more youthful rather than teens dressing beyond their years. Rather than damage in an organized tear-up, the fear here was getting jacked on the shop doorstep after handing over colossal amounts of amassed coin.
Being a towny, by the time we got any trends, they were long gone in London. As a 13-year-old you could only gaze helplessly at ‘The Face’ and ‘Sky’ and see what you were set to get the arse-end of after it was onto the next one in the big city. Only kids as school with shotta bothers or guilty absentee fathers came close to keeping up, and that was sporadic. They’d be wearing the same Filas and puffa jackets for a few months too as a result and the awe would wear off. but still—and this is certainly the case on the trainer front—this was a peak. We never really moved on, and the ’94 Jordan reissues paved the way for us to churn out variations on a theme to the present day.
In the ensuing years we reverted to suede basketball shoes that harked back to 1968 and rocked check shirts, but boundaries blurred and subcultures seemed to merge. I’ve not seen a youth style as defined as the rudeboy look of 1990/91 emerge again. The worst casualty was oneupmanship, where wearing the same or even similar gear was frowned upon, and oddball choices would either win respect or crash and burn. But at least you tried.
Kevin Sampson’s piece on casual gear from ‘The Face’s August 1983 issue marked a turning point in the culture’s documentation (and the ensuing letters pages for articles on the topic were always hilarious), but ‘Ruder Than the Rest’ from the March 1991 issue, a Chipie-centric 14-page article written by John Godfrey, Derick Procope and Kark Templer, with some excellent location photography by Nigel Shafran was incredibly enlightening. Each postcode prided itself on their progressive style. Hammersmith kids dissed the South Londoners for tucking rather than pinrolling. Nobody was telling where they got their Vikings from. We were informed that, “If you’re into rap, if you’ve got a hi-top haircut and live in Harlesden, you’re known as a pussy.” By the time the article went to print, all-involved had almost certainly moved on in terms of lusted labels.
It makes me nostalgic for something in which I was never involved—something I merely admired from afar. I still feel it warrants more documentation.