THE TRACKSUIT TABOO

 

Before wasting your time here, watch Malcolm McLaren speak wisdom on the nature of “karaoke culture.” This blog is pretty fucking karaoke and I think 50 minutes in the company of Malcolm puts things in perspective.

In the UK especially, few combinations can indicate that you’ve taken a social tumble than the button down shirt and tracksuit bottoms (trackpants to you non-Brits) duo. It’s ambiguous — your torso says possible employment, but your lower half indicates you’re lounging for a living. It’s a look that gives off a garbled statement. To be wearing said fleecewear with a polo or t-shirt during the daytime when you’re over twenty without a gym, track or sporting establishment as your destination is troublesome, but by introducing a troubling quasi-formaility to the ensemble, you’re set to cause much more confusion.

As an example of the look’s taboo, I made a visit to an all-night garage relatively recently during the small hours of a weekday in a cobbled together look, fuelled by sheer laziness and functionality. It’s tragic enough that it was for chocolate Frijj, cream cheese and chive Pringles and praline and cream Haagan Daz — possibly with a Ginsters product thrown in for good luck, but due to my addled mindset at the time, a Pendleton shirt, pea coat, Nike Loopwheeler trousers and wheat Timberlands, barely laced made a sartorial sense.

Assuming I’d see nobody on my moonlit mission, I saw three people I hadn’t seen in years and made awkward, red-eyed conversation with two, my arms bore the weight of my excess snackage, delicious, but high in saturated fats. I won’t see those people for years, but I know that now when my name is raised in a “where are they now?” conversation over Waitrose foodstuffs, Jill Scott and Californian Chardonnay, I’m being earmarked as a lunatic, heroin addict or derelict. I could have attempted to justify my appearance, but I suspect it would have sealed my reputation as one of life’s unfortunates. I’m a snackhead, not a smackhead.

Still, the tracksuit’s lower half is an integral part of this country’s street style and I’m happy to see it worn differently. We have a habit of using “chav” as shorthand for working class, and occasionally in a more racially loaded context, but the tracksuit seems to have earned that tag — hence this curious taboo. the tracksuit bottom is comfortable, durable and (usually) affordable. It’s a democratic garment. It’s all ages, all genders, all sub-cultures and while we’d like to think blogtastic imports and American skatewear are “street,” they’re not. The tracksuit is the true British streetwear. McKenzie, JD, JJB, Sports Direct…that’s the authentic look that unites big cities, provincial towns, villages and the great north and south divide. Cheap sportswear is the great leveller of man.

I spotted the track pant and pea coat combo in the lookbook for Marvy Jumoke — one of those Japanese brands that you only see in magazines like SENSE. Their output seems to be some jacket-centric Americana, and while some pieces have caught my eye, the print pieces veer a little too close to Abercrombie and Fitch or Mark McNairy-lite for my tastes, and the denim tag displays an unacceptable level of quirkiness. I believe the brand is pretty young, having started around 2007. Though I could be wrong. But I liked this use of the pant and jacket in perfect union, because it succeeds where I failed. I liked the Oi Polloi Deck Out entry from a few months back (“The Go To Guy”) that twinned a western shirt with some Reigning Champ efforts for some scally sophisticate looks. However, I still haven’t seen camo pants and a blazer worn without looking stockbroker goes spree killer though…

HEROES: DJ CRYSTL

Speaking of street style, I seem to be having a jungle renaissance on iTunes, and I was reminded of my onetime musical hero DJ Crystl — a man who gave jungle a futurism and depth that didn’t descend into theme pub “intelligent drum and bass” purgatory. I recall early interviews with UK hip-hop act The Brotherhood where they spoke of their former DJ going clubbing and leaving the band in favour of rave music — that man was Crystl.

Beyond undisputed bangers like ‘Let’s Roll’ and the earlier breakbeat rawness of ‘Suicidal’ where he took a hip-hop beat and sent in warp speed, Crystl had a graffiti heritage too with a small press pic with an interesting handstyle shown reversed on glass — the Bodé Nike and Stussy clad Lizard on ‘Suicidal’s label is proof of a certain b-boy heritage. He even remixed his former crew’s ‘Mad Headz’ single in 1996, maintaining a conventional tempo. By the late 1990s, he was working with the likes of Smiley the Ghetto Child and talking about an album with hip-hop features – bear in mind that dance and hip-hop crossovers, despite any babble about their cross pollinated bronx-park jam early days, fucking suck. This promised to be quite good.

Then DJ Crystl seemed to vanish. I remember hearing that we was heavily into body building, but the trail went dead at the end of the 1990s. It was like the JD Salinger situation, but with an Amen drum loop.

Around 2004, Crystl reappeared to remix some old favourites, but vanished again. I still see queries regarding his whereabouts, but it would seem that he’s perfectly happy acting as a personal trainer for the likes of Kate Moss, because he’s Dan Chapman — founder of London’s BodyXperts, and I imagine there’s more money in that than in making darkcore. His bio on the site indicates that he left music out of boredom and the toll the DJ lifestyle took on him that led to his current career path. Shouts to Crystl for staying progressive enough to evade the pitfall of becoming the bitter ex-DJ and victim of the superclub implosion. Check the two-part all-Crystl mix right here.

FRANK ZAPPA NIKES

If we need a tenuous link here, still on the street style and Nike subject, if you think Kanye got there first with the Yeezy, you’re an idiot. A while back, I upped a piece about some Rod Stewart and Devo Nikes, plus at least two types of Nike Elton John. I’m still looking for images of the supposed Bob Marley shoes and I heard that there’s a Journey pair as well. I was shown these Zappa variations last week and they messed with my head a little.

Apparently I’ve been in the proximity of them numerous times and never clocked onto the stripy ZAPPA text on the heel in a similar style to the Devo versions. US-made and not dissimilar to the Lady Legend Hi, albeit in nylon (I know I’m wrong on the exact ID, and would welcome a correction in the comments), like Frank himself, they’re far from subtle, down to the garish pink accents and rainbow laces. I would love to know the story behind these and the other Nike musician hookups from the era.

0 thoughts on “THE TRACKSUIT TABOO

  1. clap clap clap…you made me laugh out loud! poor you ;))
    (and god you made me think, do i say trackpants or tracksuit?? i think i say both)
    anyway…i have weighed this question in my head too as i see more and more boys wearing the sport bottoms but kinda sorta in a dressed up way. i don’t think the taboo has been entirely lifted although i recognise that some are labouring for some acceptance/tolerance sartorially speaking…equal rights for the sports bottoms. wink.

  2. Personally, I like the blazer/combat pant combination, perhaps that’s the well hidden spree killer in me talking though.

  3. the one item of clothing i enjoy getting an XXL in – my last pair were bought in Bedford not one week ago – i lounge in nothing else

  4. Hi there,

    love the blog and all that jazz. One thing I’m confused of is when you say today the stree-twear, in your definition, is tracksuits. If by street-wear you mean what the majority of kids are wearing on the street, what did it used to be?

    1. Good question…to tell the truth, as long as I’ve been conscious of clothes, the tracksuit has been the streetwear of choice as you entered your teens. I think that might be a byproduct of electro/casuals to some degree though from 1983 onwards…

  5. jefferson starship had a smu as well, dunno if you covered those, were on the bay this year, went for very little and some genious listed them again for a lot more. roadrunner/dakota style black/silver with the logo in two pieces on the heel tabs.
    have some pics saved somewhere.

    sincerely,

    Roblobster