FANTASTIC, PROPER & SHELLSUITS

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I don’t usually read many magazines because I’ve written for some and that’s all I need to prove that they’re probably not what they used to be. It’s turning my surroundings into an expensive barely browsed fire hazard. But I like Fantastic Man because it’s written by people who know far more than I do about the history and business of fashion despite a name that makes associates on the train home from work think I’m browsing gay erotica. I just want to read about clobber by proper journalists rather than chancers like me. By putting what’s just a long form FM article in small paperback form, Buttoned-Up (Penguin) is a fair use of 4.99 that can avoid the peculiar provincial town glances reading the magazine on public transport brings my way. I’ve found that an out-of-town commute has been the best book club (albeit a one-man book club) ever making me kind of literate after years of reading very little other than rap rumours. This book lasted from Bedford to Elstree, which is a good 40 minutes of start to finish content, which might be last a little longer if you’re not prone to hastily inhaling text rather than calmly absorbing it.

A 108 page examination of the button-up collar’s shirt and its ubiquity in east London is presented in the style of a Fantastic Man magazine and it’s a topic that fits the magazine’s clinical irreverence perfectly. At the same time, I get the impression it was pitched in a free form way over artisan breads on Kingsland Road without much preparation. Some have marveled about the specific nature of the fastened shirt collar as a book subject, but I’ve read far longer books on less. The interview with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (I remember Chris Lowe‘s Issey Miyake and Travel Fox gear blowing my mind as a kid), who are underrated in the style stakes, essay on the power of the collar in fashion through the 1990s to the present day, and its tees to dandyism and other manifestations of sartorial movements by Alexander Fury and Simon Reynolds’ piece on the buttoned collar’s position in mod culture, skinhead style, The Who, The Creation, Subway Sect, Secret Affair and a brace of 1980s groups who turned the aggressive uniform into a sensitive statement, including Orange Juice (who are cited as key button-uppers a few times in the book).

Personally, I have to pop that top button otherwise I feel like I’m being throttled by cotton, but it’s fascinating to find out just how much meaning can be ascribed to a simple gesture. Buttoned-Up is an amplified but pocket-size example of what Fantastic Man does very well.

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Another publication that comes correct is Proper, because everybody who writes for it seems to enjoy clothes and the cultures around them. It reads like Mark, Neil and the whole crew are having a blast putting it together. If they secretly all hate each other like Sam and Dave and found the publishing and editing process hellish, I’d have no bloody idea, because Proper is so fun. The themes continue, with the surf-centric issue #13 following up the psych-hike of #12. This one contains Yusuke Hanai, lad holiday recollections, histories of the board short and aloha shirt, an Our Legacy interview and an amazing chat with Andy Weatherall (who had a shit ton of tattoos long before everyone else went all Max Cady/Brian Setzer/Mike Ness). I remember going to Magaluf and pick pocketing an overweight holiday rep for extra beer money before falling asleep in a lift. Great times. Proper has undergone a self-fulfilling prophecy by become more proper with each issue in terms of presentation. A few years ago it was like chatting with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but disheveled bloke down the boozer — now it’s all slick but still full of content like a caffeinated coffee shop conversation in one of those places where they know the provenance of their beans. Go and support the new issue.

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I’ve never known how to feel about the shellsuit. I have some fond memories attached to it, including a relative who rocked up at our house one Christmas in a shellsuit, white toweling socks and loafers, Gazza, bare-chested beneath his flamboyant tracksuit spitting bars about how ace being a Geordie was and an episode of Casualty that included a plot about market-bought shellsuits and their notoriously flammable ways. Somewhere down the line, the definition of a shellsuit seemed to get twisted — waterproof running/training suits weren’t the same (some of the Italian sportswear brands made amazing ones) and hypernonce Jimmy Savile’s metallic numbers were something different too. For me, the shellsuit was slightly wrinkly, often unsparing in its use of logos and bore only a slight gloss. I recall owning an Umbro tracksuit with shellsuit trousers but a conventional glossy nylon track jacket. It was shit. I always wanted an adidas one, but now they’re the brown tie and flare combination of the early 1990s — a benchmark of terrible dressing of their times and implicated as part of Savile’s sex offending arsenal due to their elasticated waist.

It’s a shame, because there’s something a bit Stetsasonic circa ’88 about a flamboyant shellsuit. The Palace crew are trying to bring it with a Trailblazers logo homaging variation in the new collection at Slam — it actually has a 70% cotton count on the shell unlike the OGs which were made of nothing but polyester and napalm to immolate you while you were cooking Super Noodles. Palace played with World Cup 1990 imagery for their Umbro collab, so it looks like they’re following it up with a tribute to Gascoine’s post semi-final stardom steez. Theo Parrish wore this jacket at Boiler Room and if anyone can bring back the shellsuit, it’s Theo and Palace. After the current preoccupation with fleece, raglan and loopback, are we going to regress back to the shell? I kind of hope so. If the year ends in everybody breaking out pajamas and shellsuits in public, Liverpool’s got another thing to never, ever stop bragging about.

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