19 March 2010

The 1980s: Fashion Freedom For The Working Class Male (And Men In General!)

'80s fashion revolution for men...

Sunday Mirror, January 15 1984:

Boy George may be the High Priest of High Camp, but the 1984 fashion revolution extends far beyond Gorgeous George and the pop world.

You'd be amazed at the extraordinary extravagances very masculine young men are indulging in all over Britain.

And what the girls in their lives think about it...

I have few fond memories of my childhood in the 1970s. I hated that decade and I hated the way that I, as a male, was expected to dress, speak and even move in certain ways.

The dress was boring - flares, which had been around since the late 1960s - and some gawd awful acrylic tank top or jumper - if you didn't dress like everybody else, you got picked on; you had to speak macho round my way, and boys didn't cry; you even had to move in a rigidly masculine way.

I remember a New Year's party my parents threw in the late '70s. Then in my early teens, I was allowed downstairs to take part a bit - even have a "proper drink". There I sat, bemused by it all as my family bellowed at each other and shrieked with laughter over the din of 1950s music. I had my drink in one hand, one hand on my knee, when my step-father approached:

"Don't sit like that, son," he said. "It looks queer!"


And my mother was just as bad. She liked "boys to be boys" - they didn't cry, and they played with toy guns and got into fights.

Now, looking back from the vantage point of my current situation, happily married and unhappily mortgaged for the last fifteen years, with a large circle of friends from many different backgrounds, I find it hard to believe that things were so rigid in the 1970s.

But they were.

The 1980s were like a huge gale of fresh air.

Firstly, there was the New Man or Eighties Man - I've written more about that here but, briefly, this was a move towards a new breed of men - sensitive, not afraid of emotions, housework or childcare. They were hot news from around 1982 onwards.

And the 1980s also saw great strides forward in male fashion. Before the 1980s, it was OK for drag artists like Danny La Rue or male pop stars to wear make-up and/or take trouble with their grooming.

In the 1980s, it became OK for even working class ordinary geezers like me to do so. Early in the decade, nothing changed. If you'd dressed like Adam Ant on our council estate in 1981 you'd probably have got your head kicked in.

But when my tough, macho mate Pete started wearing white leg warmers and pixie boots, had his hair streaked and developed a very becoming Princess Diana fringe around 1983, I wondered what on earth was going on.

Particularly as in 1980 and 1981 his favourite fashion accessory was a Punk-style dog collar.

As the decade moved beyond its first few years, I was thrilled by the range of male fashions to buy - and the colours - glaring neons or "feminine" pastels.

And it was all so dressy!

Those linen jackets, with massive shoulder pads, looked tremendous with a cerise mesh vest and skin-tight yellow trousers.

Push up those jacket sleeves, or turn them back to reveal colourful contrasting material...

And then there was hair styling.

In the 1980s, I had my hair streaked blonde, bought gel and mousse, and had a variety of styles, ranging from bouffant mullet to glorious blonde tinged flat-top.

In 1984, I became the first man in my family ever to own a hairdryer.

Whilst I was happy simply being colourful and dressy, the influence of pop stars like Boy George and Marilyn prompted some men to go further...

The Sun, October 26, 1983:

Disco bosses have barred dance floor show-offs who wear too much make-up and revealing dresses... and that's just the lads!

Fashion-conscious fellas - who mimic chart-topping Boy George - have been blamed for falling attendances at the trendy over 18s club.

Now the "in-crowd" - who have been turning up in off-the-shoulder gowns, high heels and ostrich feathers - have been told: "Butch up or stay out."

Adam ____, manager of the Summerhill Club at Kingswinford, West Midlands, says their antics were putting the girls in the shade - and frightening away the regular guys.

One of the banned lads is Gary ____, 21, of Dudley, West Midlands.

"I was wearing my full make-up and all my best gear," said platinum blonde Gary.

Magazine advertisement from September 1985. "Looks even better on a girl"? I think he looks pretty darned striking myself!

So, what caused this sudden softening and colouring up of male dress sense in the 1980s?

The influence of Boy George cannot be underestimated. He was a real person, he didn't just dress for the stage. He sought to express himself through his varying looks.

It can be argued that there had been heavily individualistic people like the Boy around for a very long time, but his success on the pop scene and the tremendous interest he aroused says a lot about the 1980s.

Then there was the New/Eighties Man thing, a reply to the revival of the feminist movement which had come bursting out of the 1960s.

There was also the growing "swankiness" of the mid-1980s as money began to swirl around and style became oh so important. It was such a contrast to the early '80s, when donkey jackets had been one of the main fashion must-haves for both boys and girls.

Why the '80s male fashion revolution happened I'm not sure. I've expressed my ideas on the subject, but I'm really not sure.

But I'm very glad it did!

Two '80s popstrels, Nik Kershaw and Paul Young, on the cover of the very wonderful Smash Hits in September 1985. Nice hair! Read our hymn of praise to Black Type here.

Fashion trend leader Boy George - a sticker from the mid-1980s. Princess Margaret refused to be photographed with him at an awards ceremony in 1984, saying: "I don't know who he is, but he looks like an over made-up tart."

Marilyn had his handbag stolen in 1984.


Stu said...

I take your point. I wore things in the 1980's that made my older brother and parents yelp in horror!

Nicky said...

Great time for men's fashion. It was good to see men making an effort, and the results were usually worthwhile!

Anonymous said...

Men took better care of their personal hygiene in the mid and late 1980s. If my boyfriends were anything to go by, the 1970s and early 1980s were one long skidmark. Things definitely improved around 1985.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous '80s! Whilst the '70s had wallowed in fag-end 1960s fashions, the '80s were beautiful, adventurous, and oh-so brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Wow.....I have always loved the 80's. I wish I could have lived in that era but I just barely missed it.