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Tribal Loyalties

By Phil Thornton

I passed a pair of teddy boys last week. Not aul fellars, yer usual ted vets or the revivalist rockabilly mob from the early 80s. These were young lads, decked out in cartoon ted outfits, drapes, brothel creepers, big DA Swedes; the works. At first I felt a guffaw raising in my throat but then I kind of felt a glow of warmth towards them. At least they were trying, at least they were DIFFERENT. Walk down around any city centre and everyone looks the same. Apart from Manchester and Liverpool’s ninja scal community, each city and town has its own standard variation on the scally and then there is the ever increasing tribe of Goths/emos/alternatives who are of course every bit as conventional and identical as the ’chavs’ they ridicule for all looking the same.
Then there’s the Topshop mob; that inbetween middle ground of gel headed whoppers in Chinese dragon stitched kecks and the equally preposterous mob of neo-student bohemians in comedy charity shop outfits. Magazines devoted to ’street style’ often feature photoshoots in cities across the world and with the exception of Tokyo, all the people featured dress similarly, atleast the ones who the photographers select. There’s a uniformity of fashion that is truly global, an accepted aesthetic of ’cool,’ a homogenous uniform that reduces all notions of style to an easily marketed range of seasonal ’looks’ which don’t really change for years, decades even.
In Liverpool, idiosyncratic styles still occur now and then, particularly with the girls. That big hair with big flower look of the summer was peculiar to junior scallettes and as far as I know didn’t happen anywhere else in Britain, Likewise the big fuck off rollers and jim jams tucked into Uggs of the daytime Blag Wag brigade seems to be a scouse phenomenon. These things may seem ludicrous but still prove that Liverpool’s youth is self-confident enough to go their own way, do their own thing no matter what the self-elected ’style gurus’ dictate is ’hip.’ Just as in the 80s, when the style press ignored ‘casual’ for years until it reached Oxford Street, so these parochial fashion phases are either ignored altogether or ridiculed by pompous fashionistas who won’t or can’t accept that organic trends can happen without either their input or approval.
So, even though I don’t like that Showaddywaddy ted style but loved the original neo-Edwardian look of the 50s, I still smiled also at seeing those teds as I did spotting a young skinhead outside the local cinema. In amongst the usual gangs of ninjas, emos and skaters, he stuck out like a sore thumb in his green MA1, braces, half mast Levis and oxblood DMs. Maybe ’This Is England’ has brought back that Oi Skin look of the late 70s, itself a mutated, uglier version of the original skin/suede head look, to a new generation. Again, I had a brief skinhead phase wearing exactly this lad‘s rig out during the Cockney Rejects era and don‘t particularly like it. Yet to see young teds and skins walking the streets in 2009, almost makes me yearn for those halcyon days nervously mooching around Button Street as a young plazzy punk avoiding various mobs of Sham Army, rockabillies, mods and scals. Violence was always around the corner and was sometimes extremely brutal but in a way, that was half the fun. In a nondescript world where everything is up for sale, every style and culture chopped up and shipped out for mass consumption, let’s hear it for the dolly birds with the beehives and the pyjamas eh?