“Think about the future”, suggested Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder in the heady Madchester days of 1988*. But did he imagine a future where kids would be invited to dress up as him 30+ years later?
“What is beautiful looks always new and always delightful, and can be no more old-fashioned than a flower can.”
These words on the timeless and intrinsic beauty of truly classic clothing come from Oscar Wilde’s 1885 New York Tribune essay The philosophy of dress.
Gentle reader: If you look back on the fashions you’ve seen come and go, which of them do you think would meet Wilde’s standards of beauty? Which fashions would remain as fresh as tomorrow, were you to see them reappear today?
Madchester vibes in the area
Would anyone my age ever have expected the “Baggy” clothing that was all the rage in 1990 to re-emerge like a flower sprouting from the grave of the Madchester era three decades after its demise?
Rarely has my mind felt so boggled as the other day when I clicked on a Levi’s email with the intriguing title “Manchester acid house.” Eh? Within, I was dumbfounded to see a recreation of trends I’d not seen since my teenage days – and thought I’d never see again.
Hold on a minute… is the main picture for the Levi’s Acid House Remastered vintage collection really a line of 2021 kids clad head to foot in late 80s/early 90s fashions being patted down by a doorman at the Haçienda? Is one of them really wearing a Happy Mondays Freaky Dancin’ t-shirt? What?!? Baggy is back? Has someone been reading Pulp Librarian’s Madchester checklist?
A rolling, boiling, freaky dancin’ sea
My eyes did not deceive me. Cut these clothes (actually, don’t – you probably don’t want to invest £100 in a Freaky Dancin’ t-shirt only to chop it up) and they bleed 1990. This Levi’s collection recreates the clothing of that era to an incredible degree of detail. A tiny bit of research reveals that these clothes are even endorsed by the Shaun Ryder of 2021.
The Proustian rush of memory induced by these clothes was strong. I never went to The Haçienda, never wore Madchester fashions, Baggy clothes or Joe Bloggs jeans. But I was a huge fan of some of the music, particularly the Happy Mondays. I saw them live at Wembley Arena in January 1991 at a gig featuring most of the bands that defined the Baggy era as part of the Great British Music Weekend** – a mini-festival organised by (the now very cancelled) Jonathan King. I remember taking my seat in Wembley Arena’s floor area during 808 State’s set and being amazed to see a wall of thousands of people raving like crazy, standing up in the banks of seats stretching up the arena wall in front of me. A rolling, boiling, freaky dancin’ sea of exactly the fashions Levi’s are now recreating.
Perhaps this happens to everyone. Perhaps there comes a point in everyone’s life when they see images of their youth return, this time with a price tag. Perhaps everyone believes that their youth is unrepeatable (or should not be repeated).
But all ideas once they are born into the world are perpetually up for grabs. There are no rules on where inspiration might spring from, in fashion or in any other area of creative life.
To my eye, the teens in this Levi’s campaign could almost be LARP-ing (Live Action Role Playing) the Madchester era. But to them, it might be all brand new, all as fresh as tomorrow.
I have an original source with period evidence of exactly the clothes that are now being so lovingly recreated for 2021. In my home office cupboard lurks a small pile of very old music magazines, including an ancient edition of Q magazine (May 1990 vintage). This Q has a feature in which reporter Chris Heath tags along with Happy Mondays fans who’d each forked over £89 for a coach trip to see the band live at the Bataclan club in Paris. I scanned the first page of this feature, so that you can regard the fashions and behaviour of teenage Madchester fans, out in the wild in 1990.
I always liked Shaun Ryder’s statement in this article on what makes for good music (and which I’m sure he would apply to clothing, too):
“Anything fuckin’ crack. Anything bunstan. Bunstan McFunkstan. We’ve got a European mind on things, not a fuckin’ typical English shopkeeper’s mind.”
There is only a passing mention in the article of Baggy-era fashions (“There’s maybe 50 of them, in their hooded tops and flares, sitting, standing, leaning, falling over.”***). But a little googling brings back a longer mention of Madchester clothing fads from a feature on the Stone Roses in the February 1990 Q:
“While the band profess to have no tribal instincts towards music, their followers undoubtedly have. As well as Wrangler flares whistling through the dust and some rather unnecessary sun hats worn, no doubt, in deference to those modelled by Reni, the Roses’ powerhouse sticksman, the dress code crosses black street styles with a baggy, asexual functionalism that’s designed for ease of movement.”
Clothing of the Baggy era ran so counter to so many aesthetic rules of fashion that I never thought I would see it return. Chic it was not. Baggy it very much was. Fashionistas have not always seen bagginess as a virtue. In his beautifully and succinctly written 1964 book ABC of Men’s Fashion, Hardy Amies is withering about bagginess in clothing:
“Bagginess usually applies to trousers, which is why they are called ‘bags’. Baggy, of course, is the one thing that trousers should not be; if they are, then they are either badly cut, badly kept, or out of date. If out-of-date, you will have far too much cloth flapping about your waist, legs, and ankles, in a garment that takes no account of the fact that your legs have a shape, and are narrower at the bottom than the top. Get some new trousers.”
But perhaps the bright colours, the eschewing of rigid fashion rules and what Q termed the “baggy, asexual functionalism” of Madchester-era clothing render it ripe for revisiting in 2021? Indeed, bright colours and bagginess are already present and correct in how the excellent Billie Eilish chooses to dress (not that I am suggesting that she is in any way directly influenced by Madchester, mind). And just this past week, the term “Happy Monday” found renewed currency in the UK.
Rules of fashion, taste and creativity are always evolving and changing, and always there to inspire or to be broken or reimagined.
How should you choose to express yourself? Do whatever you find to be Bunstan McFunkstan. Like Shaun William Ryder said: “Anything bunstan. Bunstan McFunkstan.”.
If today’s youth wish to dress Baggy, by all means they should do so. If they look to the Madchester past to find possible ways forward… well, why not? It’s all about what works in the world of today and tomorrow.
Think about the future.
* From the Mondays’ immortally wonderful WFL (Think About The Future Mix).
** Here’s the full performance from the Happy Mondays at the Great British Music Weekend on Friday 18 January 1991. Well, maybe not quite full… They seem to have edited out the part where Shaun Ryder angrily stopped one song after a few bards and probably caused great stress to Radio One during the initial live broadcast of the show by shouting “Stop! Try it again! Fookin’ try it again!”
*** Keen-eyed Mondays fans will have spotted the call back to Wrote for Luck here.
- Shaun Ryder image scanned in by MJCarty from a June 1991 copy of Melody Maker (photographer sadly uncredited).
- Garish via Wikimedia Commons.
- The Birthplace of Modern Rave gif from Levi’s Manchester Acid House email newsletter. I make no claim whatsoever to the copyright for this image or the earlier Melody Maker one, and will remove them immediately if required.
- Q magazine, May 1990, page 10, scanned in by MJCarty.
- Billie Eilish via Wikimedia Commons.
- A photo of a beautiful japanese anemone flower in a garden via Wikimedia Commons.