Probably the only fashion era that “swashbuckling” can describe.
The London-centric New Romanticism movement was a direct reaction to the ’70s British punk scene. A fashion era that was once rooted in raw honesty and punk rock values had been too enthusiastically accepted by the mainstream after the initial shock of it all wore off. The youth looking to express themselves were forced to create a new means; punk was now a “media-distorted pantomime.” A desire to distinguish from the masses, New Romanticism started, as any good counter-culture look does, in the underground clubs while listening to the new music of the moment — which happened to be New Wave. The first time it all came together as a look was at Billy’s in Soho on a David Bowie themed night run by Rusty Egan and Steve Strange. Kids were dressing flamboyantly with androgynous and highly unique flair. There was an acute extravagance to it all. Billy’s became a New Romantic hot spot, but the popularity of it all caused Egan and Strange to change out for a bigger location. They moved to Blitz and with Boy George working coat check and Strange’s out there clothing shop PX they had everything they needed to cement the budding idea into a true phenomenon. Vivienne Westwood, obviously aware as anything cool going down in London is immediately reported to her, go in on it and her 1980 ‘Pirate’ collection gave life to the movement. She collaborated with Malcolm McLaren to create a runway filled with historically referenced looks — think volume and prints, ribbon and lace, an eye patch or two — and put on a spectacularly theatrical show. The presentation became hugely popular, allowing the scene to pick up speed and members in double time.
New Romanticism is kind of a hodge podge of a look. There is no one right answer. In fact, this pluralistic movement was united only by extravagance — if it were evident you put time and effort into your outfit, you were in. The imagination involved with these outfits knew no bounds. The era certainly had ties to past movements: it shared the visual aesthetic and culture of Glam, where ostentation, androgyny, flamboyance and narcissism were king. Futuristic, Hollywood iconic, militaristic and exotic looks all helped to form the one giant amalgam that was New Romanticism. It’s always so interesting to hear about movements like this where regular kids put so much effort into their outfits — of course today we put some time into getting ready, but it feels like the current day has lost that ‘rebellion via clothing’ attitude of yesteryear. I mean, these kids had no internet! Could you imagine trying to source all the bits of one of these looks? Going to a department story seeking out velvet knickerbockers and lace trim high neck shirts? The internet has made us so lazy. Anyway.
The New Romantic idea was cemented into underground London society which meant that musicians automatically started ripping it off to create “their” look for when the worldwide stage was hit. Like Azealia Banks and seapunk, they found what was cool, stuck their flag in it and claimed it as their own. Now, we’re not saying Adam Ant did this, we aren’t sure of his exact involvement with the whole thing — other than the fact that he helped expand it and was wholly representative of it — but it was him who ultimately poisoned the movement, leading the mainstream in like thirsty dogs to water he brought the New Romantic look to the Top of the Pops. The “subversive” look was whole heartedly accepted by the mainstream, welcomed with open arms really and, without missing a beat, High street churned out stereotyped, standardized versions to capitalize on its sudden popularity. And so, another underground invention becomes terminally uncool, but if it weren’t for the poseurs who spread it all around we probably wouldn’t be talking about it today. So to you, poseurs, huzzah!
Human League – Don’t You Want Me
source: “…isms: Understanding Fashion” by Mairi Mackenzie