How the working class fascination with sartorial one-upmanship progressed from the love of Football, and how it mutated and diversified into what we know today as the casual movement.
Casuals? Y’know, cagoule’s and Crocodiles, Stone Island and stitch-ups, big in the early 80s. You can’t tell the story of the 80s without the casuals, a trend risen from the love of the working man’s game; Football.
In terms of fashion history, they were the first group that took sportswear and wore it as high-end fashion. Put aside and mocked in equal measure, the so-called casual movement has been the only major youth sub-culture to be side-lined from cultural history.
Most renegade fashions were provocative and aimed to generate or cause some kind of reaction, whereas casuals were almost the complete opposite. They wanted to slip under the radar, they were influenced by the Thatcher era and they wanted to look great. They wanted to spend their money and they wanted to outdo each other, whether it be in physical confrontations or sartorial superiority which had never been seen before in street fashion.
Cultural commentator and Oasis biographer Paolo Hewitt claims that it was “one of the biggest working-class youth cultures ever”, but because its home was council estates and football terraces, rather than universities or art schools, it went largely unexplored by the media.
“It’s a sense of belonging, a sense of identity”, says fashion lecturer and Hearts supporter Kenny McCrae. “The atmosphere, the tribalism, the songs, the jumping up and down, the abuse, the sense of belonging and the camaraderie. I was hooked”
In many ways, Liverpool was widely regarded as the birthplace of the casual movement. Liverpool F.C dominated Europe in the late 70s whilst fans on Merseyside led the way in the fashion stakes too. Wherever their team went, a significant amount of fans followed, picking up designer items of sportswear unavailable back home. By then, away fans visiting Anfield would notice clusters of unconventionally dressed lads in sharp-looking tracksuit tops and shiny new three stripers.
Peter Hooton, vocalist of Liverpool-based band ‘The Farm’ recalls the time that people started using the rail system, Transalpino “there was a trend called a ‘rub-out’, which meant you could get a train ticket for Paris and end up in Moscow; you just rubbed out your destination and put on your own. Word got about, and everyone started doing ‘rub-outs’ to go to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland to rob clothes and trainers and bring them back home”.
Down the M62 in Manchester, they were developing their own casual identity with the unique name of ‘Perry Boy’. Like their Scouse equivalents, Perry Boys were smartly dressed in straight jeans, trainers, cardigans and ubiquitous Fred Perry polo shirts from which they derived their name.
Further up North in Scotland, the football lads were known as ‘Dressers’. Kenny McCrae explains that “there’s a myriad of different things that eventually became known as the casual”. He went on to say “unlike other fashions, the casual movement wasn’t influenced by music. It was risen from tribalism; it was risen from football. The Mods, The Punks, the Northern Soul boys and the Ravers were all associated with a very specific type of music. And I think it is unique in the sense that the defining factor is the camaraderie of being a casual, the defining factor is how you dress and the labels that you dress in and what they mean in the one-upmanship that goes with it”.
Casuals had become an established youth cult in the North and had risen entirely from the street. The fashion had taken hold with no input whatsoever from London, home of the nation’s fashion fads. But it wasn’t long before the Cockneys caught on, as the outdated popular image of ‘ye olde Cockney’ football thug with his skin-head and his Doc Martens began to annoy many fans of the capital’s clubs.
The fashion caught on all around the world with more expensive designer brands such as Burberry, Aquascutum, Stone Island and CP Company becoming a must for any match day or away day, which fuelled the sartorial one-upmanship even more.
McCrae reflects on how he managed to fund his obsession from an early age. “I was 15 working as a runner for a film production company, you’re getting your tiny wee bit of wedge for the first time and you start spending your money on designer gear. My first pay-packet was eighty quid. I got paid cash in hand at five o’clock on a Friday having done a week’s graft. I walked next door into Inter Sport and spent £79.99 on a pair of sky blue/lemon Adidas ZX8000 Torsion. I had to walk home afterwards as I didn’t have enough money for the bus fare. It was about having the piece that nobody had. It was about the label nobody else had. It was the idea of walking into a ground with twenty, thirty, forty thousand people and going ‘I’m the only bugger that’s got this jacket on’. That’s why I do it”.
The casual movement reached its peak in the late 80s and by this time the authorities were wiser to the newfound fashion sense, Stone Island was being labelled the ‘bad boy label’, Thatcher wasn’t happy, people were scared to go to the games and fans were going to jail instead of getting £50 fines and a slap on the wrist.
Although the glory days seem to have died down, we now see a new age of casual. We have exhibitions honouring casual attire, we have old labels reinventing themselves for the 21st century. We have people queuing outside specialist clothing and footwear chains such as Oi Polloi and size? for the latest re-issues, and we have specialist sites dedicated to deadstock, secondhand trainers and casual-wear, and this in turn has produced a third wave of casual connoisseurs.
The casual movement was a way for the youth to have an identity to latch onto. It was the type of identity we see get passed down from generation to generation. It didn’t just stop, it progressed, it mutated and diversified. It adapted to new environments in order to pass on its genetic code to future generations.