I have kept this photograph in a silver frame in my bedroom for as long as a I remember. Whilst I have always been certain that I love it, I have recently come to realize that there’s something quite disturbing about it. You see, it dawned on me that not only is the photo great, but the guy in the photo looks really cool. What troubles me about this, is that the guy in the photo is my dad… and I am jealous. Having moved into a flat in Shoreditch last year, I should really be devoting my energies to the enjoying the fact that life is pretty good living in, evolving with and being a part of this cool and culturally vibrant area of London. Instead I find myself feeling threatened by a photograph of my twenty-nine year old father.
It all started when a couple of friends inquired after the “cool guy” in the photograph at a party we held at our flat. It was alarming to find out that my friends were more impressed by a stranger in a black and white photograph taken in 1986, than they were with a whole party of real life, twenty-first century boys and girls standing in the room next door, each in his or her own twenty-first century East London take on the same eighties look. From head to toe, two decades later, my father’s look has transcended time and epitomizes the style that so many of us strive to achieve today. To make matters worse, I also have a photograph of my mum taken at a Bowie gig wearing a magnificent tasseled, red felt, Sonia Rykiel Jacket. She gave it to me last year, I am completely in awe of it and I wear it all of the time. With a closet full of leggings from the Flash Dance inspired store American Apparel, am I simply dressing in the wake of my parents fashion glory? More importantly, I find myself asking; were my parents cooler than I am?
Lets go back to 1986 the year when the photograph of my dad was taken. A nostalgic era now, where Margaret Thatcher ran the scene and Duran Duran lived the dream. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not an Eighties retrospective, nor is any kind of comment or attempt to define Thatcher’s role in promoting the shoulder pad. For this purpose of this article I want you to consider ‘cool,’ in its rawest sense; as being by its very nature, rooted in individuality, originality and forward thinking. These are the factors that when combined make ‘cool’ unattainable, endow it with reputation and consequently cement its status as wholly desirable. The eighties evidently preside over our own modern ‘cool.’ Our streets are paved with plaid, our sleeves are rolled back and our faces are adorned with Ray Bans. People look good, but it is important that we remember we are not the pioneers of these trends. On the catwalk Henry Holland reinvented the slogan and Dolce and Gabanna brought back tartan. As we submerge ourselves in times gone by, we reflect upon a particular ‘look,’ without experiencing the circumstances it was created in response to. In the photograph my dad’s look is worn in context of the time in which it was created, therefore it becomes relevant, new, exciting and very “cool,” whereas my own is reflective, revamped and thus less so. During the eighties, Thatcher’s political liberalism gave way to a bold new fashion era where bright colour, slogan and exaggerated shape became distinctive weapons of self-expression. Where the original punk movement of the late seventies sought to confront, shock and generally “fuck the system,” the eighties came in its aftermath as the period of calm and colour after intensity and aggression. ‘Cool,’ was no longer confined to an elitist group of rock stars on drugs. With the wider availability of clothing brands such as Calvin Klein and Levis came a fashion ‘scene,’ that was exciting and accessible. Popular fashion crazes for “must-have” items, such as Mickey Mouse or Coca Cola T-Shirts, became a common occurrence. Fashion followers also began to break off increasingly according to their taste in music. As music multiplied in its genres so emerged a multitude of musically inspired distinct sub-styles. From the emerging New York Hip Hop scene came “Street,” and an urban landscape built of Nike High Tops, low slung jeans and the flat peak caps of Stussy. Then there was The Cure inspired the pop ‘Goth,’ look, the ‘Indie,’ style that developed with The Smiths, Adam and the Ant’s ‘New Romantic,’ look, the Joy Division ‘Mod,’ look, Blondie the Rock Chick and Madonna the Sex Siren, to name but a few.
My parent’s generation have left their own distinctive visual mark on British history, we have come to be known as the “I Generation.” This label is suggestive of that fact that we will be remembered not for the cultural but for the technological advances our age. However, even whilst living in the epicentre of what has become a technological whirlwind, much of modern musical ingenuity for example, has been devoted to creating the same synthetic sounds that New Order were able to get from a simple keyboard back in the eighties. Movies such as The Breakfast Club and Labyrinth have been released on DVD and have retained their cult status, and what was arguably the most highly acclaimed British film to have been made in the past few years told the story of eighties legend; Ian Curtis. If It was acceptable in the eighties then it is most definitely acceptable now.
SO WRONG THEY WERE RIGHT, the eighties quirky aesthetic defied the barriers of taste. Culturally and socially the British were provided with a forum in which fashionistas were able to experiment and truly express themselves. Instinctively, or perhaps as a means of preserving modern pride, “cool” has conveniently developed to fit the tendencies of our trends. As popular style has evolved, “cool,” too is no longer about original thought but more about reflection upon the past. As a result, terms such as ‘Retro,’ and ‘Old School,’ have become synonymous with modern ‘cool.’
As I sit here writing this in a Nintendo ‘Snez’ console control t-shirt, It is only right that I banish my pride and confront my fears as I come to my conclusion. My parents were the ones living and experiencing times that I sometimes feel were cooler than my than my own. But at the end of the day, we must live in the present. So, it is also important that we appreciate what we have now. My parents may have been cooler than I am….But at least I have an Ipod