There’s a woman I keep seeing on the tube- cropped bleached hair, red Aztec leggings, a fierce pose and a ferocious stare. Normally I’d steer clear but she’s a woman from the 80’s so I forgive her, and she’s an advert for the V&A so I think I can trust her. With that in mind I decide to see what everyone was wearing in the decade of my birth and visit the Club to Catwalk exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
I wouldn’t say I’m especially interested in 80’s fashion. This may surprise people who know about my high top pony tail and penchant for stonewashed denim and pink lipstick. I suppose what I mean is that I don’t necessarily separate 80’s fashion from today’s. I’m sure I’ve seen those Aztec leggings in shops with names like Style4U and Mizz London and looking round the exhibit there were many pieces I could have found equivalents for on the 2013 high street. Saying that however, there was a sense of something more, seeing the “originals”. A poignancy and depth- basically a reason behind the pieces which is lost in the mass produced saturated clothes shops of today.
Like us today the people of the 80’s were in a (key word) recession. Fashion was not so much about luxurious fabrics and perfect tailoring as it was about expression, escapism and technology. The 80’s was a significant time for British fashion with the beginning of LFW and the creation of a new breed of fashion mag such as Blitz ans iD which pioneered an approach to fashion that was about experimenting but not about consuming. These were not shopping directories but inspiration.
During this period the wool industry boomed as people took to their needles to create catwalk inspired knits with an array of patterns at their disposal. Today this do-it-yourself approach may be seen around the home with salvaged and up-cycled furniture. Knitting and dressmaking however is something of a luxury with it often much more expensive to knit yourself a jumper than it is to pick one up in the sale (so my mum keeps telling me). With shops like the P word offering such immediate and cheap fashion there’s little need for even the hard hit to go without the latest trends, though they may skimp on other things.
One thing you couldn’t make at home that won over the nation was Lycra. Though we take this for-granted today and cringe at the skin tight mistakes of this decade, when wandering round the exhibit it is easy to see how exciting this material was, the possibilities (some of them regretful) it allowed for. Lycra exploded into fashion and people were genuinely excited. As a child of the 90’s I can’t imagine a childhood without legging and t shirt combos. What a restrictive childhood that would have been!
Fashion is often used to make political points. Think of the effect of 20’s fashion with the loss of the corset, or the utilitarian styles as women entered war time work places. Katherine Hammnett was famed for using her pieces to present overt political and social statements. This was an effective way of getting opinions and messages seen, heard and written about. Hammnett once said she wanted the designs to be ripped off (and they sure have) presumably she felt this would allow more voices to be heard and a greater communication network. I however wonder if all it has created is a white noise where once such a bold simple design had a clear and potent effect the slogan tee aesthetic outshines the content of the slogan itself.
The concept of the exhibition is of course Club to Catwalk and music of course features heavily, with a range of catwalk and performance videos wonderfully soundtracked and Jeffrey Hinton’s club soundtrack and film which has the intoxicating feel of being inside a noisy tumblr.
The exhibition reminded me there is depth behind the trends of this era which can often come across as showy and superficial and I would recommend it for a quiet day when you have £6 in your pocket.
It runs until 16th February.