Oi Polloi

The Generation Game

Published: Tue Oct 15 2013

This summer took me back. Back to the era when I was still secretly reading comics and playing He-Man, stubbornly holding onto my Lego and solemnly retiring my Action Man with full military honours. That spell between 89 and 91 is seen by some as a golden era, culturally speaking, yet I spent it riding my BMX in muddy streams and building dead good dens that bigger lads would eventually commandeer.

When you’re twelve, the bigger lads are your immediate inspiration. Remember, the closest thing we had to the internet back then was Teletext and Ceefax, or maybe a Commodore Amiga if you were lucky/a geek (I was). We looked up to the bigger lads, literally and metaphorically.

The older lads would turn up at school with their blazer conspicuous by its absence and their school jumper replaced by one that looked far better, save for the blip burns around the neck line. They were a step ahead in asserting individuality and we wanted to catch them up.

As I slowly came to realise that football shirts were SAAAD (said in an Alan Partridge voice) and highly flammable shell suits were out as quickly as they came in, I began to take a greater interest in clothes. I was nearly a teenager and I needed to wear something cool for when my voice broke.

I’d already begun to exercise some control at a footwear level, stretching my spends to meet my parents halfway on Travel Fox shoes that were just about shoe-y enough to get away with at what I now realise was a pretty strict catholic school.

We had a teacher who would stalk the corridors of the Science and Geography block taking coats off kids who were broke the rules being blazer-less, like some sort of school Miss Scally. She taxed the kids because she could. The older kids would go to “Manny” (they were from Cheshire and that was their pet name for Manchester, forgive them) and come back with similar tales of having their shoes taken off them by similarly fearsome locals.

At school though, if you were without a blazer because you were a bit of a tramp, you weren’t bothered that your rubbish Naff Naff coat was now in a pile in her broom cupboard. But if on the other hand you were into wearing something slightly cooler, you either had to avoid her ‘streets’ completely or develop a sixth sense on a par with a SAS recruit.

Eventually we became the bigger lads. I elected not to do anything that might lead to small holes being burned into my jumper. Asthma and cigs are a worse marriage than Katie Price and whoever she happens to be with right now. Not smoking meant I had to make up for the lost cool points in other ways and while I mostly got it completely wrong (Travel Fox gave way to British Knights… I know) it only served to strengthen my resolve.

So the dye was cast in the early 90s and like the Tour de France, this clothing lark is all about cycles. I’m 35 now and there’s definitely a renaissance that looks back to that era when I grew up.

My son is 11 soon. He’s asked for clothes for his birthday. Not Lego, not Action Man (“They’re gay” apparently, who knew?) and crucially, no football shirts. Evidently, he’s got my genes and inside the next few years he’ll be eyeing my jeans too.

Where does this leave me though? Do I live a vicarious existence through my mini-me or do I start dressing like I should have when I was a kid?

For me I’m now seeing what the older lads I mentioned saw a few years ago when the casual scene finally went overground. I wasn’t there for the birth of that but I’m now seeing a return to a strand of it. Overtones of paninaro but thrown in the washing machine with the contents of a proto-scally’s inside pocket. Boating and seafaring but applied to the sink estates. Call it what you like, sports casual (or spazual if you want to go properly retro with the insults), Pet Shop Buoys (haha, buoys, like in the sea!) or some other neat play on words, it’s the spawn of the 90s, just like us all, in some shape or form.

Just like my soon-to-be-11 year old, taking influence from the last generation isn’t quite enough. You’ve got to apply your own aesthetic to it. Back then everyone wore stuff big. These days, everyone’s more arsed about the gym, running (née ‘jogging’) and riding bikes for miles. A smoothie these days means something totally different. So it moves on, just as it should. Twisted, re-imagined and most definitely better than it was.

So this autumn I’ll be mostly making like a Special Forces trainee, blazer thrown in a bin and an Action Man hidden behind my back. Oh and I’ll be stretching my spends and meeting my Mrs halfway for a new jacket. The more things change, the more they stay the same.