Rebel Threads – Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful & Misunderstood

‘The thing I most remember about these funfair visits was being truly terrified, intimidated by, and yet in awe of the leather clad, greasy-quiffed Rocker kids that worked on the rides. Like car mechanics, their hands, faces and clothes were engrained with black swarf, oil and graphite from the rides. But to me they looked just like James Dean, Billy Fury and Gene Vincent, in their black leather biker jackets, and navy donkey jackets, always styled with the collar turned up. They also wore T-shirts, brand new to this country, and drainpipe jeans, battered winkle-pickers shoes, cowboy boots or steel toecap work boots.’

You couldn’t find a better spirit guide to the delightful and delinquent subcultures of our septic isle (and our sister septics across the pond) than Roger K Burton. Not only has he witnessed teds, mods, rockers, hippies, dandies, punks et al in their natural habitats, but he also has an unmatched understanding of the youth movements that preceded them – the spivs, wide boys, swing cats, hep cats and Bobby soxers – and an unerring eye for the divisions and details that marked their boundaries. He knows the full stories of how each of these styles came about – the inspiring films, the maverick tailors, and the various peacocks and ace faces who wore them and changed the world.

This book is a life’s work. Burton was the stylist and costume designer on films like Absolute Beginners, Quadrophenia and Young Soul Rebels. He’s dressed Bowie and Jagger, he supplied Westwood and McLaren with much of the vintage schmutter for their punk-era Let It Rock and Seditionaries stores, even helped them design the World’s End incarnation. He ran his own boutique for years, the Blitz-era PX in Covent Garden, epicentre of New Romantic. Roger has 20,000 items and counting in his collection, which started with a clutch of his grandad’s hand-printed silk ties. It’s now a commercial library for fashion and film, Contemporary Wardrobe Collection

And the book is perfection. The clothes themselves are unbelievable – styled, accessorised and lit immaculately, in ghostly groups that are almost alive. Despite being on headless mannequins, you feel like you’re in the room with these bad boys and girls, adrift in the ’40s, ‘50s, ’60s, ’70s. These are clothes that had the power to make their mark – even occasionally to terrify – and even in less shockable times they possess a certain magic. You find yourself scanning the cut and the detailing, imagining a world inhabited by these bold characters. You’re looking backwards, inevitably, but the realness of the clothes makes it less like nostalgia and more like time travel, as you mentally slip into the outfits you’d steal for yourself.

Throughout the whole book, Burton’s mod aesthetic is to the fore, making sure it’s right in every detail. The amazing clobber is surrounded by brilliant text and contemporary street and movie photos from all the right sources, brimming with those cultural nuggets that bring the story to life – the news stories that created an antihero, the films that brought a particular style into view, the tailor who brought back a new cut from Italy. Every effort has been taken to make sure you’re getting the best references and the full story, and it’s full of little extras that get you closer to the characters who wore it all, like a pair of mod cufflinks with a secret compartment for stashing your Dexys. Frank Broughton

Buy the book here

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton