The dA-Zed guide to street style

A look at the original innovators of street style documented in Josh Sims' latest book from Kawaii to Quadrophenia

Fashion dA-Zed guides
Liz Johnson Artur
Girls hang out in west London in 1999, their sneakers pristine. Photography by Liz Johnson-Artur

From surfers to stilyagis, goths to ganguro, Josh Sims charts 100 ideas, tribes, scenes and other phenomena that have shaped street style. And 'street style' here is meant literally, used not to describe the highly curated and increasingly monotonous stuff of street style blogs but what people are really wearing on the street, unedited.

There are around 300 images in the book, from famous celebrity shots like Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones mincing out of Peter’s Cafe in the 60s, to iconic movie posters, record sleeves and clubnight photography. Often with books of this ilk the text is just an afterthought, a simple device used to space the images out, but Sims has collected a wealth of fascinating and often amusing anecdotes that imbue even the more obvious style ideas with fresh interest. Here we distil the best of street style into 26 hits, from A to Z.

A IS FOR AEROBICS

Let's get physical! Sims credits the explosion of health and fitness as a lifestyle choice for women in the 1980s with popularising unitards, sweatbands and legwarmers. Until then, gyms had been the preserve of muscle men, but exercise classes like aerobics created a female space and soon a fashion scene. The extreme sports of the 90s also get a mention, bringing chunky skate shoes and heavily branded snowboarding kit off the slopes and onto the streets.

B IS FOR BEATNIKS 

Gathering in Rive Gauche (Left Bank) coffee shops to muse over the works of Jean Paul Sartre and think big thoughts (remember Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face?), Parisian Beatniks chain-smoked Gauloises and gave good poloneck. Their style was adopted in the 1950s by American novelists, poets and musicians, epitomised by Jack Kerouac, who described his contemporaries as the 'beat generation'.

C IS FOR CLUBS

Get this: in the late 70s, the American music bible Billboard voted Wigan Casino the best disco in the world, over Studio 54. Wigan Casino in actual Wigan, just northwest of Manchester. The book is full of tasty little morsels like this, which makes it as good a read as it is a fantastic collection of photography. Northern Soul was still going strong in the 90s, as attested to by these bug-eyed, sew-on patch fanatics at an all-nighter in Salford.

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Northern soul lasted among devotees well beyond its heyday. Here, two northern soulies at an all-nighter in Salford, northern England, in the late 1990s pose with their badges, each commemorating their attendance at a northern soul event of note. Photography by Ewen Spencer

D IS FOR D.I.Y 

Since the birth of the teenager, the style conscious have been looking to stand out from the crowd by adding chains and studs, sewing on patches and artfully destroying their wardrobe. Hell, you don't even have to actually do it yourself anymore; you can pick up 'distressed' denim and studded leather in any high-street chain store. Sims highlights the culture of customisation, from the original ‘King of Kustomizers’ George Barris and his pimped rides to limited edition Nike kicks.

E IS FOR E’S & WIZZ 

Not the Pulp song, although Jarvis Cocker does get a nod in the Geek Chic entry. From stoned hippies in paisley loons and crochet minidresses to sweating ravers in 90s sportswear classics, drugs twisted youthful minds as well as the fashion landscape. Psychedelic patterns, neon brights and extravagant club styles both sprang forth from states of altered consciousness and make them more scenic.

F IS FOR FILM 

These days, the release of a major Hollywood blockbuster may prompt a spate of unlikely trend pages in shopping weeklies (you mean you didn’t base your SS2011 wardrobe on TRON: Legacy?), but back in 1960, a film could start a whole new style scene. Sims credits Fellini’s La Dolce Vita with forging a national Italian style: slick suits and sunglasses, kitten heels, little black dresses, tight knee-length skirts and full blouses.

G IS FOR GENDER BENDING 

Fashion has long charted the movement away from conservative gender binaries towards less strictly delineated sets of tastes, styles and beauty regimes. David Beckham-inspired 90s metrosexuals in pink shirts preparing for a night out with a sun bed and a layer of foundation mingle with top hat and sharp suit wearing androgynes like Marlene Dietrich.

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British TV series Waglad in 2009 profiled several men who devoted time and money to the way they looked. Here Liam Norvall, of Bromley, UK, puts on foundation. Photography by Ewen Spencer

H IS FOR HORSES 

Riding up to Studio 54 on the back of a white stallion was apparently not the preserve of 70s glamazon Bianca Jagger, but an extravagance open to a seemingly random bloke in white jeans and a check shirt pictured queuing casually on horseback. Fellow equine enthusiasts, the cowboys of the Wild West also feature prominently, for their practical denim jeans that have become everyday staples as well as their more outré accessories: stetsons, elaborate belt-buckles and bandanas.

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It may be Halloween but only the theatricality and glamour of disco – and especially that at New York’s pioneering club Studio 54 – necessitated turning up for a night out on a white horse. Photography by Allan Tannenbaum/Sohoblues.com

I IS FOR ICE

You had to shine bright like a diamond if you wanted to stand out in a early-00s hip hop club; flash your gold grills and pile on big chains like Slick Rick. Or fake it, in brash raggamuffin style, with see-through chain-mail dresses, white bikinis and massive plastic rocks.

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Raggamuffin’s embracing of excess – as typified by this woman’s jewellery and her rhinestone-patterned bra top – was, among black cultures, the antithesis of Rasta. Photography by Liz Johnson-Artur
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Dancehall girls dress to excess with plenty of bling and flesh at ragamuffin events in London’s West End in 2004. Photography by Liz Johnson-Artur

J IS FOR JAZZ 

From the original jazz men to their acid jazz revivalist fans. Supposedly coined by DJ Chris Bangs at clubnight ‘Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Something’ in 1987 to describe Gilles Peterson's penchant for speeding up rare groove records, the name acid jazz was a comic foil for the dominant genre of the time, acid house. The look veers from flat caps, button-ups, bow ties and braces, to Jamiroquai-style tracksuits and flamboyant headdresses.

K IS FOR KAWAII 

Japanese subcultures are well represented, from the cute, childlike Decora and sickly sweet baby-doll Lotitas that originated in Tokyo’s Harajuko and Shibuya fashion districts to the trashy, fake-tanned and bottle-blonde Ganguro, which literally translates as ‘black face’.

L FOR LEATHER 

With the exception of denim jeans, there is no garment more iconic and ubiquitous than the black leather jacket. Despite being appropriated by the mainstream long ago, biker jackets miraculously endure as the uniform of rockstars the world over. First designed by American manufacturers Schott at the request of a Harley Davidson dealership, the leather jacket has become shorthand for rebel cool.

M IS FOR MAGAZINES 

Nick Logan’s The Face, in particular; credited with giving birth to heroin chic in a 1996 editorial entitled ‘The Usual Suspects’, it embraced and documented style tribes like the New Romantics and even the creation of ‘Buffalo’, a short-lived but influential ‘anti-fashion’ tribe shaped by stylist Ray Petri and photographer Jamie Morgan in the early 80s.

N IS FOR NORMCORE 

The recently-coined trend for wearing casual clothing with no distinct style is a backlash against the cult of fast-fashion, jumping on every micro-trend hyped by the blogosphere and fuelled by high-street chains stocking hundreds of new items every week. The process of commercialisation that has been amping up for decades has finally reached a deafening crescendo and the style set are opting out.

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from gurl.com

O IS FOR ONLINE 

The advent of the internet has revolutionised fashion in the same way that it has every other area of our lives. The speed with which new styles and ideas can travel around the world means that a cycle of change that once took decades now takes just a few weeks. Sims notes smart phones and social media in particular as disruptive forces in the industry, bubbling ideas up from the streets and onto the catwalks more than ever before.

P IS FOR PREPPY 

The school uniforms of American Ivy League college kids: “smart-casual and quietly expensive” is how Sims describes the preppy look. Oxford shirts, khaki pants, loafers, argyle sweaters and navy blazers forged a style that is the polar opposite of rock and roll rebellion. These kids were happy to turn into their parents.

Q IS FOR QUADROPHENIA 

The 1979 film accompanying The Who’s rock-opera concept album of the same name is credited with the revival of Mod style – a look that emerged in London in the late 1950s and early 60s, inspired by Continental fashion, especially smart, slim-fitting Italian tailoring.

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Still from "Quadrophenia" from wikimedia.org

R IS FOR ROCK AND ROLL 

Sims locates the genesis of the fruitful relationship between teenage fashion and music culture in the 1950s with Elvis Presley and the birth of rock and roll. Since then, music has surely been the single most important influence shaping style, from the King’s tight trousers and unbuttoned shirts, through the skinny, held-together-by-safety-pins punks, long-haired, waistcoat-wearing metal heads, baggy, grubby grungers and the gentler stylings of mid-90s indie kids.

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A Thursday night in the Classic Rock Room of Rock City in Nottingham, UK, 1998, with a spontaneous burst of air guitar. Photography by Ewen Spencer

S IS FOR SEX 

The sexual revolution that began in the 60s fundamentally changed how a person could express themselves, their body and their identity. Sims moves from naked hippies dancing at festivals, to the hyper-sexualisation of today’s mainstream culture, taking in subculture style tribes like fetish, bondage and burlesque along the way.

T IS FOR TEENAGE KICKS 

Idea no. 1 is 'the teenager', and it is a constant presence throughout the rest of the book. At the start of the twentieth century, a person was a child until they were an adult, full stop. But two world wars, into which hundreds of thousands of teenage boys were drafted to fight, created a generational gap, with young men and women questioning the logic of war and declaring their independence. Parents may have been alarmed, but marketeers understood the teenager as a powerful new consumer group, one that was set to dominate popular culture.

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James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" from wikimedia.org

U IS FOR THE UNDERGROUND 

Although many subcultures have been absorbed into the idea-hungry, commercialised mainstream, some of the more extreme looks retain their underground status. Victorian drama, horror movies and bondage combine to create the iconic goth look; cyberpunks mix sci-fi futurism, dystopian narratives and rave culture, whereas steam-punks look backwards, mixing the wild west with early industrialisation.

V IS FOR VINTAGE 

Rejecting the aphorism "you had to be there", retro enthusiasts vicariously relive the past with the same fervour that, ironically, their style heroes often put into looking towards the future. The romance of decades past has transformed hand-me-downs and secondhand garments into rare and precious sartorial trophies. Sims highlights rockabilly, mod and burlesque styles in particular.

W IS FOR WEST COAST 

Early Californian surfer style invaded popular culture with the success of The Beach Boys, who adopted the warm Pendleton shirts surfers wrapped up in after hours out on the water. The much later West Coast stylings of 2pac don’t get a look in, with the East Coast name checked for originating hip hop style: loose cuts, tracksuits, conspicuous branding and thick gold chains.

X IS FOR XENOPHILIA 

With real-time feeds from around the globe, the influence of foreign cultures and style movements can have an almost instant effect on Generation Z wardrobes. But even before the internet and social media, style tribes looked overseas for sartorial inspiration. Sims explores the Zazous, who brought American jazz, swing and bebop style to German-occupied France during the Second World War, and the stilyagi, who walked a dangerous line between communism and American-inspired consumerism in 1950s USSR.

Y IS FOR YUPPIES 

Since the 80s, young urban professionals have been revisiting the preppy look of 40s and 50s America. Epitomised by Thierry Mantoux’s french style tome BCBG: Le guide du bon chic bon genre (guide to good style, good class), the look is high maintenance, with high price-points: cashmere sweaters, silk scarves, classic handbag styles and expensive watches. Think Reese Witherspoon in American Psycho.

Z IS FOR ZIGGY STARDUST 

David Bowie’s iconic sequin and satin-clad alien alter ego was the archetype of 70s glam rock. Sims charts the rise of the brash, sexual aesthetic that took Top of the Pops by storm: the skin-tight trousers, sci-fi jumpsuits, knee-high platform Terry de Havilland boots, painted faces and big, wild hair. Less is less, and more is not nearly enough.

100 Ideas that Changed Street Style is published by Laurence King and is available now

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