Time to get out your photo albums, have a poke through and celebrate the best (and worst) of what we wore
The family photo album is a treasure trove just waiting to be re-discovered. Whether they’re collecting dust at the back of a cupboard, stuffed under the bed or tossed out and long forgotten. The camera’s ability to capture those “one-offs” is something to be celebrated – visuals which even the human memory fails to accurately sustain. “There is often more energy in personal photos than in images by 'subculture' photographers,” explains Nina Manandhar. A photographer turned curator (or 'pop-ethnographer’) who has collected up those cast aside images and compiled them into her book What We Wore – a Flickr-inspired project which originally began as a crowd sourced weekly addition to website ISYS Archive five years ago, before being given its own standalone site to thrive.
“When I was a teen, clothes were a powerful means of self-expression for me and my friends and I guess that's stayed with me,” says Manandhar, who has seen Britain’s subcultural history provide a plethora of moments that she’s really been able to sink her teeth into. But admittedly, she doesn’t have a favourite era: “I’m more interested in seeing the parallels and differences between them. But it could be fun to try out a day as skinhead girl or a football casual for a day – you'll find me in the angsty ones,” she says. Her historical style reference (of such) visually guides us through our wardrobes’ past – success stories and faux-pas included, it’s all relevant here. And what would we find in her photo album? “On my 16th birthday I went for dinner in some purple PVC trousers from Ad Hoc and a leopard print coat. At 15, in the indie days, it was brown flared cords. I don’t know what’s worse!” Below, she takes us through some of her favourites from the book.
What We Wore is out now, published by Prestel. For more information on Nina Manandhar, click here.
50s ESCAPE FROM GLOBE ROAD
“I made most of my own clothes on a treadle sewing machine at home. I knew what suited me so I never read magazines; we didn’t copy things. I would make clothes without a dress pattern, just cutting into the cloth. I spent the summer waitressing at the Pontins holiday camp in Bracklesham Bay, Sussex, where this photo of me was taken. I bought my bikini from a shop on Nelson Street in Whitechapel.” – Barbara Reuben, Bracklesham Bay, 1958
60s THE GARDENS OF ENGLAND
“Just back from the Portobello Road, very proud of my Guards jacket and Ben Sherman shirt. I remember I couldn’t find a white belt so I painted a black leather one. My brother, who was really square and fascinated by his very odd brother, took this photo of me in the family garden.” – Tim Epps, London, 1966
70s THE LAVENDER HILL MOB
“This is me with four of the best looking sisters in London at my Club JJ's. We got our fashion sense from the school of hard knocks. It was always important to us to match our clothes and have a certain look that we thought of as soulful and stylish.” – Jim Jackson/Peter Williams, London, 1975
80s KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC
“My first foray into alternative wear. Early 1980s, into Tik and Tok. Just before I ‘ran away’ to London. Heavy drinking and smoking followed. Upon hitting 30, I never touched a drop again.” – Paul Dyson, Leicester, 1982
90s RIOT GIRLS BECOME RIOT WOMEN
“This image from when my friend Krista and I were at art college in Sheffield in 1994. We were really into skateboarding and punk/hardcore, so Riot Grrrl suited us perfectly. We were listening to Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, Hole, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and Nirvana. We bleached our hair ourselves, didn’t wash it often and added bits of crazy colour in streaks and clumps!” – Hannah Asprey, Sheffield, 1994
00s DRUM ‘N’ BASS KAROKE
“We all got drunk one night and just decided to spit (MC) over the vinyls I had collected from Vinyl Conflict. At first we just used lyrics from Eksman, Shabba and any other MC: I guess it was drum ’n’ bass karaoke, if you like. The good thing about the drum ‘n’ bass movement was that the fashion wasn’t as hyped as it was in the garage scene, but it was still important that you fitted in.” – Tom Deacon, Kent, 2005