The Style Issue - Music style
Had the same jeans on for four days now? Malcolm Jack looks at the interconnected worlds of Scottish sound and Scottish style
With many high street retailers currently stocking just about every item of attire an aspiring indie hipster could dream of – from neon-splattered hoodies to trousers crotch-wrenchingly tight enough to do more for family planning than an entire social services department – music's biggest influence on style over the last few years has probably been creeping popular uniformity. Youth-orientated marketing campaigns can hardly exist anymore without the right soundtrack. As part of a recent cross branding initiative, Topman even went to the length of labelling jeans recommended by NME – further proof, were it needed, that the magazine has become a kind of Grazia for the Libertines generation.
These days, many audience members at gigs tend to look as much (if not more) like stars than the stars themselves. However, as with the music emanating from fair Caledonia, there are, and always have been, spirited and inspiring pockets of resistance to the norms.
Looking back into the mists of time (but not quite far enough to recall Rod Stewart prancing around in a leopard print jumpsuit, or the Bay City Rollers doing for tartan what the Nazis did for jackboots), 1980-81 was the era of tiny Scottish independent label Postcard Records which, just like its music, proved something of a style watershed. A post-punk rebellion all of its own both sonically and sardonically, it frothed into view while the rest of the country was still in the rapture of new romanticism. Arty and archly camp, bands like Orange Juice and Josef K eschewed the dirty aesthetics of punk, instead counterpointing trebly, whey-faced sounds with Velvet Underground-inspired visual enigma: quiffs, dark glasses and sharp monochrome Oxfam suits – 'borderline poofery', as one critic of the day affectionately called it. While short lived, the movement's legacy would be as much an enduring pride in the Style of Young Scotland (to hijack the Postcard mantra) as The Sound.
In the late 80s and 90s, overall coyness about visual image as a whole could be considered as much a tool of defiance. Shambling C86 strummers The Pastels were camera shy at best, as were the leather and Ray Ban-sporting Jesus and Mary Chain, whose style also owed something to the Velvet Underground. Then came Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish band who more than any other could be said to have really ripped it up and started again fashion-wise. Just like their hugely endearing strain of literate art-pop, their dress code (trim thrift shop threads, sharp fringes and lethal-looking winklepickers) has always seemed less about originality than being extroverted and intelligent; having fun, not to mention appearing utterly confident in their ideas. In the same way as Oasis gave a certain section of young men a new set of excuses to grow their hair and dress down in the 90s, Franz Ferdinand, in the 00s, gave a certain section of young men a new set of excuses to shear their locks and dress up.
It's the groups who followed in their dapper wake who continue to set the real standard for style in Scottish music: Sons and Daughters, Bricolage, 1990s and most recently The Royal We, a band that made the most of their short-innings by never seeming to be snapped looking anything less than achingly cool. In all, it's a fine reflection of the worlds of possibility and imagination Glasgow and Edinburgh's well stocked vintage shops and independent design retailers facilitate. And it also proves that music and fashion combined can not only still turn heads, but also cock ears, and inspire real individuality in a way that no exercise in high street cross branding could ever hope to. A lesson for future generations indeed. Providing – in light of current risky trouser fashion – that future generations do remain a physical possiblity.