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The way we wore

STYLING OUR HISTORY: Marvin Gaye

THE OLDER we get the more we forget what it was that made us black in the first place.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t criticise youngers whose trousers are hanging halfway down their backsides. Who remembers the way we wore back in the days when we wore ‘white’ to the ball?

Not just to be more like white folk and go incognito in a world where we were incognegro. But also because there wasn’t much choice but Burton suits (and ‘John Collier, John Collier – the window to watch’) unless we wanted to go proper ghetto. By that I mean native. In an African stylee.

Like the black power guys started doing when they sport- ed dashikis with their afros and militant pose. I’m talking back in the late sixties when the Biafra war was raging and Africa was looking more and more like a dark continent to even those of us from there who were living over here and wondering why we were killing our one another to the bene t of big business and the British arms industry.

But even those militant types didn’t wear the full booba in kente cloth or the agbada. They were not prepared to go the full ethnic without a toothpick sticking out the corner of their mouths and those dark shades that seemed to accompany black culture wherever and whenever we went from continent to continent and decade to decade.

You see, back then when we had little option about what to wear. We had to style out our one pair of pants and our shirts with the frayed collars and the shoes with the hole in them on a rainy day.

Until Marvin came out with the black leather trench coat with the collar turned up on the cover of his What’s Going On album and we all suddenly realised that you didn’t have to be Gaye to be into leather, and those of us who could reach Petticoat Lane market ditched the parkas and crombies and Harrington jackets and invested in a three-quarter or full length leather – one for the fellas and one for the ladies.

That was the first real black- British style if you don’t include the zoot suits that Lord Kitchener and his band of merry pioneers brought over on the Windrush back in 1948 and some of them were still wearing when England won the World Cup two decades later.

Who remembers monkey boots? Don’t ask me why they were called that. I like to think the name was there before we started wearing them but.... you never know. For real. Back in dem days you never KNEW. Not for sure. FOR REAL. Monkey boots were the black man’s shoe when bovver boys were kicking about in long-legged steel-toe capped Docs and drainpipe jeans rolled up to the calf.

FLARES

Part-shoe and part-boot, you could get away with wearing monkey boots to school and they seemed to last forever, which suited our hard-working but often tight-sted parents, but didn’t do us any favours when platforms came in. Who remembers them?

Platforms and tight, tight, tight-tight flares the way that Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate used to wear them - you know, no underpants styles. If it weren’t for those tight flares and no underpants, Manchester United fans may today not be so x-rated in their songs about the size of striker Romelu Lukaku’s manhood. Because long before Linford’s lunchbox became famous in Gateshead we were rocking dem styles on the streets of Handsworth, Moss Side, Chapeltown in Leeds and north London.


PICTURED: Errol Brown

Don’t feel no way. As it’s BLACK HISTORY MONTH I’m just reminding you of the way we wore so that it may go some way to explaining how we got ourselves in the mess that we’re in in the first place. (YES, BRUVVAS AND SISTAS, WE IS IN AN ALMIGHTY MESS, AS LAST WEEK’S RACE DISPAR- ITY SURVEY CONFIRMED).

Dem disco days of the seventies was when we really came into our own inna Ingrain. Okay it was a black American style, but we added our own twists to it, too. Farah jeans and Fiorucci. Smiths jeans and elephant corduroys with moccasins and loafers.

Who remembers slacks and sovereigns? Don’t ask me why we were consumed by cheap rings with gold coins mounted on them, but if you didn’t have one you were no-one. Or at least you weren’t black. No matter if you were a woman or a man. You couldn’t roll up to a dance without flashing your cheap gold. It was in them days that we realised how good gold looked on our skin and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Who remembers gold-tipped shoes? Always gold-tipped at the toe and sometimes on the heel? If you went down to Dolcis shoe shop on a Saturday you would see a whole line of us telling the shopkeeper ‘nevermind the quality just bring the gold tips come’.

And who remembers how we used to stick a towel in our back pocket (the man dem I’m talking about here) and let it hang out as we bounced down the road with the black man walk. The trilby on your head would barely cover the afro, but the main thing was that towel hanging from your backside like our lives depended on it.

I don’t know why it was a fashion, it just was. And I don’t know how it stopped being the fashion. I just know that the last time I saw someone rocking dem styles was about 1979 on the Stroud Green on the north side of London. What we all thought was the very height of cool now looked ridiculous. It was like the last of the Mohicans – until Balotelli would revive that particular hairstyle.

And after that reggae and rasta came in. Suddenly every other man was growing locks underneath a red, green and gold tam. And every other gyal had her locks wrapped in a tight headwrap and wore pleated skirts (often tartan) with black stockings underneath. Yeah, don’t act like you don’t remember dem styles deh.

That’s the way we wore once upon a time when was coloured. Because back then we was tryna form our own identity which was crucial and vital to maintain a certain presence and dignity in these here British Isles where we would die and disappear in the cauldron of nothingness unless we could search deep in our souls for that indefinable, identifiable something or other that made us, also, all God’s children.

And, still today, it is that little spark that says “we was once negroes and then we was coloured and now we’re black, but we still proud and we’re still saying it loud” that keeps us sane to maintain and alive and vital and relevant in these modern times when white folks have got our groove going on.

We taught them how to wear their baseball caps backwards without looking foolish. And to hang their trousers halfway down their bottoms with- out getting their knickers in a twist. And yet we diss dem styles deh when a black youth is rocking it.

As a matter of fact, who remembers being black? Ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. If white folks ain’t ashamed of being black, why are we so uncomfortable with being WHO WE WORE?

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