Tag Archives: haircuts

Paul Weller: Modfather

31 May

Paul Weller at the Sound Academy, Toronto, May 21, 2012

Paul Weller started life fronting the wildly influential new wave group, The Jam (1976 – 1982), then moved in to a smoother soulful/ jazzy/R&B sound with the Style Council (1983 – 1989). He heavily influenced the guitar-based Britpop movement of the 1990s and since that time has been a successful solo artist. I was lucky enough to see his show last week.

Not only do I dig his music, I appreciate Paul’s sense of style – he is one of the best-dressed musicians on the planet. Never ostentatious, trendy, or outlandish, his style is simple, distinctively British, and always well done.

In a recommended Observer interview, Paul explains his style beginnings: “I come from a time when every kid dressed up. Everybody. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to hang out. It was very tribal. There’s nice things in that. It’s culture, it’s roots for me. Maybe I just never grew up, mate.”

Paul’s dad was a Teddy Boy in the 50s so early on, his perception of style would be influenced by what I think is of the coolest looks of the 20th century. Teddy Boys were a cohesive group of teenage boys in Brylcreemed quiffs, stove pipe trousers, skinny ties, and Edwardian-style coats with velvet collars.  These kids grew up during strictly-rationed WWII, but now they earned their own money and spent it on clothes and rockabilly records. Teds made it okay for young men to express himself through his clothes, and this attitude set the stage for future styles in Britain, namely the “Mods” or Modernists, of which Paul Weller says, “I’m still a mod, I’ll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod.”

Though the mods have dubious beginnings, I like the sound of Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferris’ explanation in On Fashion: “[At the] core of the British mod rebellion was a blatant fetishising of the American consumer culture” that had “eroded the moral fiber of England.” In this act, the mods “mocked the class system that had gotten their fathers nowhere”, and created a “rebellion based on consuming pleasures.”

The mods were obsessed with clothing and style and wore skinny, tailor-made Italian suits with short jackets (dubbed “bum freezers”), button-down shirts, Chelsea boots or “winklepicker” long-toed shoes, and military parkas to keep everything clean as they drove their Lambretta scooters, and popped speed while listening to the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Small Faces, leaning into blue-eyed soul and R&B sounds.

In the late 60s and early 70s, “we were all post-skinheads – suedeheads… too young to be proper skinheads.” Weller explains, “The main strand that forged it together was that American-college look, the Brooks Brothers look: the cardigans and sleeveless jumpers and the buttoned-down shirts and the Sta-Prest trousers. That was the common ground. It was a way for people who haven’t got much to make a show.”

Style

One source calls Mods “ice-cold, up-to-the-second hipsters”, so trying to make a show on a modest savings was difficult for a young style-conscious teenage boy from Woking, Surrey, a small city 25 miles from London.

I had to really save for my first Ben Sherman. We used to buy Brutus shirts, which were much cheaper – second best. But Ben Shermans were the sought-after item. The first one I ever got was a lemon-yellow one. I must have been 12, 13, and it was a bit too big for me. But being a kid I didn’t realise you could take it back to the shop. I wore it till it fitted me.

He says that shirt meant everything to him and speaks at length about his love of Ben Sherman shirts, how the line’s aesthetic strikes him, the colours, and their “statement of intent”. That really sums up Paul’s style – beautiful clothes worn with intent; for him, style is “like a code in my life, a religion”.

The skinny mohair or shark skin mod suits of the 60s worn by the soul artists Weller listened to were adopted by The Jam in the 70s, their signature black suit-white outfits echoed the black and white colour contrast that dominated the new wave period. It was during this time when Weller began to discover the pleasures of bespoke suits.

When the Jam disbanded and Paul began the Style Council, his look changed radically but he doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about the period. “The Eighties were a pretty rough time. There are too many [fashion faux pas to] mention. I used to think I came out of the Eighties unscathed but no one did… I don’t know if anyone had a decent haircut then… we all had stupid haircuts of varying nature. Mutant quiffs and angular cuts!”

Weller adds interest to his toned down stage gear with an interesting shoe.

It was during the Britpop movement that Weller earned the name “Modfather” – his Jam and solo work were hugely influential to the biggest names of the period: Blur, Lush, and Oasis. Through his work with Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Paul and Liam recognized their mutual love of clothing. Now, Paul is guest-designing for Liam’s clothing line, Pretty Green, an excellent line of Mod-influenced gear for men (that happens to be the name of a Jam song).

“I’ve been into clothes as long as I can remember. It’s great with this thing with Pretty Green – I can do my designs but I don’t have the headaches of manufacturing.”

Paul’s suits are late 60s – early 70s-inspired three-piece suits. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that I wouldn’t wear myself,” says Weller in a UK GQ interview. “It’s been a dream really – I brought reference pictures, graphics, sketches, vintage things I’ve collected over the years and stuff from my own wardrobe.”

In his wardrobe, you would find five double-breasted pinstripe suits because as he says, “you can’t really go too far wrong with a pinstripe”. He stresses that a jacket fit well in the shoulders and to buy suits according to your body shape. For Weller, it’s the details that count – he’s always wearing an interesting pair of shoes and a silk stuffed into his breast pocket. All that while rocking an iconic textured Mod haircut.

Hair

Paul Weller’s haircuts, like his clothes, have always stood out. He has been wearing variations of the mod haircut for years. I asked Dubliner, Aaron O’Brian, stylist at Kearns & Co. in Toronto about Paul’s specific and distinctive cut.

“Mod haircuts involve texturizing and slicing the hair to give it a feathered look with lots of movement,” Aaron says, “there are lots of variations on the mod cut, for men and women, as long as they have the confidence to go with this funky style.”

Regina stylist, Levi Carleton, adds “no Weller haircut is without this great shattered end texture that screams a sort of high-end perfected distress.”

Aaron mentions that Paul’s cut has “always been on trend but there are many variations now like textured mod styles with swooping fringes (bangs). Variations of Paul’s mod cut can be seen throughout the years on other UK bands like  Oasis, The Verve, even fashion icon David Beckam sported a variation of mod,  and we will continue to see this style for many more years to come.”

The mod style paved the way to many different hair and fashion styles. “The mod basically gave people the freedom to express themselves and experiment with fashion,” Aaron says.

Video

Some of my favorite Paul Weller videos spotlighting his style:

That’s Entertainment is a classy early video (1981) featuring The Jam in tailored mod gear.

Beat Surrender, The Jam’s last single. Paul sticks to the stovepipe mod-style trousers and simple sweater – check bass player, Bruce Foxton’s skinny sand-coloured suit.

Wake Up The Nation (2010) from Paul’s solo career features his cool, simple, and distinctive tastes – a tailored jacket and neck scarf for a bit of punchy interest.

Advertisements

Clothing, costume, identity, and lack thereof

16 Dec

Clothing is a wonderful thing.  Clothing is a wonderful palette with many options to play with like colour, garment cut, and fabric texture. One of my favourite things to do is get dressed and express myself through my clothing. For me, clothing and dressing is a joy.

Clothing is also heavy with significance and symbolism. Sure, we might need clothing to protect us, but as humans, we love to add meaning to things that have no meaning, and so the costume – and the identity wrapped within it, is born.

In The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie states that through time, humans have silently communicated with one another through the language of their garb: “Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age, and class to me through what you are wearing [including how you style your hair, decorate your body, and accessorize] – and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood.” (AKA the unspoken messages of our visual image.)

If clothing is the thing, costume is the meaning of the thing.

According to Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion, “clothing has to do with covering one’s body, and costume with the choice of a particular form of garment for a particular use.” Clothing is more of a survival tactic and relies on textile manufacture and the technology of the time period; it is utilitarian, protective, and worn out of necessity.

Clothing protects us from the elements and from injury, and without it, humanity would not have flourished – nude humans could not survive cold climates we would probably all live close to the equator. Without clothing, playing sports would be suicide sans protective cups and shin guards. There is a good chance that we all may live in grass huts for want of steel-toed boots that protect our construction workers during the building process.

Costume, on the other hand, “reflects social factors such as religious beliefs, magic, aesthetics, personal status, the wish to be distinguished from or to emulate one’s fellows,” Boucher says, adding that “costume helps inspire fear or impose authority” – think warrior’s face paint and horned helmets to scare the opposing side in battle.

“In later times,” he continues, “professional or administrative costume has been devised to distinguish the wearer and to express personal or delegated authority” – think lawyer’s robes, a police uniform, a  business suit, or a surgeon’s scrubs.

We rely on visual cues to tell us who (we think) people are and illustrate who we are as individuals, but if those cues are taken away, what are we left with?

Uniforms: the removal of individuality

People looking uniform in their uniforms may be pleasing to the eye, but Lurie says that no matter what sort of uniform is worn, “military, civil or religious; the outfit of a general, a postman, a nun, a butler, a football player or a waitress – to put on such livery is to give up one’s right to act as an individual.”

Let’s take the military as our example. The military strips people of their identity by removing the visual cues that make them up, shaving their heads, and dressing them in identical costumes, to turn them into unquestioning, order-following soldiers. In the military, there are no individuals, only teams of soldiers in crew cuts.

The first thing to go when one enters the military is the hair. Hair, Sampson’s strength and our crowning glory, has a lot of ego and identity wrapped up into it, and it is the first sacrifice of obedience and submission to the armed forces. We are very attached to our hair, and I expect that having one’s head shaved must reduce the sense of self to some degree, though a soldier must feel solace being in the company of others who look just like he does.

Have a look at Elvis Presley preparing for the army – he seems to take it in stride, but then again, no one can deny his identity – he’s Elvis.

Next, your clothing is taken away and replaced with a uniform, identical to the rest in your company. No more cues as to who you are or what you stand for as an individual – you are now in a system that wants you to focus your whole being on your job. Military people do everything together, they live together, eat together, and train together. It seems that the military turns individuals into multi-person machines set on particular orders. Indeed, Lurie writes that the “uniform acts as a sign that we need not and should not treat someone as a human being, and that they need not and should not treat us as one.”

Ooh! I don’t like that much. I know that wearing a uniform is right for some people, but that doesn’t mean that I understand it. I’m very supportive of exploring one’s own identity and individuality – we are all different from each other and anyone who has or will be, so I’m not sure what drives people to sign away their individuality and look like everyone else.

Strip search

Our clothing gives us a sense of modest security and shields our vulnerability; there is confidence in clothing. But what happens when our clothing is forcibly removed? CBC’s The Current reported about strip searches this week, stating the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision prohibiting strip searches as a routine police practise, and allowing these searches only out of clear necessity or in emergency situations, with the permission of a supervisor, and performed by same-sex officers.

David Tanovich, the lawyer representing Ian Golden, a black man who was striped searched in a downtown Toronto restaurant in 2001, states that strip search practises by Toronto police are a “highly intrusive method of police intimidation.” The African-Canadian legal clinic got involved in the case, identifying Golden’s treatment as a “public lynching”.

Earlier that year, 69 year old Rosie Schwartz attended a peaceful protest in Toronto and was arrested and strip searched by Toronto police after she was told she was trespassing. She describes the strip search experience as a traumatic and demeaning assault, and says “I felt like nothing.” She sued the police in small claims court for unlawful arrest and illegal search and won.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, strip searches are still performed and have come into the spotlight again with the recent trial of the 2008 strip search of Stacy Bonds by Ottawa police. Ms Bonds, arrested without reason, was not only roughed up by four Ottawa police, but her shirt and bra were cut off with scissors by the officers. Bonds described her treatment by police as “verbal and mental rape”. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the case against Bonds was halted by the judge who found the Ottawa police’s arrest of Bonds unlawful and called her subsequent treatment in the cells and the strip search a “travesty” and an “indignity.”

*                              *                                *                              *                                  *

What we wear protects us, keeps our modesty in check, enhances or diminishes body features, operates as our billboard, and is a part of who we are. When it is removed and replaced with a uniform, we become a different person, and when it is removed by force, it can be horribly traumatic and humiliating.

Without clothing, we are physically and emotionally unprotected. Without the identity cues of costume, we have little opportunity to visually express ourselves and show who we are. Without clothing and the meanings we associate with clothing, who would you be?