For some reason colour seemed to come in to my life at the start of the 1960s. Apart from the dabbling with some dreadful wallpaper and curtains, before returning to the sanity of white walls, ceilings and doors, the main exposure was through clothing.
Fashion was something that the working classes didn’t really enjoy a lot of at the time. Clothing was practical and free-standing wardrobes wouldn’t have held a great range, so we never had much. As a young lad I never had more than one pair of shoes, maybe a pair of sandals and second hand pair of football boots and the rest of my clothing was limited to school uniform and the odd T-shirt and hand knitted jumper for the weekends and holidays. My Dad wasn’t a lot better, but he had suits for work and the rest was a few casual bits for weekends. This was much better than my grandparents had though. Grandad had a cotton shirt where there were detachable collars that could be swapped during the week to keep him looking smart. With the new decade came major changes. Readymade suits, synthetic fabrics, nylon, rayon, appeared. The swinging sixties brought in mini-skirts that were cheaper to produce as there was much less material and fabric dying and pattern printing really took off. Goods were imported from overseas and ‘made in Hong Kong’ became the byword for shoddy goods. Nobody cared, as clothes no longer had to last long, they just had to look good.
I remember my Mum coming home after work and doing some shopping in Leeds market on the way. She would pull out a new dress, short with a very loud bold print, but she was delighted with what she had bought for ten bob. Shoes were becoming cheaper and leather was replaced for cheap pairs with plastic and even my brothers and I enjoyed or maybe suffered the plastic sandal on our holidays. The advantage was that you could wear them in the sea, which protected the feet from sharp rocks and shingle, but you suffered afterwards when sand stuck to your feet and rubbed mercilessly. I even had some plastic fashion shoes, but my parents soon learned that they didn’t last the rigours of playground soccer, sliding on the ice in winter and that they were a false economy as they split and didn’t last too long, so it was back to the Stylo shoes and their guarantee to last six months.
Because my mother was starting to build up a collection of clothes, my father got his next DIY project and that was to build fitted wardrobes into each of the bedrooms at Gipton Wood Crescent. This project took quite a long time but produced wardrobes along one wall of each of the bedrooms. In the two larger rooms there were wardrobes on each end with a small dressing table between. My father did a good job and it certainly allowed us to begin to accommodate the growing number of items. I wonder if they are still there? They were a dark mahogany veneer and had a rail for hanging clothing. My older brother had the box room and so his wardrobe was smaller and just allowed the single bed to fit in. Being four years older than me he was more into fashion of the sixties, whereas I was more the seventies. During 1967-8 he, along with almost everyone else, was affected by the Hippy culture from the USA. Flower pattern shirts and even bells to hang around the neck. He was growing his hair and started attending St Wilfrid’s Youth Club. As a teenager he was interested in attracting girls and so music, fashion and image became important. The good thing about this was that I used to pinch his clothes when I started going to youth clubs. Black plastic shiny coats were the rage and he had one that just fitted me, but that was just the start. Whatever he owned was fair game for me and I do believe a number of fraternal altercations ensued. I also helped myself to his records. He went to Durham University in the late sixties and he couldn’t take all his clothing and records with him and so I had a great time with what was left. His one claim to fame was assisting with the lighting for the early Pink Floyd concert at Durham, where projectors with various inks held between slides projected moving colourful patterns onto the band, stage and audience.
My brother was also the first person I knew to buy a pair of desert boots. The soft, tan-coloured, ankle-high boots with a soft crepe rubber sole were very trendy and I know he had similar sized feet to me, as I managed to purloin them on a number of occasions. These replaced the fashion for winklepicker boots with elasticated sides and chisel shaped shoes and boots. I remember well my brother getting, what were called, rhino skin shoes. They were a grey leather, dull and rippled and they did indeed look like a rhino’s skin, but I hope they definitely weren’t. Speaking of endangered animals, there was a fad in the 1970s for elephant hair bracelets. These certainly felt very plastic, but maybe elephants had very wiry hair.
In the late 1960s something happened that I am sure caused my brother to be delighted, I started part-time jobs. As a result of this I could start to buy my own clothes to supplement the ones my parents provided the money for. My first fashion buy was a pair of Levi jeans for 37 shillings and 6 pence. I have mentioned before the ritual of sitting in a bath of cold water, supposedly to shrink them to size. I don’t think it did anything but shrink parts of my teenage anatomy. Jeans were the bees knees and I wore them with pride and a sense of being a man, which was a bit of a joke at 13. For those followers of my blog, they were bought on the away rugby match where we were allowed a short trip to the shops. I believe it was Skipton and on the way back to Roundhay, there was the incident with the removal of underpants from a poor lad on the coach and them being cast out the window, to I am sure, the amazement of the local shoppers who probably commented on the virtues of a good grammar school education.
I managed to get a Levi jacket to match, a year or two later, when my mother gave me money to buy a jacket. She was a little surprised and upset with the aforementioned denim, but didn’t make a fuss. I wore the jacket out for the first time when we had a five-a-side soccer match at the Judean Club at Moortown. We got changed for the match and when I returned afterwards it had been stolen. I was heartbroken and it took another thirty years before I replaced it, but not with a Levi one. There were only two makers of jeans that you would be seen wearing in the late 1960s: Levi’s and Wrangler’s. Designer jeans were yet to make an appearance.
For most teenagers, having a bit of money meant wanting to buy what was in style. It is strange that, as we wanted to be ourselves and express our individuality, we all managed to dress the same. I have noted over the years that each generation of teenagers tends to dress and look the same. True, there are subcultures: Teddy Boys, Skin Heads, Mods, Punks, Goths and the like, but within the group they look almost identical. At Roundhay at the time, being cool meant an ankle length ex-army or navy trench coat. We all had to have one and the Army and Navy stores must have had the best years of their existence. To match we had rough canvas haversacks. I remember my coat with affection. Despite smelling of years of storage, they were thick, well-made and fabulously warm and waterproof in the cold wet winters.
The Mods at school went for the fawn coloured, canvas parkas, with the fringe of fur around the hoods. I envied them as most owned scooters. Scooters were not very practical, but adorned with chrome fairings, long, waving ariels, with tiger tails fastened and a hot chick on the back, I envied the lucky buggers.
As I was part of a school band, image and looks were important. Pete, the guitarist, had managed to get spare bus driver jackets from his father and we frayed them in an attempt to look hippyish. He was the first person I knew who had the material inserts in his straight jeans to make them bell-bottomed. Within a short while we all had them. Skin-tight jeans with enormous flairs were the vogue and to set them off the new thing was platform shoes. As time progressed a slight platform became bigger and bigger until it was not uncommon for people to almost be stilt walkers. Accidents became common and ankles were broken, but who cared? If you attracted the right attention, that was all that mattered.
Other fashions that I sported during the late sixties and early seventies include Bags, probably based on Oxford Bags. These were very wide parallel legged trousers that were tight around the rear. Tie-dye grandad shirts, white brogue shoes, Ben Sherman shirts, tear drop collar shirts, kipper ties, a Norfolk shooting jacket, an afghan coat are just a few of the never to be repeated styles. Girls had skirts of various lengths, smocks, very long cardigans, flaired trouser suits, ponchos, hot pants, dungarees and many others that I can not remember.
A turning point, for me, came in 1971 with the TV series, Budgie. Adam Faith was the star and he was a really cool fashion icon, as well as being a pop star and actor. This coincided with the shop Boodle-Am taking off. It had started in 1969 and was near the university and it was trendy hippy heaven. Racks of multicoloured clothing at very cheap prices made it a real hit and it then opened another store, I believe upstairs in one of the Leeds arcades and then another shop in Leeds centre.
It was from Boodle-Am that I purchased my first pair of loon pants. These were white cotton, very tight around the thighs and rear, but flaired from below the knee. When I could afford it, I splashed out on a Budgie jacket, with maroon suede patches and tear drop collar. They were named after the style worn by Adam Faith in the TV series. It was an androgynous time and fashion became unisex. Roger Daltry from the Who wore wooden clogs with leather uppers and suddenly everyone was sporting a pair and before long, so was I. I had all the appearance of a trendy rock star: long luscious locks and clobber but without the talent or the money. Little did I know that my hair was at its prime, and shortly the tide would be going out, taking my hair with it. It was about this time that I attended a free rock concert on Woodhouse Moor, near Leeds University and it was a mass of velvet, purple, wacky-baccy, hair, attractive ladies and way-out music. It was Hippy heaven! Did it ever get any better than this? Certainly the fashion did, but I think it was the best time for music. Those halcyon days!