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Saturday, 9 April 2011

He's just a suit

You’re not going to wear THAT are you?

Yes, how to dress at gigs. It’s the rock ‘n’ roll conundrum that dare not speak its name.

It’s obviously deeply uncool to discuss this, among men anyway. Indeed, how many men even admit to caring about clothes at all?

What one wears when wigging out …

Personally I wear a suit. Not always, but mostly. I like suits. I wear ‘em for work, wear ‘em at the weekend, wear ‘em ….all the worrisome time. At most gigs this just about works, though I’ve had my difficulties. For a while I was barred from a west London venue on the grounds that they had a “no suits” policy, despite the fact that I’d been going there for about eight years prior to this without a murmur of complaint. “But what if a band member’s wearing a suit?”, I asked the venue manager. “Er, well we’d let them in”. Hmmm. Meanwhile, I find that thing where people use "suit" as a term of abuse while dressing like everyone else from their particular music scene is ... well, not so smart.

Once (at a Sex Pistols gig in 1996 actually) I heard people around me commenting (none too positively) on my rather fetching dark-green thorn-proof suit worn with braces. It was a timely reminder of the deep conservatism of most “punks”, indeed of most music fans.

It’s a statement of the obvious to say that people at gigs generally dress in a venue-appropriate or music-appropriate fashion. Black t-shirts or hoodies at grindcore bashes, leather jackets and Converse at garage gigs, checked shirts at alt-folk gatherings, etc etc. For much of the time a venue doesn’t even need to apply a dress code, the audience internalises it anyway. And, by the way, ever since the glorious days of Nick Kamen, how we’ve loved our Levi's …

It was ever thus and I’m not trying to berate people for buying and wearing what’s more or less fashionable or expecting them to strike out with wildly individualistic sartorial inventions. It's rare for this to happen at the best of times. An old acquaintance of mine once described what it was like when he went to a Sex Pistols gig during their first incarnation. Certain people, he said, had felt empowered to improvise. “One person had a light bulb dangling down as an ear ring." He personally wore a black donkey jacket  with white trousers tucked into Wellington boots - all daringly non-conformist in a mid-70s Midlands town.

But conformity is deeply entrenched in all of us. It wasn't long after this time that Mark Perry’s “How much longer” was puncturing the self-admiring 78-era punks in their codified clobber. These days seeing the mohican’d throw-backs with studded leather jackets reminds me of the ageing Teds of my own childhood, blokes who’d become so deeply immersed in the threads of their formative years that they'd effectively tried to keep the fifties going right into the 1970s. Brave in a way …

So, while I’d like to see a bit more invention and less scene-cloning at gigs, I’m not holding my breath. Meanwhile, what the hell am I going to wear at tonight's gig. "Punk clatter" says the online blurb. Er, I know. What about a suit ...

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