Sam Knee The Bag I’m In

From the mid 1950s onwards an ever changing run of street style birthed scenes emerged across Britain.

A continual run of ‘looks’ appeared – each time with a new startling originality. Perfectly defined looks that had never been seen before that have since come to represent and define much about the specific eras they appeared in. Wether borne out of opposition to elements of their cultural times or built upon the pure celebration of fresh, youthful possibilities each of these street style scenes penetrated deep into Britains cultural psyche, spreading like wild fire in successive waves across the country.

Looks and scenes self-created on the streets and clubs across the country by wide eyed kids keen to claim space, eager for something they could call their own. Looks that they invented in a dual feast of one upmanship and a keenness to push things forward.

The history of pretty much all these looks are saluted in street style archivist Sam Knees latest book ‘The Bag I’m In’, saluted in fine, perfectly correct style via a collection of personal photographs from the periods. Photographs taken of and by friends from the late sixties onwards to the late nineties for no other reason than to capture the moment, the fun and freedom.

These are photographs that truly capture the most beautiful thing about all these scenes – that they were created and developed in isolation, away from any media intervention or signposting. Style statements initially made just for the hell of it – shirt, shoe, jacket and haircut choices borne from a desire to look different, to step away from the perceived norm, the urge to create, that later came to express a desire to simply belong before attention and mass adoption dampened the spark. Rightly, the stars of The Bag I’m In (a great title, with it’s nod to hipster jive speak, and one that every time I see it has me thinking of the Fred Neil track) are the kids centre stage in the photos – a smiling Suedehead girl in a window pane check button down, a row of lovingly quiffed teddy boys sitting on a wall, groups of Northern soulers caught on their way into that evenings sweet soul 45rpm led euphoria, Bowie kids shining like beings from another planet on grey streets, sharply dressed youths on polished scooters proudly presenting everything they could call their own at the time. All representing the same intent and desire- to forge there own path in their own unique way.

The conundrum with the myriad of street style, fashion tribes has always been between individualism, something requiring a boldness of nerve, and self belief versus the confines of a shared identity, an alternate ‘safety haven’ and sense of belonging. Each look/era revealed in the book fought with this, original looks birthed in isolated small groups that organically spread, catching fire, lighting up successive imaginations and ultimately burned out, spreading to the masses. Looks that were over a short few years diluted, the sheen of their original inception worn dull only to inspire the next generations fresh take and remodel of a previous blueprint.

Each of the books chapters is neatly split with concise introductions to the key scenes as they developed, the who, whys, and where they went next. This is where the interest and intrigue lies, with scenes overlapping, pushed forwards in equal parts via switches in hair length, trouser width, geography and subtle external cultural influences whilst at other times exploding in direct reaction to what came before.

Nestled at the back, skulking but inspirational (as I imagine the ‘style perpetrators’ featured within in their classrooms and youth clubs) are a set of illustrations of the key looks featured throughout. Away from the brick wall and graffiti strewn street backgrounds these images isolate and strip the looks back to fondly remembered, familiar checklists of components that together reveal a history British street styled looks in all their glory. It’s a beautifully presented tribute to all those individual scenes and the street led creativity they emerged from.

The Bag I’m In is out now, published by cicada. Available here
Issue 4 of the subbaculture zine is still available featuring an interview with the books author Sam Knee Snap up your copy here

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