Friday, 11 June 2010

What could you buy for £6.90 in 1979?

'Mainline' advertisement from the New Musical Express, 29th September 1979, page 63.  

You could treat yourself to some P.V.C. straights - in black, white or *gasp!* pink - as illustrated here in an advertisement by Mainline of Bristol.

I know punks were supposed to be skinny, but the smallest men's size offered here is an extraordinary 24" waist. This might suggest the target market included some very young punks indeed. 

On my recent browse through what little remains of my NME collection, I was drawn to the clothing ads that featured regularly in its back pages and seemed to cater for nearly every youth culture tribe active at the time.

Personally, I wouldn't have dreamed of ordering anything from them because I instinctively mistrusted those monochrome line art drawings and assumed that the garments would be shoddy and disappointing.  I'm sure this was most unfair in some cases, but when you're school-age and pocket money is tight, you tend to be ultra-cautious about where you spend your money. 

That said, I'd like to hope they would have provided a valuable service to provincial (and especially rural) teenagers, keen to express their tribal preferences in sartorial form, who lived more than a tube ride away from Camden Market or the King's Road. 

So, back in 1979, punks were pretty well catered for as you might expect:

'B. Leach' advertisement, NME, 22nd December 1979, page 73.  

B. Leach of Chelsea offers tartan bondage trousers at £17.95 (bum flap and 7 straps included), and suggests that you order your fur fabric leopard drainpipes in "the tightest size you can."  Those models might have the requisite skinny figures, but they're just not trying hard enough with their hair.  Bondage-trouser-man looks like one of Harry Enfield's scousers, and the two women could be Nolan sisters.

However, it is still the 1970s and the hippies haven't yet been scared away by all those young punks in super tight trousers.

'Furs and Jeans' advertisement, NME, 22nd December 1979, page 73.  

It looks like its much more expensive to be a hippy than a punk.  £34.50 could get you nearly two pairs of B. Leach's bondage strides, or exactly five pairs of Mainline's P.V.C straights, not including p&p of course. 

'Shapes' advertisement, NME, 29th September 1979, page 64.  

Maybe its not that expensive being a hippy after all, since Shapes of Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, is providing printed cotton wraparound skirts for £4.80 and white cheesecloth Kurtas for £2.85. 

But if anyone's known for excessive spending on their wardrobe, its the mods.

'Retro' advertisement, NME, 22nd December 1979, page 73.  

This leather "Crombie Style Topcoat," from Retro of Bristol, costs an impressive £59.95, and I'm sure I don't remember seeing any late-70s-mod-revival mods wearing one.  Leather ties, certainly, and possibly the odd leather "Blue Beat" hat, but the coat was probably not a big seller given that price. Plus, maybe I'm a bit conservative, but the idea of a Crombie in leather sounds pretty naff to me. 

That's about it from my two surviving copies of the NME from 1979.  There's plenty more ads coming as we plough on through into the 1980s and I'm determined to share them all! 

Authentic punk clothing - with the 'right' labels such as Seditionaries/Sex, Boy and so on - is now fetching big money from enthusiastic collectors.  I would argue that the other contemporary youth culture styles are interesting too, not least because very little of it seems to survive.

People grow out of their teenage enthusiasms and are often quick to bin those embarrassing reminders of their youth as they grow up, start thinking of their careers and/or their new young families, and decide that Pink Floyd were actually amazing despite what Johnny Rotten scrawled on his famous t-shirt.  

The mail-order retailers featured above weren't exactly authentic, but they provided cheaper copies for the majority of people who couldn't afford the originals.  I won't get into the arguments about whether this was piracy or not, or about quality issues - it was inevitable.

You might come across some of this old gear, and some of it might have labels sewn in (this isn't a given - many don't).  With my collector/vintage dealer head on, I reckon these ads might be a useful resource for finding out about those garments.

If you've still got something from one of these companies, or you remember ordering furry leopard print drainpipes from the NME, I'd genuinely love to hear about it.

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