Casuals

Diadora trainer c1985
Diadora trainer c1985

Casuals were born on the football terraces of England in the late 1970s, although not named as such until the early 1980s. Predominantly working class males, Casuals were fixated with up-market European sportswear labels and British classics such as Burberry and Pringle. The label was far more important than the style. Wearing fake labels or cheap imitations was often cause for ridicule. Trainers were essential footwear and Casuals, together with the 1980s B-Boys, kicked off the obsession with trainers in Britain.

The Casual outfit in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Renegade collection reflects the interest in both Italian sportswear and classic British labels, and also includes the most desirable Casual footwear of the time.

Style

‘I would have froze to death if I could show off my Lacoste t-shirt in the winter.’
Lorne Brown, Brighton Casual

The Casual style evolved on the football terraces in the late 1970s. Dressed head to foot in clothes identifiable by their brand logos, Casuals raised labels like Lacoste, Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini and Pringle to cult status. Upmarket labels proclaimed personal success and wealth, but also a certain defiance when worn by the largely working-class Casuals. Branded clothing also differentiated Casuals from the rougher image of the earlier Skinheads, as did their hair. By the mid 1980s the skinhead had given way to the side-parted wedge, which had in turn given way to the mullet or ‘footballer’s perm’, complete with blond highlights.

Brighton Casual David Blackwell recalls the hairstyle that was an essential part of Casual style:

Casuals on the football terraces, mid 1990s
Casuals on the football terraces, mid 1990s

‘[My hair was] A very stylish highlighted, what would probably be known as a mullet now, but that seems a bit derogatory, but it was very cool at the time. So it … was shorter on top and at the back it was a bit curly cos fortunately my hair was quite curly anyway, whereas a lot of people had to have perms. My hair was sort of perfect for it and as I say it was highlighted. I highlighted it with some help from my mum, cos I put the highlighting cap on and she used to pull the hair through the cap and then we sort of dyed it between us. It looked alright though, it looked pretty good.’

Sportswear 

Diadora Bjorn Borg Elite trainers, worn by Nick Serjeant
Diadora Bjorn Borg Elite trainers, worn by Nick Serjeant

Branded sportswear was the foundation of the Casual look in the 1980s, with continental labels such as Lacoste, Sergio Tacchini, Fila and Diadora being highly prized. Celebrity endorsement, particularly by tennis stars such as John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, helped to further the desirability of these labels. Whilst the wearing of recognisable labels offered a broad sense of Casual idenitity, the more exclusive or scarce the line of clothing, such as the Diadora Bjorn Borg Elite trainers, the greater the admiration from fellow Casuals. Brighton Casual Nick Sarjeant explains:

‘Diadora trainers were so rare I had to buy the nearest size to me and had to wear extra thick socks. They came with a limited edition certificate and shoe bag, they cost £40 in 1984 if you could find a pair.’

Demand for branded sportswear, which was, for many, out of their price range, meant that fakes and imitations were widespread. As one of the most popular labels, Lacoste was massively counterfeited or copied. Obvious knock-offs, such as a label called Lacosta, were avoided for fear of looking naff.

Classic British labels 

Classic British labels such as Burberry, Aquascutum, Pringle and Lyle & Scott were also worn alongside the expensive continental sportswear. As with the logos on the branded sportswear, the distinctive checks of Burberry and Aquascutum were immediately recognisable and advertised their expense.

Appropriated from the wardrobe of the upper-middle class British male, these labels were redolent of golfing weekends and country clubs. Worn on the football terraces by largely working class males and at a time of high unemployment, these labels could be seen both to undermine the traditional class basis of British menswear, and to feed into the aspirational culture of 1980s Britain. Brighton Casual Lorne Brown explains:

‘We’ll wear these expensive clothes to show we’re not just scruff bags, you know we’ll dress up lovely and they wont recognise us, we’ll be able to pass just like city gents and these middle-class college boys’. Oral history interview, OH000177

 Style Legacy

Seagulls fans wearing scarves in Burberry and Aquascutum checks.
Seagulls fans wearing scarves in Burberry and Aquascutum checks.

The Casual’s attention to detail and interest in their appearance fed into a broader revival of interest in mens fashion. Whilst Casual style in no way pushed the boundaries of fashion, simply focusing on styles and labels that were already available, it did have a significant influence in altering the status of sportswear and designer clothing. The influence of the Casual look lives on long after the Golden Age of the subculture ended. They paved the way for the success of firms like Chipie and Stone Island in the 1990s and the widespread adoption of sportswear as fashionable dress.

Brighton Casual David Blackwell recalls reusing a designer logo:

‘My sister sent me down a Lacoste crocodile [embroidered logo] in the post when she was working in London ‘cos someone she worked with had bought a cardigan and didn’t like the Lacoste crocodile. So she sent me that and I got my mother to sew that on various items of clothing throughout my Casual period, making it on a few shirts and more than a few jackets as well so I sort of rotated my crocodile’. Oral history interview in Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection, OH000144.

Casual Clothing Retailers in Brighton

Because much of the Casual wardrobe was sports label based, the more common items such as trainers and Lacoste shirts could be purchased from general sports shops such as Wisden Sports (now closed). But there were smaller retailers that stocked the more expensive Italian labels. Brighton Casual Lorne Brown recalls:

‘[In] the late 80s there used to be in Bartholomew Square, used to be a couple of shops there, one called PYO… Pick Your Own it was called, sold a lot of Italian clothes. And there was another one called Icon….and a place called Saks in the North Laines which used to sell Stone Island’.

Pringle and Lyle & Scott jumpers could be bought from a golf shop that was then on the Lewes Road, and for those who couldn’t afford the real thing, copies could be found at the Race Hill market and, according to one Casual, ‘There used to be one particular jeans shop in Brighton that you could go in and get your fakes from. He’d have them up in his back room’.

Casual Outfit Worn by Nick Sarjeant, c1984

Casual outift worn by Nick Sarjeant, c1984,
Casual outift worn by Nick Sarjeant, c1984,

‘It’s not just about what you were wearing, but also how you wore it. Not just your clothes but your hair and even the manner in how you walked. You had to have that “attitude”, saying like “Here I am”.’ Nick Sarjeant

This is a Casual outfit lent by Nick Sarjeant to Brighton & Hove Museums. The outfit is part of the Renegade collection, which illustrates the history of subcultures in Brighton. It includes, from top to bottom:
Cotton Ellesse hat, CT004728

Sergio Tacchini tracksuit top, CT004729.1

Pringle Jumper, CT004730

Sergio Tacchini tracksuit trousers, CT004729.2

Diadora Elite Trainers, CT004731

Culture: Casuals in Brighton

The focus of most Casuals’ identity was football. It has been suggested that the Casuals’ interest in Italian sportswear and labels developed from following football teams to matches on the continent.
Casuals in Brighton supported the local team Brighton & Hove Albion, who in the mid 1980s were based at the Goldstone Ground. These Casuals were known as the West Street Gang or West Streeters as they would congregrate in amusement arcades at the bottom of West Street.

Goldstone Ground

In the mid 1980s Brighton & Hove Albion were based at the Goldstone Ground (now a retail park), a place that inspired many fond recollections from Brighton Casuals who were interviewed for Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection.

‘Goldstone Ground, oh it’s gone now, it’s a retail park. I saw my first game there in about the mid 80s. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching the game but actually watching the crowd. I obviously started going and supporting the team and gradually the ground started getting really delapidated and you know, there was a great spirit in the ground, it was like wonderful. You stood in the same place all the time, you saw the same people, everyone used to meet at a certain bit and same people sitting in other stands and there was an atmosphere…’

West Street

The Casuals who followed Brighton & Hove Albion were known as the West Street Firm, also referred to as the West Street Gang and the West Streeters. Their name came from the fact that at night they used to congregate at the bottom of West Street, particularly around the Crystal Rooms amusement arcade. According to one Brighton Casual interviewed for Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade Collection:

“Nobody actually said they belonged to it, so it was just like you knew you were down there and who was what, but you never admitted that”.

 

One Response

  1. Graham MacDiarmid

    I remember the west street firm and for what it’s worth they could only fight in numbers, if it was evens they would run and out numbered you wouldn’t see them anywhere but if they had numbers and you where only two strong then they felt brave in other words they were cowards the lot of them. WEST STREET COWARDS FIRM. Happy days.

Leave a Reply to Graham MacDiarmid Cancel reply