What Britpop Did For Men’s Style
The icons who defined Cool Britannia – and 20 years on, how their sartorial choices remain in a different class
Oasis (from left to right: Messrs Noel Gallagher, Paul Arthurs, Liam Gallagher, Paul McGuigan and Tony McCarroll), Glasgow, 1994. Photograph by Mr Steve Double/Camera Press
“Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as…” Britpop! Yes, we know it should be “Parklife”, but we can’t help thinking that the whole movement spearheaded by Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and their ilk formed the last bold high-water mark for British pop culture. Think about it: for five halcyon years in the mid-1990s, Cool Britannia ruled everywhere, from Vanity Fair covers to Mr Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde, via Brit-centric movies such as Trainspotting and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. Oasis’ Mr Noel Gallagher partied with Mr Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street, and Mr Jarvis Cocker gave the bum’s rush to Mr Michael Jackson on the stage of – appropriately enough – the Brits. “Grunge and Americana had been the dominant thing,” said Ms Justine Frischmann, lead singer of Elastica, and former girlfriend of Blur’s Mr Damon Albarn. “Britpop was like a manifesto for the return of Britishness.”
Part of that manifesto was a revolt into a peculiarly British sense of style. Britpop’s (predominantly male) figureheads put their sartorial influences through the blender – 1960s mods, 1970s teachers, 1980s hooligans – to create a look that mixed football-terrace labels such as Stone Island, Fila and Duffer of St George with reinvigorated Brit heritage brands such as Clarks, Dr Martens, Fred Perry and Burberry. It’s a style that’s resonating in menswear today (outlasting the movement itself).
MR DAMON ALBARN
Mr Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, Berlin, 1993. Photograph by Mr Gilbert Blecken
That Mr Damon Albarn is a man of many parts goes without saying – since Blur’s zenith in 1994, he’s been, variously, a cartoon character, an opera composer and a champion of world music – but, as Britpop crested, he portrayed himself as a bouncy cheeky chappie straight out of the East End, if not EastEnders (the latter accolade would eventually go to his “Parklife” co-vocalist, actor Mr Phil Daniels). He backed up the persona with market-stall chic that included Harrington jackets, Fred Perry T-shirts, tweed caps, knitted polos, bead necklaces and Dr Martens – everything but the cor-blimey trousers, in fact.
In action: watch Blur perform on MTV’s Most Wanted, 1994, here
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MR RICHARD ASHCROFT
Mr Richard Ashcroft, lead singer of The Verve, New York, 1997. Photograph by Mr Chris Floyd/Camera Press
For Mr Richard Ashcroft, nicknamed “Mad Richard” at the height of his combustive fame as lead singer of The Verve, Britpop style was a bit of a bittersweet symphony. Yes, he adopted some of the heritage staples associated with the movement – Clarks Wallabees (as notably captured on the cover of The Verve’s breakthrough album Urban Hymns), Stone Island parkas. But, perhaps fearful of being dismissed as Mr Liam Gallagher’s mini-me, he worked in some 1970s troubadour elements: black T-shirts, soft flannel shirts and an ever-present pair of smoky aviators, which he was still sporting – to equal parts acclaim and scorn – for a recent appearance on the BBC Breakfast sofa to launch his latest solo album, These People.
In action: watch The Verve performing at Haigh Hall, Wigan, 24 May 1998, here
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MR LIAM GALLAGHER
Mr Liam Gallagher, lead singer of Oasis, 1998. Photograph by Ms Jill Furmanovsky/Photoshot
Admit it, the vision immediately conjured up by the word “Britpop” is that of Mr Liam Gallagher, hunched by the microphone, doing that funny tilted-chin thing he used to do, and snarling: “Maaaaybeeeeee…” He’ll be wearing an artfully dishevelled mix of what we might call haute-casual, as he sports here; a piece of robust performance outerwear, a checked shirt or pristine hoodie, a pair of chinos or Levi’s 504s, and a pair of Clarks Wallabees. And, whether you love or hate Oasis, he’ll be radiating a charisma that’s equal parts Mr John Lennon and Mr John Lydon. Has he done more to popularise the funnel-neck parka that any pop star before or since? Definitely maybe.
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MR JARVIS COCKER
Mr Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of Pulp, performing at the Glastonbury Festival, 1994. Photograph by Mr Michael Putland/Getty Images
No one rocked the “geography teacher on acid” look quite like Mr Jarvis Cocker – he even took his elbow-patched double-breasted jackets, generously-collared shirts, and extravagantly-rimmed glasses onto the Glastonbury stage, as seen here – thus exemplifying both Pulp’s place as the droll misfits in the Britpop pantheon, and the inspiring inventory of the thrift stores frequented by Mr Cocker in his native Sheffield. He remains an auteur at mixing and mismatching – a tweed jacket, say, with a red shirt and black corduroy flares – thus a) meaning you should regard quotes such as “I don’t think much about what I put on in the morning” with some scepticism, and b) earning him the distinction of being voted the NME’s Best- and Worst-Dressed Person in 1996.
In action: watch Pulp performing at Glastonbury, 1994, here
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MR THOM YORKE
Mr Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, performing at the Glastonbury Festival, 1994. Photograph by Mr Rob Watkins/Retna/photoshot
Radiohead weren’t really part of the Britpop canon – in fact, they’re too sui generis to be co-opted by any movement – but they coincided with it. This shot of Mr Thom Yorke on stage for their Glastonbury debut in 1994 shows that he was happy to borrow some of the movement’s style trappings. Bleached pudding-bowl haircut that makes him resemble the arty younger brother of Mr Tim Burgess from The Charlatans? Check. Track-style T-shirt with cartoon logo that may or may not harbour an obscure drug reference? Check. And as with many Britpop stylings – not to mention a large chunk of Radiohead’s oeuvre – this should be filed under it-shouldn’t-work-at-all-but-somehow-it-really-really-does.
In action: watch Radiohead performing at Glastonbury, 1994, here
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MR BRETT ANDERSON
Mr Brett Anderson, lead singer of Suede, at Olympic Studios, London, 1995. Photograph by Mr Herbie Knott/Rex Shutterstock
“Drag acts, drug acts, suicide, in your dad’s suits you hide… oh, here they come, the beautiful ones,” sang Mr Brett Anderson on Suede’s glam-stomper “Beautiful Ones”, and, indeed, the stick-thin, sharp-cheekboned, lank-haired Mr Anderson seemed to be inviting the word “louche” to be appended to him, both in his pronouncements (he once declared himself to be “a bisexual who’s never had a homosexual experience”) and in his total-clothing-rights mode of dress, mixing chest-revealing blouses and navel-baring leather jackets with abandon. Even in his more demure moments, as here, Mr Anderson carried off the classic rock-strut uniform – taut black T-shirt, no less constrictive black jeans – with “animal-nitrate” aplomb.
In action: watch Suede perform at the Brit Awards, 1993, here
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MR RICHEY EDWARDS
Mr Richey Edwards, guitarist and lyricist of the Manic Street Preachers, Bangkok, 1994. Photograph by Mr Kevin Cummins/Getty Images
If the Gallagher brothers represented the apotheosis of “lad” culture that formed the backbone of Britpop (albeit lads who’d discovered the joys of hugging, thanks to the ubiquity on the scene of, as Pulp had it, “Sorted For E’s & Wizz”), the likes of Mr Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers, along with Mr Brian Molko of Placebo, proved there was also a place for a healthy dollop of androgyny in the mix. Mr Edwards embraced everything from leopard print to pink berets to guyliner, but this shot, taken in Thailand in 1994, just a year before he went missing and was later presumed deceased, shows the potency of mixing a stark graphic T-shirt with a nascent Ms Louise Brooks-esque bob and a strategically-placed earring.
In action: watch Mr Richey Edwards being interviewed at the NME Brat Awards, 1994, here
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