Peg trousers are a forgotten part of the late 70s sartorial scene in my view – everybody remembers tartan bum flaps and the stuff most of us actually didn’t wear. But peg trousers were everywhere. Pleats on men’s trousers are now viewed as the work of Satan but in a world where flat fronted did not reign supreme, as many as sixteen pleats were acceptable on so-called Bowie trousers.
And looking below – what was it with the German NATO jackets that popped up everywhere between 1979 and 1981. There must have been some kind of job lot coming in from Germany and we were just conned into believing they were unbelievably cool. If you remember, they kind of elasticated at the waist.
Some New Wave clothes ads from the back of the music papers in 1979.
New Wave look
Well, back in 1983 we did – I found these adverts in a colour supplement from my huge collection of 70s and 80s magazines…
Between 1979 and 1981, there was a shocking rise in youth unemployment in the first years of Maggie Thatcher. But alongside that was the rise of the New Romantic movement. It sought to achieve glamour on the cheap.
It was also gender bending and extremely camp. I can remember the curious sight of a very heterosexual jock at school going to a party in a frilly white shirt and Bowie trousers. He’d been into rockabilly a few weeks before.
The club that best epitomised this whole look was Blitz. It was overseen by Steve Strange who imposed a very threatening door policy where those meeting his required standards were turned away. Hopefuls caked themselves in make up – male and female – and bought their knickerbockers and velvet capes from outlets like Fab Gear (pictured), which advertised in the music press and fashion magazines.
The start of the 80s saw a huge range of youth cults from metal to New Wave to Futurist. And the fashions were worn with almost cultish devotion. They could also mark you out for getting attack by rival tribes.
I was at a ‘Futurist’/New Romantic party out on the London/Essex borders in the spring of 1981 when I first saw somebody walk in with sixteen pleat Bowies. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. Thought the guy was going to take off – they were voluminous.
In the back of the NME, you could buy these crazy trousers for about £17 and there was the option to go 20 pleat or even 24 pleat. Being a short guy, I knew there was no way I could carry them off so I stuck to tight leather pants!
The blame for this sartorial crime lies with a certain David Bowie who in the late 70s decided pleats were the thing. And what David ruled was acceptable became essential for his acolytes. That said, this was a fashion that didn’t last very long.