This is from 1980 – a year before the explosive riots of 1981, though the same year as the riot in St Paul’s, Bristol. There were lots of young unemployed people to tempt with a career in either the police or the army.
But there was equally some resistance to being part of the state machine, as it was then viewed. As for black youth, they either didn’t want to join (because of the SUS laws and pressure from within the community not to ‘sell out’) or the police just didn’t take them on.
Black police officers were a very rare sight at this time – and ethnic minority representation within the Metropolitan Police was at scandalously low levels.
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.