Well, for most of the time it was adulation in the 70s and 80s but Bowie wasn’t immune to criticism – particularly in the late 70s and early 80s when everything from his political views to musical relevance came under post-punk scrutiny.
Below is a flattering front page from the US new wave magazine Trouser Press but underneath is a more unpleasant tone from a UK teen mag. Looking back though, I’m trending against the knockers – Bowie’s pop legacy, in my humble view, is unassailable.
Cartoonist Serge Clerc interprets the Spandau Song ‘I don’t need this Pressure on’ by showcasing the baggy trouser chic of 1981. The year when you could just about walk down the road with a sixteen pleat or more pair of ‘Bowies’ – unless you encountered a gang of heavy metal fans, in which case you were severely beaten up. I saw this happen to one New Romantic at a club on the Kings Road. His head audibly cracked under the bovver boot of a rocker – still makes me shudder to this day.
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.