Style and Fashion

The makings of a ‘Rudeboy’ – Ska, Porkpie hats and fashion

Return of the rudeboy exhibition – Covent Garden

When a good friend Cano told me about the exhibition and launch of a book called Return of the Rudeboy, curated by Dean Chalkley and Harris Elliott, I immediately sprang into action by first entering the dates into my diary, and then proceeded to doing a bit of online research on the origins of the concept. I was quite keen to check out the exhibits this time round as I missed their very first London exhibition at somerset house in 2014.  I have heard and seen Dean and Harris’s body of works before and even follow their Instagram page but did not really know much about the history of Rudeboy and wanted to have a deeper understanding of its roots. What better way to do so than speaking to the two men who made it all possible, so off I went to the hospital club in Covent Garden.

‘Rudeboy’, no I am not referring to Rihanna’s  2010 hit song.  Just in case this is your first time hearing about “Rudeboy” in this context let me try to give you a quick background to it Jamaican origins from the 1960s to its present day use here in England.

Harris Elliott, creative director of return of the Rudeboy and I

What is a Rudeboy and how is the style relevant today?

Rudeboy is said to be the first youth subculture of Jamaica after the country gained independence from Britain in the 60s. This subculture was necessitated by poor living conditions in the shanty towns of West Kingston were an underground economy grew and young people had to find ways to survive by any means necessary. The youth quickly became disenfranchised and violence ensued, even leading to curfews being put into place to curb such violence. With these struggles by marginalised citizens came the need to form informal and sometimes illegal groups and gangs to protect and fend for friends and families. The original Rudeboys was formed. The rudeboy wore sharp suit and pork pie hats to create their own personal style. Some say they did so to mimic the lifestyle of the upper class adding sunglasses to the look which they wore at all hours of the day. Living in the slums of West Kingston but wearing sharp suits and ties makes the rudeboy identifiable by their neighbours in the slums and suspicious to the upper class of Kingston. They literally stood out and with time,  Ska music was associated with the Rudeboys.

Looking back in history, it may seem like Ska music and the Rudeboy subculture have enjoyed a close relationship from the start. However, Ska music came before the Rudeboy image was recognised as a subculture in the mid to late 60s.

Ska itself is a music genre with elements of mento, calypso, American Jazz and rhythm and blues and in the late 50s Jamaica and a predecessor of genres such as Rocksteady and Reggae.

Mind the details

Apart from dressing well and being huge fans of Ska music, the Rudeboy subculture helped spread the music to the working class which later became known as 2 Tone Ska upon it revival in England in the 70s. Subsequently, Rudi and Rudies (Rudeboy and Rudegirl) became terms used to describe fans of 2 Tone Ska as they enjoyed a strong presence within the genre.

British youths in the 70s, both black and white wore sharp suits, with slim ties, pork pie hats and shoes to match to identify with the movement’s Jamaican roots. As with its earlier days, the Rudeboy movement divided opinions and Ska artists of the 70s were no exceptions as some see the subculture as a menace whiles some celebrated it.

Part of the Rudeboy collection

Fast forward to present day “Return of the Rudeboy”, fashion photographer Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott curated various pieces of sharply dress individuals who show the essence and spirit of a Rudie through what turned out to be successful exhibitions both in London and in Tokyo. Speaking to Dean himself on the last day of the London, Covent Garden exhibition, it became apparent that all the Rudies photographed had their unique styles through which their individual personalities shown but collectively embodied the essence of the Rudeboy look. Dean made sure to point out that none of the photographed Rudies were styled by himself or Harris.

As Harris Elliott himself put it, ‘Rudeboy image is not down to the clothes but the wearer of the clothes. The spirit and attitude the wearer channels through their personalities’. It is easy to see this as I admired the printed exhibits.

Exhibits

The looks of a Rudeboy back in the 60s is a far cry from what we identify today as Rudeboy in the inner cities of London. Rudeboys or Rudegirls these days are more likely to be wearing sportswear showing their bottoms than a well-tailored suit. In fact the youth that refer to each other as ‘Rude’ today deliberately wear hoodies as a way of differentiating themselves from the suit and tie, which is seen as conforming to the status quo.

The re-emergence of original Rudeboy dress code highlights how inner city subculture usually associated with disenfranchised youth has evolved over time.

From the dance moves of the Ska music, to the way Rudies wear their hats and ties means that the Rudeboy movement is not limited to what you wear but the attitude and spirit the wearer gives off defines one as a Rudie.

A copy of the signed book

Just before leaving, I asked Dean when we should be expecting another exhibition. He simply smiled and said we shall see. So until then I recommend you get the book here.

Bow tie for no reason

Before delving into the details about this piece of accessory, let’s have a crash course on the history, just to put things into perspective.

Origins

It is believed what we know today as the bow tie can be traced back to the 17th century, worn by the Croatian army in what was known as the thirty years’ war between 1618 and1648. The purpose of this neckwear was functional which was meant to keep the collars of their shirts together. At the end of the war, the French army turned this otherwise functional piece of neckwear into a fashionable accessory and called it a cravat. At the time, the cravat was only worn by the upper class and was seen as a sign of opulence and grandeur.  With time, wearers of the bow tie diversified with university professors, lawyers, architects, and sometimes politicians all wearing it and making it a staple piece of accessory.

My favourite bow tie with a biker jacket!

The bow tie has never really been out of fashion but has seen a huge increase in use in recent years as the fashion world has infused its use into the everyday look. It is now more popular than ever which means you do not have to be heading to a formal dinner party or indeed a specific occasion to wear one. Traditional or stereotypical use has been dwarfed by an ever-increasing trendy demand.

Well know men who have been seen consistently wearing a bow tie includes Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire.

If you intend to wear one, here is what you need to know to help you not only have fun with it but also appear stylish.

Types

I have classified types of bow ties into three categories:

Clip-on – The clip-on is my least favourite even though it can be used with minimum effort. It is literally a pre-made bow attached to a clip, which is in turn attached to the front of your shirt. Unless you intend to wear one for novelty purposes, do not bother.

Pre-tie – A pre-tie bow tie has already been structured and made with specific measurements and style. This is similar to the clip-on but the bow is usually attached to an adjustable neck strap for ease and comfort. This type is the most popular as it is much easier to put on than the self-tie and not as cheap looking as the clip-on. You can literally have it on in less than a minute.

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Pre-tie bow tie

Self-tie – This is also known as the freestyle bow tie and is much more organic than the two above. As the name implies, wearers need to knot this type of bow tie, which in itself is a show of commitment to this piece of accessory. This is by far my favourite. The self-tie looks slightly different every time you knot it and may also look asymmetrical which gives it character and a bit of quirkiness.

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self-tie bow ties

Shapes

Since its popularisation, it has seen changes in function and looks diversifying its shapes accordingly. The butterfly, the big butterfly, the batwing, the diamond point and the rounded club are all shapes the bow tie come in these days.

Look

The diehard everyday devotees aim for the eccentricity it brings to their look, which can be seen as an extension of their personalities. The question is; what’s your look?

So break the mould, present a contrarian point of view in fashion this season and don a bow tie for no reason.

Thank me later!

Make it a knit

If there is one accessory you need to add to your collection this season, let it be the knitted necktie. Assuming of course you are not like myself who have loads of them already. In fact I have so many knit ties that I feel a bit weird whenever I put on any other tie that is not knitted. Office, night out, church, Sunday lunch, dinner parties you name it, if I am to wear a tie, it would almost always be a knitted tie.

But I understand that the knitted revolution is not for everyone, which is why I am writing this short article with the hope of convincing the orthodox tie wearers. Yes, yes, yes I understand that it would be pretty hard to pull off a knit on a tuxedo for a ball, but that is the exception right, so let’s carry on with the conversation at hand.

Ok let me bring things down a notch. Knitted ties look wonderful on a smart-casual outfit. Pair of loafers, jeans or chinos (careful with the chinos), nice shirt, and a beautiful blazer would make you walk around town with a purpose. You have the freedom to experiment with all sorts of colours and designs to give you that perfect look. As you go up the smart scale and leave the casual behind, caution needs to be applied accordingly, and of course, like all ties, consideration should be made when picking a tie colour and pattern to match the rest of your outfit.

Knitted ties will make an otherwise stiff formal suit look quite fashionable and stylish. With the right colour and make, you can add an extra dimension to your look whether it is in the boardroom or at a wedding party.

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Here are a few things you need to know about knitted ties before you go out to buy one.

Material

Note that not all ties are the same. Just because they look alike does not mean the quality is consistent and so consider the following fabrics when you purchase a knit tie.

Silk – Silk in my view is the best material for a knit tie. Not only does it look great, it feels good to the touch and can be worn all year round. Silk also gives your tie the crunchy and firm feel which gives you an extra dimension when dressing smart.

Wool or cashmere – wool or cashmere is soft to the touch which makes it feel great. Ties made from this material can be worn year round but are more suited to the colder months. Because wool lacks the crunchiness and glossy looks of silk, it is better suited for the smart-casual look.

Recently, makers of knit ties have opted to use combinations such as linen and cotton, linen and wool, and even linen and silk, all of which look decent and may even cost you less. What you should avoid if you can is ties made from polyester.

Width

The width should be considered when choosing the right knit tie to wear with a suit or blazer. This applies to all ties for that matter. If you wear a suit with skinny lapels then you must wear a skinny tie to go with it. Likewise, if you wear wider lapels, then you have to go for a wider tie option. Get the proportions right.

Knot

The four-in-hand-knot is the best knot to use when wearing a knit tie. A knot such as the Windsor will make your tie look too bulky at the neck simply because knit ties are generally thicker hence the more folder your tie gets the more its chunkiness.

So there you have it. Have I managed to persuade you to buy yourself the ever so trendy and versatile knit tie?

Watch this space as I will be doing a blog post on how to knot your ties and bowties.