Friday, January 21, 2011

The Beatles: Fashion Forward Even Forty Years Later

Okay everyone likes the Beatles. Unless you’re one of those people who says they hate the Beatles because everyone else loves them, in which case I suggest you leave this blog and never return.

I was raised by two hippies in a mid-size town and rock and roll was our religion. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr eventually became the supreme heads of that religion. As you can imagine, I was a bit of a weirdo kid. I’ve had all kinds of music phases throughout my strange life. I recall the Sex Pistols phase when I tore my clothes up and pinned them back together with safety pins (around grade 9...), and also the first of many hippie phases in grade 6 when I actually got an 8-track player and wouldn’t sit anywhere but on the ground, cross-legged in bell bottoms. When the Beatles phase came, it was so loud and so strong that it has never really passed. Though my safety pin shirt and bell bottom jeans have been retired, my absolute obsession with everything Beatles remains to this day. The music is just so good. There’s nothing else to say.

What I want to really talk about is the style and fashion sense of these 4 pioneers of celebrity-dom. Let’s start in 1962 when the group formed under no specific name, and John, Paul and George were the only lasting members. They wore leather jackets, pompadours and greaser tshirts to represent the time’s adoration of the rebel look. Two years later it’s 1964 and the Beatles have just hit #1 in America with I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and they’re all dressed in simple, single breasted black suits. This would of course set a trend for the attire expected to be worn by pop groups throughout the British Invasion.

Then the sixties happened. Not in terms of the decade, but in terms of a recognizable style change that was evident in the flamboyant counter-culture born in the United States and the “swinging” persona of London, England. The sixties showed up and knocked everyone on their asses. Suddenly the styles of the Beatles began to evolve into a more relaxed, period style clothing including turtlenecks, tunics and jeans. Of course the suits came back out once in a while... and who doesn’t LOVE a man in a suit??? Especially a Beatle.

So by the time the Beatles were visiting India and talking with the Maharishi, they were wearing the latest in ultra hippie garb featuring paisley prints, Indian inspired embroidered sheaths and crocheted ponchos. They all had facial hair at this point and were experimenting with all kinds of drugs. This was right before the release of the epic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. When this album hit the stores and the public saw the Beatles dressed up as the fictional historic band Sgt Pepper’s, they fell in love with the bright, colourful military uniforms. This style of jacket is one of my favourites and one that Petey the Troll continues to use in our own collections. Why? They look amazing and you know any man wearing one is both very stylish and probably has a hint of the eccentric in him. SEXY.

Hop ahead to 1968 when they released the Magical Mystery Tour album followed quickly by the famed White Album. This is arguably the height of the Beatles’ creative period and of their artistic success. It is also the time that each Beatle’s individual style became apparent separate from the group as a whole. From this time onward, John, Paul, George and Ringo each were in charge of their own appearances and thought that expressing themselves uniquely was important for their continued success. Here we begin to see Ringo wearing his brightly coloured, tailored suit jackets and tuxedo shirts. George continued in the direction of the counterculture and wore a long beard and clothing reflective of his new spiritual approach to life. Paul continued to be the most appropriately dressed of the group with his turtlenecks and blazers. But later in the period, with the influence of his wife Linda (mother and father of the ultra-talented designer Stella McCartney) Paul began wearing large prints and suede coats sometimes featuring large amounts of (always fake) fur. The McCartney’s would later become very involved with many animal rights organizations in the US and UK including PETA.

Finally John Lennon was a conglomerate of many types of styles throughout the entirety of his career. Sometimes during this period, and later he is depicted wearing workmen’s clothing – overalls, plaid shirts etc. Other times, such as on the cover the album Abbey Road, he is wearing a high quality white couture suit. John was depicted in the press as both loving fashion and hating it, part of his rather ambiguous persona throughout his career as a musician. In the end, the final image of the Beatles that I always get is the way they looked on the roof of the Apple building in London as they performed their Let It Be album in 1969. George is rocking a huge fur coat with some crazy green pants, John is also wearing fur, with his wild long hair flowing. Ringo’s got a bright red jacket on and Paul of course, always dignified, is in a brown suit.

Not every band can say that they’ve had such lucrative relationships with fashion over the course of their epically documented careers. I love the Beatles because they affected every facet of the arts world with their presence and contribution. It further impresses my opinion that the way one dresses is the difference between success and failure. Fashion is the secret ingredient to make it all come together. And I love it.