Rebel Threads

Rebel Threads

This new book explores ‘the clothing of the bad beautiful and misunderstood’

The style tribes that sprouted between the 1940s and 1980s may have bore different names, but all of them were powered by an unmistakable energy of revolt, transgression and subversion. Rebel Threads: Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful and Misunderstood is a new book, and exhibition at London’s The Horse Hospital, charting the influential style subcultures that exploded after WWII. Authored by veteran streetwear collector, costume designer and stylist Roger K. Burton, the show features specially curated outfits sourced from the Contemporary Wardrobe Collection - Burton’s archive of over 20,000 streetwear items – and stands as a striking homage to everyday counterculture expression.

“One could recognise somebody who was into a certain culture by what they wore, however subtle the details were,” says Burton, gesturing towards mannequins dressed in authentic Teddy boy get-ups dating from the 1950s. “I think that kids were way more rebellious then. After the war, they started to earn wages and become more vocal in the way they were looking. They didn’t want to dress like their parents - they wanted to make a statement.”

Burton, whose illustrious credits include dressing David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, confesses a soft spot for tribes that were fearless and economical, counting soul and punk among the many movements that possessed a strong visual imprint. These musically rooted tribes hinged on fandom, creativity and a DIY attitude, making it accessible to any teen no matter how much was in their wallet.

“Punk was the last great movement. It was very expressive. You didn’t need much money to be a punk - you could wear a bin bag or some old ripped shirt, as long as you had some safety pins or whatever. It was such a statement, and appealed to so many kids.”

Over 25 years in the making, Burton’s book counts over 1,300 examples of exceptional vintage garments straight from the frontlines. Among the many outfits he’s styled are examples of unseen fashion and film stills capturing authentic streetwear that chart a timeline of political and cultural upheaval.

Thirty years on, is a similar sense of radicalism expressed by teens now? “I think it’s all about an individual statement, and I think one can still make individual statement with style if they want,” sparks Burton. “It’s just that most of the references that people choose have come from the past!”

Rebel Threads: Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful and Misunderstood is on until 4 November 2017 at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, London, WC1N 1JD The book is published by Laurence King

  • Words: Monique Todd

  • Photography: Courtesy of Laurence King publishing