The events of civil unrest in England last week have been dubbed the 'JD Riots' in some quarters, because crowds seemed to target that sportswear chain above all other stores. JD Sports sell brands usually promoted by sports and music superstars; Adidas, Nike, Vans etc. The chain was started by two Mancunians who spotted a trend among the young male working class of their area who bought leisure and sports brand clothing from catalogues or in upmarket London shops that were far from mainstream garb for young people in the 1980s. They were known as 'casuals' because of their love of clothing made by the likes of Fila, Ellesse, Lacoste and other similarly casual smart clothing brands apparently designed to grace golf courses, tennis courts and mob bosses across America. Casuals loved dancing, fighting and football, usually at the same time: social anthropologists can trace their roots back as far as Skinheads and Mods—all linked through music and clothes, two things which disco conflated perfectly for a brief period in the 1970s.
When British author Nik Cohn handed in a piece of fiction instead of journalism, titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night in 1975, it was so convincing to the editors at New York Magazine that they believed he'd actually been into the Odyssey disco in Queens. In fact, Cohn chickened out of entering the club and instead invented his story, achieving a realistic effect in great part due to the sartorial detail of the story (which went on to become Saturday Night Fever).
The original piece begins with the lines, 'Vincent was the very best dancer in Bay Ridge—the ultimate Face. He owned fourteen floral shirts, five suits, eight pairs of shoes, three overcoats, and had appeared on American Bandstand'. The definition of 'Face' came from Cohn's past as a Mod in London, part of a small scene which emerged around 1960 in which young men wore hand-made suits (paid for with wages saved up for as long as it took), button-down shirts and ties, Savile Row-inspired (if not made) velvet-collared Crombie overcoats and Bass Weejun loafers imported from America. The Mod with the sharpest suits and shiniest shoes was forever known as the Ace Face in the crowd. Mods preferred to dance only to American soul records of the pre-Beatles era, the kind of girl groups also favored by the Fab Four (who wore mock-Mod suits). Which is why it made sense to Cohn that any disco-obsessed dancer in New York in 1975 be as smartly dressed as he'd been.
|the site of the original Odyssey in Queens|
The Saturday night rituals ascribed to Vincent in Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night—the posing in the mirror, the imagining himself as Pacino or Lee Van Cleef, the hanging and posing with a posse of lesser 'Faces', strutting along the street in clothes too thin and exposing for the hard winter night—were repeated by real-life Vincents in every major Western city in the 1970s.
In Richard Price's Ladies' Man (1978), his central character Kenny Becker is Vincent only a few years older, living alone in Manhattan but just as obsessed with sex, soul and disco music (there's a great scene in the novel describing Kenny getting ready to go out for the night, he starts by 'dropping a Barry White and two James Browns on the machine', and carefully preps himself).
In his hugely successful debut novel The Wanderers (1974), Price had written what amounts to an autobiography about his time as a teenage member of a New York gang in 1963 (he was born in the Bronx in 1949). The novel (and movie, made in 1979) is full of music, all pre-Beatles doo-wop, soul and R&B. There's a scene at a private party in which the girls form a line and dance in formation to the Angels' My Boyfriend's Back, with moves self-choreographed just as much as Vincent's in Saturday Night Fever, and similar in many ways, too. The Wanderers wore a 'uniform' of baseball jackets, quiffs and tight jeans, Kenny favors 'pearl gray continental slacks, a thick wool hot pink turtleneck and my black velvet sports jacket'.
Clothes, music and Saturday nights have ever been a holy trinity for the working man in a modern Western free market capitalist state. As long as the man has a job, he is somebody in society. His wages are spent on making himself look and feel as good as any other wage slave. Mods worked for the weekend; working class Tories the lot of them. Vincent worked (in a paint store) for the weekend buzz he got from dancing, looking good and being watched. Kenny is proud of the money he makes in Ladies' Man (as a door-to-door salesman) but his life falls apart when he deliberately loss his job, and ends with him questioning his sexuality and his wholly uncertain future.
Last week's JD rioters have no job, have no dignity afforded by labor and their primary function as consumers has been denied them by that fact. Is it just bad luck got a hold of them?