I remember my first adult recession as though it was yesterday. It was the dawn of the Eighties, and revolution was in the air. Like a lot of young people at the time, I naturally assumed that the problem was of someone else’s making. But – like most of my friends – I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of the times, and got to work. We were loath to call it Thatcherite but in hindsight it couldn’t really have been anything else. We formed bands, started nightclubs, designed clothes, cobbled together magazines in east-London warehouses. We were accused of fiddling while Brixton and Toxteth burned, but what we were actually doing was laying the cultural foundations of the decade ahead.
I went from being a cocktail barman to a photographer to a journalist in the space of about three months – and, like everyone else I knew, never looked back. We liked to think our lives were built around constant reinvention, which manifested itself in the way we dressed and in what we listened to, as well as how we voted and who we shouted at on TV. We went to ad-hoc clubs in difficult urban postcodes, danced to records that displayed the requisite mix of contemporary funk and bottom-heavy agitprop, and camouflaged ourselves in the appropriate battledress. And the look? Hard Times chic, with heavily torn and distressed denim, to reflect our impoverished lives – a pair of ripped Levi’s, a studded belt, a pair of cheap black Chinese slippers, a wife-beater (aka a plain white vest) and a bottle of Pils in each hand. I looked this way for about 18 months, until my clothes literally fell apart, and it was time to move on.
But now I see that distressed denim is back – everywhere from the bus stops on the Edgware Road to the gastro-pubs of Soho – in something of a major way. Although this time around the look has been diffused by fashion, and what was once the badge of the insolvent few is now the uniform of the not-quite-so disenfranchised many.
Honestly, these days, if you want to look properly impoverished then the only thing to do is dress like a banker.
Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ