A fashion icon for a week

Well actually, thats not strictly true, the Budgie jacket wasn’t the last time that fashion and I were on nodding acquaintance, it happened again in 1981.

The early 1980s, those halcyon days of fashion, not, found me wandering in an oasis of bell bottom Wrangler jeans, demin shirts with pearl press studs instead of buttons and proper hand-tooled cowboy boots – yes, I was a Whitley Bay resident.

The early 1980s were golden years for cowboys in Whitley Bay – I’m very serious about this, stop laughing – we even had a shop near the Metro station that specialised exclusively in cowboy apparel and the pubs all around the district rang most nights to the sounds of Kenny Rogers-a-like, Tammy Wynette-a-like and Slim Brady, a twenty stone man who simply WAS Slim Whitman and no “a-like” about it.

My newly acquired girlfriend, now the current wife, Suzanne had ensnared me at the Spanish City Bingo Hall, yes, on  a bingo night, stop laughing and she obviously adored the cowboy look just as much as I did – wrong again – she came from a small pit village up the coast with the extremely glamorous name of Seaton Delaval, a village that punched well above its weight with its nom de cloture and anticipated French chic, the most chic part of the village being Carltons the shop that sold bird seed and rat traps to pigeon fanciers.

In a scene that would become oh-so common over the next thirty years she took ahold of my pay packet one month and insisted that we visit TopMan in North Shields to drag me, fashion-wise, into the 1980’s rather than wander the streets looking like a high plains drifter from the 1880’s – it was not a pleasant afternoon.

I was 24 years old, still within the boundaries of TopMan’ s target market and yet they stocked nothing that I would define as clothing for the street cowboy, not one single denim shirt with pearlised poppers for buttons, instead the good people of TopMan believed that I should be striding the streets of Whitley Bay, and increasingly the ever-so chic Seaton Delaval, dressed as Simon le Bon or possibly Adam Ant, during the daytime too, during the day as I wandered those chic streets of Seaton Delaval buying my bird seed and rat traps from old men who still wore the same suit that their father had worn when he came back from the trenches in 1918.

I was commanded to don a pair of jeans that I was convinced were faulty, for surely there was not enough material in them to have two legs at all ? But no, in the changing room I discovered that indeed they did have two legs but in an attempt to obviously save denim the manufacturer had made the legs impossibly thin, so thin in fact that I couldn’t get my leg down inside either of what was jokingly called a “leg” in those jeans.

I was given a knitted pullover with the most ridiculous pattern on the front, “Wear it without shirt underneath” she said, I looked like I’d just got out of bed in a hurry and dressed while still half asleep, looked like I’d had to rush downstairs during a fire, quite frankly it felt stupid but as I emerged from the changing room the scales of cowboy high fashion fell from my eyes and I started to notice that actually, everyone dressed this way in 1981.

It was the shoes that broke my heart though, I loved my hand-tooled cowboy boots but there was no room for hand-tooled cowboy boots when your jeans were so tight that you wore them UNDER your skin, instead I was handed a pair of blue shoes, “There must be some mistake” I said, “for I am not a circus clown”.

So wide were they that I could have walked on water in my blue shoes, they made me look like a duck with blue feet and so I walked from TopMan in North Shields that day with my cowboy clothes wrapped in brown paper under my arm and dressed like a duck with blue feet who had just dashed from the house in the middle of the night during a fire alarm – for the first time in my life I was “it”, I was with the kids on the street, I was The Face of North Shields, the kids all gazed at me in awe, I was a fashion icon until TopMan changed their window display again – but I felt fookin ridiculous.

And to ensure that I continued to wear my high fashion attire she (the soon-to-be wife) threw away every vestige of my previous cowboy existence, no more was I allowed to visit the pubs of Whitley Bay to listen to Slim Brady, again, instead I had to flock to that house of high repute, that bastion of the New Romantics, the high altar of 1980s fashion that was the upstairs concert room at The Terrace Club in chic Seaton Delaval, I even had to join and be a member and every Friday night polish up my bright blue duck feet and pretend to be Tony Hadley.

It wouldn’t last for long…


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