DRUGS AND SCOUSE FASHION
Liverpool is a drug-addled city, getting dressed every morning in a haze of weed smoke. Boys wear ‘ket wigs’, long haircuts named after that which the haircut money is spent on instead of grooming. Niloo Sharifi broaches the topic of Liverpool’s drug-infused dress sense from the grassroots, to find out whether the city feels itself guilty of drug-induced fashion solipsism.
It is 1am on a Thursday in a men’s public toilet in a Liverpool city centre pub, totally empty aside from a gaggle of boys in bands, all wearing jeans, sniffing ketamine and cocaine. I stand in the centre of them, sober, voice recorder in hand, ready to hear about the connection between drugs and fashion in Liverpool straight from the horse’s mouth. But this is not an easy task.
“Who’s your fashion icon?” I ask Joe*, and without missing a beat he responds, “The Pope, the first nonce.” I try to remain collected; “So, you’re inspired by famous nonces?” “Nah, nah, top of my list are the Nazis. Not the new Nazis, the original first-hit-wonder fuckin’ Nazis.”
I sigh. He is wearing a verdant green velour jacket that looks decades old, and jeans. Nothing he is wearing looks remotely Pope or Nazi-like. I was prepared for this: the adamant cynicism of our city’s inhabitants, the refusal to engage sincerely with anything so ‘gimpy’ (read: earnest, trivial) as fashion or trends. But we are not a trend-less city. Rather, trends are defined in the negative, on what we don’t do. We’ll never admit to anything. At the moment, it is usual for young men to sport long hairstyles. But even in a toilet full of long-haired boys, no one will acknowledge this truth. “What long-hair trend?!” Joe responds, tucking his long hair behind his ear, glancing derisively at me and his long-haired friends. “Look around!” I tell him, and two of them begrudgingly give me the answer I’ve been prodding them for: “Haircuts are for gimps.” “Yeh, just be assed getting a haircut, innit.”
This turns out to become a pattern in our discussion. I ask Tom, another band member, about the slogan on his T-shirt: ‘Total Eclipse of The Sun’. “You don’t buy The Sun newspaper, do I need to explain to you?” he asks me. Liverpool’s law is “everybody knows”. Everybody knows that you don’t buy The Sun, because of what it said about Hillsborough, and what that showed about Liverpool’s position in the country, and what everyone knows about Margaret Thatcher. In response to a feeling of rejection, we have rejected the others. It is almost impossible to purchase The Sun newspaper in Liverpool, and the slogan and graphic on Tom’s shirt can be seen in every local shop and on the back of cars. “So, your fashion is political?” I ask, but Tom mutters back, “Maybe, maybe, nah not really.”
Liverpool resists its own exposition and narration, resolved to experience itself silently. Another boy I speak to – Liam, 24 – seems downright angry when I suggest that drug culture influences fashion trends in Liverpool. I am referring to the tendency of children and teenagers to emulate the attire of drug dealers, growing their “ket wigs” long and filling their body pouches with sweets and cigarettes. But Liam assumes that I am accusing him and his friends: “No, I think you’re searching for a false correlation if you suggest that fashion and drugs are in any way correlated. I think it’s very small minded, it really aggravates me when people think drugs dominate anything when drugs are incidental to everything.” He pauses to flick a little cocaine off his 60s counterculture-style fringe suede jacket.
In a room full of people who all have an answer to the question “who’s your favourite 60s counterculture figure”, whose favourite outfits are “acquired at mad gaffs” not bought, it is hard to deny that drugs percolate through many aspects of fashion and style in Liverpool.
Even the absurdity of these scenesters’ answers is telling: “What item of clothing would you have if you could afford anything?” I ask, and Joe tells me, “John Lennon’s glasses, what he got shot in and wear them with the blood on.”
“That’s fucked,” I reply, turning to Liam. “What about you?”
“The Pope’s robes.”
In these fragmentary, almost free-associative responses, there is an (again, unacknowledged) retroactive appreciation and emulation of 70s and 60s psychedelia among Liverpool’s fashionistas. “Why is it that the 70s does so well in Liverpool?” I ask Joe. “Well, it was 40 years ago so I dunno what you’re on about there,” he shoots back. I won’t back down this time: “Come on, let’s not be disingenuous here,” I implore, and he quietly concedes: “It’s just c-cool innit, man, everyone watches, fuckin’, That 70s Show, don’t they?”
Liverpool does not abide by the fashion rules of the rest of the country, and in fact defines itself in negation of existing trends. As Joe tells me, “You’d get mixed up with the students.” But these musicians are not your typical young Scouse man – their clothes are too colourful. Liverpool’s own brand of ‘roadmen’, or scallies as we call them, wear their hair long like artists. However, these inadvertent stylistic innovators are, paradoxically, intensely reluctant to accept any sort of individualistic expression. Joe tells me an anecdote about standing in a chip shop and being confronted by a ‘scally’: “Some scally was like, ‘Look at the kip of you, lad,’ and I was like, ‘What about the kip of me, lad?” And he went, ‘You’ve got a beret on, are you French are you, yeh?’ I went, ‘Nah, I’m from Runcorn,’ and he went ‘That’s even worse.’”
Scallies, or as another toilet-lurker, Lorenzo, calls them, “potmongs”, are identified by their penchant for North Face and Berghaus weatherproof jackets and incessant wheelie- popping on BMXs. I ask Lorenzo what it is to be a scally, and he replies, “Scally in Liverpool is knives, drugs, ket wigs, punching your mum.” As one of my taxi drivers astutely observed last week, drug dealers hold all the social power in many parts of this working class city, and so donning the appearance of a drug dealer is akin to a show of power for adolescents and young children alike. For the boys in bands, 60s and 70s style recaptures a time when drug- induced confusion was encouraged, and the spotlight was on their home city with The Beatles and the Merseybeat sound. But good luck trying to get any of them to admit it. Here, trend takes on a purer form – the silence of stringent, socially enforced ‘normalcy’. And what we do we care what anyone else thinks is normal in the rest of this backwards country that never wanted us?
*Names have been changed