Friday, 23 January 2009

You're history

There are some things in life that are so ghastly you have to repress the memory of them.

Like the 1980s.

Until I sat down to watch Style on Trial: 1980s I thought I had forgotten all about shoulder pads and shell suits. Lazy people call the 70s the decade that taste forgot. I think not. Consider the evidence: Spandau Ballet, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher...

If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that I hated the 80s. The New Romantics, the recession, really bad pop music, the north-south divide, style over substance, the idea that Madonna mattered, the loadsamoney mentality that’s got us into the mess we’re in today.

The 80s brought us ‘aspirational’, ‘lifestyle’, ‘the brand’. They invented consumerism as we know it in the 21st century. They made us shallow and they made us selfish and they made us forget what’s important in life (and it’s not your haircut).

And what those who celebrate those things forget is that for many people, there were no ‘lifestyle choices’. Back in 2009, every time I hear the television news I get a sinking feeling that’s the beginning of fear. Another business closing. Another group of people losing their jobs. It feels like the 80s all over again. The 80s that I remember.

‘Extreme excitement’ said one of the talking heads on the TV. Not if you were one of the 3 million unemployed it wasn’t.

Yes, I hated the 80s. Always did, always will. Didn’t even care much for them at the time. But watching that programme - and these programmes are always as much about social history as about frocks - I have to admit that they have had an influence on me, and one that goes further than the fact it took me 20 years to stop wearing black.

The idea that what you choose to wear says something about you (even if it’s only: I’m young, foolish and pretentious) is a concept I still hold dear. And the sexual politics of the early 80s - the decade that feminism went mainstream - still influences the way I see the world. I never did do power dressing, but I did struggle to be taken seriously in my chosen field. It's hard to imagine now, but it was only in the 80s that women really started to stake a claim to the workplace: I’m probably in the last generation of British women who left the education system expecting a job rather than a career.

Maybe I am a child of the 80s after all. But there are some things I will never believe in. ‘Stylish tracksuit’? That is a perfect example of something I was taught about in my 70s schooldays: it has to be an oxymoron.

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