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Essay: Northern Soul Movement Through Time: Exploring Fashion and Design Accross the Scene

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,234 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)
  • Tags: Fashion essays

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This report will be exploring the style surrounding the Northern Soul movement from the late 1960s and early 1970s through Northern England. What will be inspected throughout this timeline is the change Northern Soul style has gone through for the followers of this subculture to carry out the style they do today. Northern Soul is a movement surrounding movement and dance and began in the late 1960s. The style of dancing and movement first came as inspiration from the British mod scene and surrounded American black soul music. Northern Soul fanatics went to these nights not only to dance but to meet others that were interested in the scene and swap records to find new music. Fashion related to this movement is a continuation of the 60s mod scene with influences from the ‘ska’ subculture.


In the early days of this movement, fashion in terms of clothing involved the following:

– Tailored suits

– Shrink-to-fit skinnies

– Nipped in tanks

– Tight clothing

The fashion in the 70s has been said to have had the ‘most presence’ everywhere. Although the scene started out with fitted Ben Sherman shirts to correspond with the mod look, soon people would wear things that put functionality first rather than spending their pay-check on a shirt for the club. Places where this scene was very well liked with examples of popular clubs were Manchester and The Twisted Wheel, Wigan and the Wigan Casino, Stoke with The Golden Torch and Blackpool with the Blackpool Mecca and its ‘Highland Room’.


As the scene grew, people were realising that what was going to be worn had to be practical and functional to wear. This meant that wider-than wide flares were becoming very popular in this era. Disco popularised wide-leg flares.

In the places previously mentioned, some of America’s more obscure soul tracks became floor fillers.

In David Nowell’s The Story of Northern Soul (2011) it is explained that “Wigan Casino was no fashion parade. It was a dance venue and these seasoned veterans knew better than to waste their trendy clothes on it. Narrow-bottomed jeans and a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt were comfortable and functional in the last years of the Casino. No more than 32-inch wide Spencers and vests with badges on them. They had become a bit of a cliché amid all the media hype in the mid-70s.” Nowell’s book also reads the young men who would go these nights very often wore black ‘Right on Now’ racing gloves which served more the fashion purpose as dancing the way that they would often involved things where acrobatic skill is needed such as going backwards to bend and touch the floor. If a song was popular venues would hunt down the track to play before its competitors because obviously the music wasn’t as easily accessible as music is today. Clothes became less fitted as they were there to dance not stand in a corner and individuality in the clothing worn came from the patches people wore. Key designers include Levi’s and Fred Perry. ‘Style’ surrounding this movement involves more than just clothing. Italian scooters are significant such as Vespas and Lambrettas.


Honoré de Balzac argues that dandyism comes from ‘modish behaviour’. This can be found on the soul scene because dandyism came from the subculture of mods, which are very much involved with Northern Soul. People in this movement were very in touch with how they appeared to others, in relation to the nights and events they were going to in this movement, which is very similar to the behaviour of dandy’s. Gucci’s AW17 campaign has been said by Hero magazine to be ‘inspired by black masculinity, dandyism and youth energy.’ This movement started off as people wanting things to be really fitted; however as the dancing progressed with more energy people started to pay attention to the fit of clothing for practicality and wanted looser clothing.


Ska is a reggae type of music that came over to England post 1969 following the ‘wind rush generation’ from Jamaica, Caribbean and other African countries who came over looking for work. Alongside this came a young black generation of Jamaicans that listened to ‘ska reggae’ with two tone records which infiltrated the English mod scene and obviously a black generation would mix slightly with the Northern Soul movement because of the black American soul music and black dandyism. This then blended into the Northern Soul scene and brought crombie’s, Dr Martens and truby’s into the style seen among this subculture.


In Topman’s SS16 collection, the shirts in the campaign read ‘Soul Nites’ and a few had classic patches reading ‘Wigan Casino = Heart of Soul’, ‘Night Owl’, ‘The Torch Lives On’ and ‘Soul Lancashire’, which nods towards the Northern Soul subculture. Influence shown through this collection which can be linked to Northern Soul include wide-legged trousers and vests as well as patched jackets which are all similar to fashion and style that can be found within this subculture. It has been said that the collection is a modern take on the Northern Soul look.


Fashion brand Gucci has recently come out with a romantic and colourful campaign shot by Glen Luchford titled ‘Soul Scene’. The campaign features an all-black cast as it explores both dandyism and black masculinity. Inspiration has been taken by Luchford from photographer Malick Sibide and friend & curator Philipe Boutté’s exhibition from 2016. This exhibition has been named ‘Made You Look’ and explores black dandyism, which is explored through the photography in this Gucci campaign. The campaign has came at a time where many fashion brands are being pulled up for the lack of diversity found in casting. Models and dancers are shown to pull moves such as the splits and backdrops which are connected to dance found in the subculture.

There is now a TK MAXX where the Wigan Casino used to be, and in this store vintage posters, fanzines, photographs and collectibles, such as an original hold-all which would carry needless spare clothes and records to be sold or swapped and a pair of black shoes with thick soles for a night on the dance floor.

In addition, badges are still very much a fashion accessory which have originated from the Northern Soul scene that people are wearing them even if they have never heard of the subculture.

The Northern Soul scene is still very loved and celebrated as events are still happening in Blackpool, Leeds, Manchester and Wigan, which is where the scene first began.


Mods were the first men to care about fashion in the same way that women did. Mods were really the main subculture involved with Northern Soul subculture so because of this, Northern Soul was a key event in some people’s lives which meant how they appeared (fashion and style) really mattered. In this report, dandyism and the ‘ska’ culture has been spoken about briefly and how this relates to the Northern Soul era. It has also been explored how the Northern Soul scene is still very much relevant and popular in the present day, shown through brands such as Topman and Gucci. Northern Soul as a subculture has been explored from how it started out to how it is represented in different ways more recently

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