WHAT do the words “Eighties fashion” conjure up for you? Leg-warmers? Headbands? Shoulder pads? Frilly shirts and strange-shaped pants à la New Romantic style?
Whatever you may have worn in this era — or may have seen your parents wearing in photographs, depending on your age — one thing’s for sure: our collective perception of the decade in question has definitely warped over time.
Take Rewind Festival, that great hedonistic homage to all things Eighties. The predominant dress code among festival-goers seems to be black leggings (check) overlaid with neon pink or lime green net skirts (eh?) with matching legwarmers and wristbands (you what?)
As a woman who was young and fashion-conscious slap bang in the middle of the Eighties, I can vouch that the shapes may be vaguely right, but not a single flash of neon pink or lime was to be seen. Ever.
So I took it upon myself to come up with an Eighties outfit that smacked of a little more authenticity for this year’s festival.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked.
Back in the day, the girls all wanted to look like Madonna and the boys like George Michael. For the girls this meant thick eyebrows, hair blow-dried upside-down, a boho chic combo of ra-ra skirt and denim jacket and layers of tacky jewellery. For the boys it was considerably easier. All they had to do was think about bringing out their feminine side and sculpt their hair into a mullet.
Having already sported the Madonna/Cyndi Lauper look for my niece’s recent Eighties hen do at Butlins in Bognor Regis, I decided to try something different.
The hair — to my eternal chagrin, mine was definitely “big” in those days, as my wedding photos confirm — seemed like a good place to start, and after flicking through endless internet pages I plumped for a Smiffy’s Back To The Eighties Boogie Babe wig, a mass of tumbling black curls. The fact that curly perms seemed to resonate more along the lines of Barbra-Streisand-cum-Charlie’s-Angels, that is, very definitely Seventies, had to be overlooked. Time was running out and I couldn’t afford to be fussy.
When the wig arrived from eBay two days later I hurried to the mirror to try it out. Hmm. What looked like a glossy, shiny mane in the picture actually hung down in two great clumps either side of my head. I thought I was going to look like Cher, but actually bore more resemblance to a poodle with excessively long ears.
A gold lamé dress in the window of the Helen and Douglas House charity shop on Duke Street was screaming out to be purchased and although a pair of purple platform sandals (also in the window display) would have been more in keeping with the look, I’m afraid the practicalities of standing and dancing in a field all day, followed by the hobble back along the towpath to Henley, won the day. Flat sandals it was. I was ready to rock.
Sunday dawned. A sunny day, thank goodness, as there’s nothing worse than standing in a soggy field listening to live music and trying to pretend you’re a twenty-something at Glastonbury who positively welcomes mud. There is a limit.
The festival field at Temple Island Meadows was, as usual, thronged with fabulous outfits — lots of guys dressed as Clark Kent, lots of chicks decked out as Superwoman. There was a Robocop, a Beetlejuice, a Scooby Doo and even a Dick Dastardly complete with pigeon. And, of course, there were wigs galore in every conceiveble colour — pink and purple bobs, bright green up-dos, and plenty of Kevin Keegans.
Two women from Reading were dressed as Rubik’s cubes, ingenious hand-made outfits fashioned by 42-year-old Leona Quinn from cardboard and velcro, with braces over the shoulders to hold them up.
“I made them at work,” said Leona. “It was easy really, it only took me a couple of hours. I’m a huge Eighties fan and I’ve been to Rewind every year. It’s brilliant.”
So presumably she was a Rubik’s Cube addict back in the day?
“No,” she said. “I just wanted to find a way to smuggle some drink in.”
Indeed, a quick peek inside the cube revealed a number of bottles suspended by velcro, a bit like you would imagine counterfeit goods suspended from the inside of Del-Boy’s trench coat. As I said, ingenious.
Julie Wilshaw, 55, from Stoke-on-Trent, was wearing an impressive Madonna-style outfit: a black and white dogtooth skirt, bought from a charity shop, over leggings and a pair of patent bovver boots borrowed from a colleague and lots of layers of jewellery. You have to take your hat off to someone who makes the time and effort to actually assemble a fancy dress outfit rather than just buy it wholesale from a joke shop. But in among the genuine nods to the Eighties there were also flashes of the ubiquitous neon.
“I’m a big Eighties fan,” said Julie. “And I suppose Madonna has to be my favourite artist. But I do think we’ve kind of reinvented the Eighties a bit with all the neon stuff. You go into Primark and it’s all there, it’s just easy. But it’s also more colourful.”
The prize for the best outfit of the festival had to go to 49-year-old Mark Eaton from Whitney, pictured left, who could have walked straight off the set of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
“I saw Jason Donovan in the show in Oxford recently and he was really good. That’s where we got the inspiration from,” he said.
His partner, a keen seamstress, had made a pair of speckled pants which were stretched over his shoes and held taut by a combination of plywood and pieces of his seven-year-old son’s Meccano set.
His sculpted blonde wig was adorned with artificial flowers and the look was finished off with a pair of long, curly pink false eyelashes which had taken an hour to apply. They were, he confirmed, terribly uncomfortable. (Girls, do we feel sorry for him? Hardly. Mark, here’s a tip: if you want to look like a girl you’ll have to learn to suffer for your fashion.)
Dressing up in fancy dress definitely enhances the Rewind experience. Getting done up like a dog’s dinner makes you feel a little more smug than your average, plain-clothes festival goer. There’s the satisying feeling that you have made an effort to join in and be part of something bigger than yourself. There’s the admission that you’re middle-aged enough not to care that you look ridiculous.
There is also the (not inconsiderable) advantage of being incognito. This means you can really let your hair down, safe in the knowledge that should your boss/next-door-neighbour/mother-in-law spy you barfing in the hedge on your way home, they probably won’t recognise you.
I’m not sure my outfit was authentic Eighties, but it didn’t really seem to matter. I was on the receiving end of lots of admiring glances (well, OK, they may not have been admiring, but they were glances nonetheless) and lots of compliments, though not as many as my friend Tricia from Sonning who was sporting a body-hugging, Abba-style catsuit in rainbow-coloured swirls.
“Isn’t that a Seventies outfit?” asked one passer-by. Her friend replied, “Who cares? It’s bright and it’s colourful and it’s fun.” Which just about sums up Rewind.