The Fashion Beat Goes On...

By Rebecca Gonsalves

Designer Kate Sylvester's winter collection embraces Beat style. Picture / Karen Inderbitzen-Waller
Designer Kate Sylvester's winter collection embraces Beat style. Picture / Karen Inderbitzen-Waller

Fifties style is perenially popular in the fashion world, so it's not surprising that contemporary designers have been inspired by that period of unprecedented social change when fashion broke through a stultifying atmosphere that is all-too-familiar today.

This spring/summer, Italian brands were some of the biggest proponents of mid-century staples that are indelibly linked to the all-American look. Short-sleeved shirts with casual spread collars, pleat-fronted chinos, white T-shirts and military-inspired outerwear were given a modern spin by Bottega Veneta, Valentino, Fendi, Prada and Missoni. It's a coincidence, perhaps, but the 50s were a time when Italy's fashion scene was enjoying the reflected glory of its association with the golden age of Hollywood.

But rather than the squeaky-clean image of American youth that was a huge export at the time, it is the rebel undercurrent that has become far more relatable.

The original Beat generation can be identified in this season's catwalk offerings; albeit a sanitised, super-luxe version.

Though they may have enjoyed freedom to experiment with language, drugs and sexuality to a certain extent, the narrow conventions of dress in that period meant there was little room to do the same with clothes.

As such, the three most famous figures of the movement represented the different styles epitomised by the 50s: Jack Kerouac was of a utilitarian bent, in shirts and chinos, work boots and military jackets; Allen Ginsberg had the markings of a prepster in his horn-rimmed glasses, shirts, and shawl-collared cardigans; while William S. Burroughs had a certain fondness for neat and natty, slim-fit tailoring.

In later years, beatnik style became a pastiche - a blight that is affecting the modern-day hipster, a term now so pejorative that nobody will admit to it. But before the bongos and the berets, the soul patches and all-black outfits, the Beat poets had a style that was far more in keeping with societal norms than the rest of their behaviour.

Though the style of the Beats may be easily duplicated on the surface by choosing a few quintessentially 50s pieces, of which there are plenty this season, it is the spirit of the rebel beneath that makes it a recurringly attractive prospect to both designers and the man on the street.

The late-80s and 90s' grunge movement saw the original Beat look go through something of a renaissance, as the uniform of that sub-culture was born out of a need for functional clothing; a sense of exhaustion with the status quo and a rejection of materialism that links back to those literary forebears.

Although the current commitment to nostalgia, to romanticising and revising the past, goes against what the Beat poets and the generation they inspired were striving to achieve - destroying the old in pursuit of the new, charging forward to pursue that end - the frenetic energy of the movement is undoubtedly contagious. Perhaps that's why it's resonating once again. Although it is a polished and commercialised version offered on the catwalks, the appeal of non-conformity transcends the four-figure price tags and taps into the rebel inside.

- The Independent


GET THE BEAT LOOK

Marni sweater, $1240, from Scotties. Vanishing Elephant mac, $390, from Area51. Age Eyewear spectacles $249. Not Shy cashmere jacket, $639, from Made. Stuart Weitzman loafer, $590, from Runway.
Marni sweater, $1240, from Scotties. Vanishing Elephant mac, $390, from Area51. Age Eyewear spectacles $249. Not Shy cashmere jacket, $639, from Made. Stuart Weitzman loafer, $590, from Runway.

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