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The New Romantic Movement

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2996 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The New Romantics were a youth movement of the late 1970s which promoted individualism and creating an identity. New Romanticism was a manufactured scene which included creativity and posers who wanted to show themselves off (Fashion Era n.d.). The purpose of this essay will demonstrate hair and makeup of males within a selected period and will examine external forces that influenced this era. The principle of a PEST analysis will show how political, economic, social and technological influences affected the hair and makeup of the discussed time.

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The New Romantic Movement represented individuals who adapted the same style yet had their own identity through makeup and hair. Furthermore, the New Romantics were a counteraction to the punk ethos and a rival to glam rock (subculturelist 2018). The makeup associated with the New Romantic scene was much heavier and creative than the previous decade. This is supported as the makeup trend in this era was referred to as ‘painted faces’ (New Romantics: The Look 2003).  In the 1970s, makeup was dewy and natural whereas the 80s was about creating a flawless, white canvas which therefore allowed the bright colours to standout. In addition, popular colours included bright pinks, oranges, reds, fuchsias, teals and corals which would usually be either stain or frost finishes, occasionally topped with gloss (Tiny Touch Ups 2017). New Romantics would often have white faces which were described as the Pierrot look which identifies as a pantomime character. This was influenced significantly by Bowie as he appeared in a Lindsay Kemp mime production called Pierrot in 1967. During this production, Bowie was characterised as a clown as he wore a spotted blouse, an Elizabethan ruff and knee-breeches (New Romantics: The Look 2003). Generally, in this era hair was over the top and outrageous, words to describe hair in this era were big and hairspray. The intonation of the 1980s was ‘the bigger the better’ (thefashionspot 2010). Steve Strange pioneered the New Romantic Movement in the early 80s and ran the most idolised clubs – Blitz, Billy’s and Camden Palace (BBC 2015).  Strange worked on the doors at these clubs which were unashamedly elitist and would be brutal to those who didn’t make it in (New Romantics: The Look 2003). (Steve strange, 2000, para. 8 & 9) stated

If people turned up in a wetsuit with their face painted black and white I would say: ‘Sorry you can’t come in.’ … It was about showing your creative side, and about showing that you’d taken time and effort in what you had created. It was about classic style and being outrageous but done with an element of taste.

This suggests the passion Steve Strange had for the new Romantic scene and how they were portrayed in society. Strange wanted to maintain a specific aesthetic therefore had full control over who was allowed into the clubs and ensuring they were taken seriously. Strange was notorious for questioning individual looks and asking, ‘would you let yourself in?’. This influenced the New Romantic style as Strange upheld a strict door policy which suggests individuals ensured they met the requirements in order to get into the clubs, therefore spreading the New Romantic Identity.

 In the summer of 1981, Britain was struck with violence and vandalism due to poor economy and perilous racial tension demonstrated by discriminatory actions by the police. For years, tensions had been growing in Brixton which at the time was a diverse but deprived area. The recession of 1981 had hit Brixton’s substantial African-Caribbean population particularly hard as it triggered mass unemployment and forced many to live in poor quality housing (New Historian 2016). These political and economic factors had an influence on the various individuals at the time as there was a decline in manufacturing and how it was handled politically was poor (Journal of Law and Society 1982). Britain was grim and miserable due to the country being mired in strikes (Independent 2012). New Romanticism was about rebellion, flamboyancy, originality and having a good time (We Can Be Heroes: London Clubland 1976–84 2012). Therefore, this was a reaction against the negative political and economic issues occurring in Britain.  In addition to racism, unemployment and poor political empathy, there was still discrimination to homosexuals during the 1980s.  Even though the 1967 act had been past which decriminalised homosexual acts in private there was still overwhelming cases of hatred and prejudice. Furthermore, Prime Minister Margret Thatcher prevented the promotion of homosexuality in schools and policing was virulently homophobic (The Guardian 2017). Due to all the hatred circulating in the 1980s, the New Romantic image was identical for both males and females and allowed individuals to have the freedom to create their own identity within social pressures. Males became unrecognisable as they didn’t want to be stereotyped so therefore portrayed their identity through their makeup, hair and style. Being associated as a New Romantic was about dressing up and being a work of art in order to get into Strange’s clubs, even if there was a fear of being chased home by ‘Teds’ or ‘Skinheads’. However, the idea of being a hero is the face of derision and homophobic discrimination was validation for the New Romantic Movement (New Romantic: The Look). The New Romantic period was an exciting time as it was mixing both feminine and masculine and saturating it into mainstream society. Since 1971 David Bowie has created the image of males being feminine and expressing their identity and allowing them to have more freedom (New Romantics: The Look 2013). The New Romantics were associated with men with makeup and there was a fine line between men and women was blurred (Blue17 2014).  New Romanticism was celebrating people’s individuality, originality and it was common to see men wearing more makeup than women (Cherwell 2015). As a result of this image created, homosexual men could not be differentiated from straight men so they all wore heavy makeup and feminine clothing which meant the New Romantic image was neutral. New This is supported as cross- dressing began to feed into the New Romantic image and dressing up as a woman could have been done by men who were gay or straight, either compulsive or as a fetish or simply the excitement of the juxtaposition of the outrageous frocks, makeup and hair (New Romantics: The Look 2003).  Cross dressing in pop, presented a caricature of a female role and being a desexualised figure of fun was a variation of the triumph of the look (New Romantics: The Look 2013)

The New Romantic movement adopted their identity through using fashion, makeup and hair to oppose the ideas and looks created by different youth groups (Culturacolectiva 2017). Socially, this influenced the New Romantics as their main movement was against the anarchic statements of punk anti-fashion (Fashion Era n.d). Punk had its trademark as it was associated with mohawks, heavy eyeliner, leather jackets, ripped clothing held together with safety pins, piercings, spiked jewellery and ripped fishnet tights (The Fashion Design Reference and Specification Book 2013). In contrast to this, the New Romantics were elaborate, flamboyant and used layers of luxury material often influenced by historical periods (Fashion Era n.d).  Furthermore, icons such as Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran had a significant social influence on the New Romantic style. New Romanticism was androgynous and both genders would dress in counter-sexual clothing which is supported by (Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran, 2015, para. 2) as he says

‘we’d find women’s clothes, because men’s clothes weren’t particularly flamboyant at that time, so we’d literally go to small women’s boutiques and buy jackets off the shelf or a shirt that buttoned the wrong way for us, but it didn’t really matter.’

 Due to the trickle down theory, Duran Duran therefore used their power within society to have a social influence on the way men portrayed their identity due to them being in mainstream media and therefore dictating the actions of men in society. Moreover, another icon who was a key feature in portraying the New Romantic Image was Adam and the Ants. Adam’s stroke of genius about his revamp from punk was his own. Ant made the choice to adopt the gilded hussar’s jacket which therefore created his reincarnation for Kings of the Wild Frontier. The jacket saw Adam right through his first year, in both on stage and his music videos, until he became the highwayman (Shapers of the 80s 2011). On the other hand, (Adam Ant, 2012, para. 5) states that

 ‘New Romantic was nothing to do with Adam and the Ants. The Ants was a punk band, or a post-punk band if anything, and so historically it’s inaccurate.’

Additionally, this quote is supported as even though Adam Ant had briefly settled on a pantomime pirate look it then, to his disgust, burdened him with the New Romantic tag for the rest of his life (New Romantic: The Look 2003). Furthermore, many bands and icons during this era didn’t accept the New Romantic tag either. As soon as frilly shirts became associated with the New Romantics, icons would refuse to wear them, which meant the fashion and style was rifled. There was no such thing as the ‘New Romantic look’ because as soon as it became popular everyone rejected it (Vice, David Rimmer, 2011, para. 7).  Despite this, Adam Ant has been claimed by the New Romantics as a part of the movement along with other bands too (Digital Journal 2013).

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In the 1970s, colour TV had been revolutionised and in 1981 MTV was created which became a key factor in entertainment history (Popular Mechanics 2013).  During the 1980s, technological influences led to the New Romantic movement encouraging the youth to become an object which would be suitable for media attention. The concept was to become image worthy in front of a camera and this subculture created the notion ‘attention breeds attention’ (New Romantic: The Look 2003).  In addition to TVs, The Face magazine became one of the most significant magazines of the decade which is why it was known as the fashion bible. One of the defining characteristics of the advertising craze in the 1980s was the idea that consumerism is about the image you portray and where you fit in society. Moreover, the media influenced the progression of the New Romantic culture which increased pressure on the males at the time to ensure they look how everyone else was looking in that specific subculture (BBC n.d.). In the 80s, magazines were important for influencing, inspiring people and to give a different point of view. Blitz magazine was about the fashion and the clubs which advertised the correct way to look (As seen in BLITZ – Fashioning ‘80s Style 2013). Furthermore, New Romanticism fell into the genre of ‘new wave’ and changes were being made in music compared to the previous decade which had a technological influence in society and changed how people listened to music. Rusty Egan was the architect of the New Romantic Movement and defined the sound of synth-pop (Classic Pop n.d.).  Egan at the time was creating extended mixes by blending English, French and German versions of music together e.g. bowies ‘heroes’ and Kraftwerk’s ‘showroom dummies’. Egan added percussion effects, echo units and random noises which therefore shows the slight bit if Eno in the New Romantic mix (New Romantic: The Look 2003). This represents that as music changed so did the image of the New Romantics.

Overall, this essay has explored different external factors that have had an influence on the hair and makeup of males in the New Romantic culture. Throughput this essay is explained the harder times in the UK during the 80s and therefore how people coped by being outrageous and having a good time which has a strong link to New Romanticism. In addition to this music and icons also influenced the reason why certain makeup trends and hair styles came in and out of fashion depending on what was going on in the world at that point of time which is still relevant in today’s society. Furthermore, this essay also states the question whether the New Romantics were even a subculture, and if they were, then why will no one accept the fact they were one?



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