Youth Culture & Fashion

Youth Culture & Fashion

London's role as the nation's capital of fashion was already centuries-old when the 20th century began. Fashionable dress, music and la mode behaviour traditionally took their cue from London's royal court and its aristocratic salons. During the 20th century London's position as the place where fashions were set remained the same but the pacemakers changed. Fashions were now led by the young. From the bright young things of the 1920s dancing the Charleston to hot jazz; through to the punks of the 1970s pogo-ing to The Damned, the young assumed a new cultural importance in 20th century London.

London's size and class make-up was, as always, a factor. London had the largest working class in Europe and the combination of 'East End boys and West End girls' was a particularly potent one in the age of democracy and permissiveness. The transport revolution had brought London's West End within reach of all and as the infrastructure of clubs and dancing venues took shape from the 1920s onwards, so too did the democratic mixing of wealthy and workers. In the 1930s a journalist observed the crowds of East End young in Leicester Square's cafes and cinemas. 'I imagined when I first saw them that these people, so magnificently colourful and glossy and self-assured, must be very important and wealthy indeed.... But I found out that they were really very poor; that they invaded the West End in their tens of thousands only twice a week or so; that they spent next to nothing.'

Most of London's 20th century youth 'scenes' led a syncopated life between the West End and the suburbs. Although jazz became a craze for the wealthy young of Mayfair, it also thrived in large suburban ballrooms, such as the Hammersmith Palais de Danse, or Streatham Locarno. During the 1960s some of the most famous rhythm and blues venues were not in central London but in the western suburbs. Here, the crumbling ballroom on Eel Pie Island, and the Railway Hotel in Richmond, otherwise known as the Crawdaddy Club, were key places on the music scene.

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