In 1968 dress code for the younger man in Brighton tended to be post hippie transitional and wide flairs were very much the trend. Most men’s clothes shops still didn’t really stock such fancy strides and even Sammy Gordon who, if you looked through the window of his Duke Street emporium for more than 3 minutes would suddenly appear at the door and engage you with his sales patter, didn’t yet stock this sort of gear, so enterprise and Mum’s sewing machine were essential if you wanted to be trendy.
Option one was the jean modification route. Unpicking the outside seam of your Levis from the hem to the knee, the technique was to sow in a dart of some other fabric, or in my case, ask my Mum to do it for me. The width of the dart dictated the extent of the flair and the fabric choice, subtle or wild, was your opportunity for a visual statement on ones personal character.
For a more formal look, a shop a little further down Duke Street would provide the solution. Army Surplus was their stock in trade and among the racks of jackets, military shirts, jumpers and piles of boots, shoes and khaki socks could sometimes be found a few matelots trousers or bell bottoms. Usually circa 1943 or similar most of these were unissued war surplus so although old were in excellent, if a little fusty, condition
Whilst the name bell bottoms implies a sort of flair they are, in fact, just wide cut straight legged trousers, so to create a true flair they needed to be re-shaped. Sewing in a vee from the hem to the knee, then out again up the thigh did the trick and again Mum would usually be enlisted for this somewhat tricky bit with the old Singer. When finished, just iron in a crease and the trousers looked great, however, they did have one big drawback. Very high waisted and instead of conventional fly the garment had a square 13 button flap in the front. Nights in the Druids Head or Club 66 at the Polytechnic out at Moulsecombe could get a bit hairy, as to get oneself ready to empty the bladder took a fair bit of forward planning and as the ‘Chaps’ reading this will appreciate, over the 6 pint mark, the time between needing to go and actually going becomes ever shorter as the evening wears on.
A top coat was also a style essential and again army surplus provided the answer – remember, Sergeant Pepper was still the LP to listen to. I opted for a heavy Melton Naval Great Coat, again war surplus, replete with silver buttons with their embossed anchor motif. Looking back, the quality of these garments was quite outstanding and you’d need to pay £600 plus to get anything nearly as good these days , so a steal at the time for a fiver. Suede Chelsea boots, a stripy Ben Sherman button down collar shirt and a jumper from Fishers in East Street Arcade completed the look.
I did go out on a limb once, sartorially speaking when, from the same army surplus shop, I bought a Policeman’s cape. My Auntie who was a seamstress shortened it for me and I think the cut off bit became a flair jean insert to complete the look.
Wearing it on a trip with my girlfriend to the new Biba store in Kensington High Street, no one turned a hair but a few weeks later I wore it to one of those midnight film shows at the Jaycee Cinema in North Street. As the film started, a Greaser in the seats behind, who evidently had a different opinion to mine on dress sense, decided to lob his ice cream cornet down the auditorium in my direction.
Catching me squarely on the back of the neck, the ice cream, now separated from its wafer throwing handle and aided by both gravity and the warmth of my body then, via the inside of my shirt, took the shortest route down my back towards my waist band ….Much mirth from both his mates and mine and not unsurprisingly, from that night on, the cloak stayed firmly in the back my wardrobe, never to see the light of day again…