theguardian.com, Friday 17 October 2014 16.06 BST
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A scene from Northern Soul
Elaine Constantine’s images of British teenagers having fun brought a wonderful, joyous reality to photo shoots in The Face magazine in the late 90s. Northern Soul, her long-awaited film about the 70s subculture, released on Saturday (18 October), promises to do the same for that decade. The photographer turned director’s debut film features stories of packed nightclubs, unmarked seven-inch singles and extraordinary dance moves – all brought to the fore with equally extraordinary fashion. The nipped-in knitwear, zipped-up sports tops and wider-than-wide flares of the men are well known, but what of the women’s look? Constantine and Northern Soul costume designer – and former Wigan Casino alumni – Yvonne Duckett recall the A-line skirts and sweaty hair of their youth.
A still from Northern Soul
What are the components of a female Northern Soul look?
Yvonne: In the early days (1974), it could be an A-line skirt, a printed, fitted shirt with a penny round collar, a tank top and platforms. This was quickly adapted and exaggerated to enable and enhance dance moves. Skirts became full circle and ankle length, with a high waistband or a bib, usually worn with a vest. You had to keep cool – dancing all night, you would get very hot and sweaty. Hair could be short and cropped or pageboy style, and the few black girls on the scene would have short afros.
Elaine: In the 80s, I couldn’t bear the pastel clothes that all the girls wore, rah-rah skirts and the like. I hung around with a group of skinhead girls. We were from all over the country but gravitated towards each other when we clocked a like-minded girl at an all-nighter. The signs were the haircut, the Brutus trimfit or Ben Sherman checked, button-down collared shirts, Levi’s Sta-Prest trousers and loafers or brogues. I met my friend Gill in this way when I was a teen. We’re still friends now, and she worked with me on the film.
A still from Northern Soul
Did you find the clothes for the film secondhand or make them?
Elaine: Myself and my friends collected clothes from secondhand shops over several years, and we also borrowed some original pieces from Soulies. When Yvonne came on board, they couldn’t believe the amount of stuff there was. We got a relationship going with a guy who was reinventing the Brutus clothing label; his Dad had set up the original label. He was incredibly helpful and got lots of jeans, and had new shirts made up exactly like the old version, with the same checks and tartans.
With your fashion photography background, Elaine, was the look an important factor?
Elaine: Fashion photography was something that provided me with the platform and ability to tell a story in stills form. Getting into film was the same deal, but the authenticity was paramount. It’s hard to watch a film when you see a lot of detail that’s wrong, especially the clothes and hair and makeup. It takes you out of the story because you can’t help but go: “They didn’t wear that back then!”
Was Northern Soul a female-friendly scene?
Elaine: Yes. I have heard that people call it a sexist scene, but I’ve never been on a less sexist scene. In fact, you could even go the other way and say the woman were more predatory than the men.
Yvonne: In my experience, yes. I was only 14 when I started going to Wigan Casino, and my friends and I were probably more interested in the music, dancing and clothes than boys. It was all-consuming. We would lie to our parents by saying we were staying at best friends’ houses. We’d then be out all night and sleep all day Sunday at someone’s house, with our parents wondering why we were so tired – or we’d go to an all-dayer on Sunday, then fall asleep at school on Monday. We would make clothes together, as you could not buy the look in the shops and we had little money. You felt you belonged to something special.
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