introducing the new lad casual
What is the “lad casual” look, and where has it come from? This is the story of football and skating crashing into one another.
Palace x Umbro Collection
What the hell am I wearing?! How did this… What's happening to me? Sometimes I have to ask myself these sorts of questions when I look in the mirror. Recently my clothes have started slipping into the sort of young men's uniform of the time, what's been called "lad casual" or the "new casual" (or even the "confused laddish"). You'll know the look I'm talking about, because it's everywhere in East London and elsewhere. It's a tidy combination of Supreme 5-panel hats, Palace T-shirts, Reebok classics or similar, accompanied by a lifestyle of liking football and pubs. A lot of these people are my mates and I'm not having a go at all, I like the style and borrow from it a lot, I'm just befuddled as to where it came from.
What these two wardrobes have in common is a crisp, clean aesthetic. There's a focus on comfort and athleticism, and box-fresh running shoes.
Also, while this look is very influenced by 90s East Coast skaters and 90s suburban British blokes - great - there's also a widespread alternative that's much more Joey Essex (although, in my opinion, he's also a really sharp dresser) and that's the deep house "shuffling casual" kids in cropped skinny jeans or denim cut-offs, plain T-shirts and monochrome Free Runs. Consider this very off-putting video of misplaced swagger and hats worn on bums. In the words of one of our favourite old i-D interns, Lewis: "Boys that wear Nikes, tanks and dance like this need to f*ck off." Obviously I'm much less sympathetic to this form, especially the music, which is simply awful, however I do still like their trainers.
What these two wardrobes have in common is a crisp, clean aesthetic. There's a focus on comfort and athleticism, and box-fresh running shoes. It looks good although, on the other hand, it's unadventurous and offers a somewhat tame, boyish vision of adulthood. In the words of writer Clive Martin, "'the new casual' is the movement which formed as an antithesis to the idea that we all had to grow beards, drink expensive beer and dress like railroad workers. It's clean-shaven, it smells good and it drinks cans of lager on the street. It doesn't care what clubs it goes to. It's sporty, streamlined, the return to a kind of teenage take on masculinity."
So, another thing that defines the "lad casual" style is that it's very different from hairy vintage hipsters with birds nesting in their beards. I'm totally happy for these sorts to make my coffee and cut my Swiss cheese, but personally I'm not going to dress like an Edwardian child-catcher under any circumstances. It has of course been noted that hipster culture has adopted a lot of the tropes of traditional masculinity - bushy beards and twirly moustaches, lumberjack shirts and weathered workwear, massive wooden tables and stuff like that - and it has also been noted that a lot of hipster culture is horrendously misogynist, and only hides behind a cloak of irony in order to pretend that it's not. So it's totally for the best that men are finally throwing away their Barbour jackets, and other grown-up grouse beating apparel, in favour of a more modern, more youthful vibe.
The original New Lad culture wilted away like an obnoxious lettuce towards the end of the 20th century, sometime after Euro 96, and British masculinity's been in a crisis of sorts, and certainly we've been awful at international football ever since.
Today's attitude is also very different from that of the 90s "new lad", who was very loud, very boorish and wished he was from Manchester. Now it's about London and its orbital suburbs, everyone's neater and tidier, buttoned-up and polite. They're probably not going to bottle you in the pub. The clothing comes from an unexpected mix of skater and working class cultures, and that's what wants exploring. Palace, in particular, is dominating British streetwear right now and - alongside Nike as always - feels like the most influential menswear brand around. When they did the England kits with Umbro; that's the "lad casual" look in a nutshell. Honestly though how the hell did skating and football come together?
I asked Fergus Purcell, who originally designed the Palace triangle logo as well as this season's Marc By Marc Jacobs graphics, about the traditional football casuals look, and this is what he had to say: "It's a great look and it's tough, it's very stylish, it's the best of all worlds… Personally though, ideologically, I grew up in the time in the 80s when really there was a big divide between, you were a soccer type of bloke or you weren't - and I wasn't. I kind of wasn't allowed into that party and I was like, 'Fuck you!' and that look still sort of has those connotations for me. I actually admire the style… it's just that there was mutual antagonism, and them being tough lads it was more antagonism from that side, when I was growing up... But I think it's cool that that's not a factor in how people see things now. I love how, generationally, things gradually, gradually shift and then they're completely on someone's menu that they wouldn't have been ten years ago."
Obviously subcultures aren't as clearly delineated and separated out as in the past. The original New Lad culture wilted away like an obnoxious lettuce towards the end of the 20th century, sometime after Euro 96, and British masculinity's been in a crisis of sorts, and certainly we've been awful at international football ever since. Lads' magazines have fallen by the wayside too, with their topless, soapy visions of commuter-belt babes and coy Big Brother contestants cruelly usurped by horribly hardcore internet pornography. Everyone's turning into something else.
As football as a source of national pride and teenage inspiration has deteriorated, skating has sort of taken over, and you can trace this back to the turn of the century, when today's early-20-somethings were starting high school, beginning to come of age, and Sk8er Boi was topping the charts. If you wanted to snog Avril Lavigne (and who didn't?) you'd better have Zoo York jeans, lots of pop and sweet nollie hardflips to impress her. Skateboarding was absolutely exploding at this time - even more so than any alternative music movement really, as it was able to subsume rap and post-post-punk and nu-metal and everything good into itself, like Gargantua - and rolling fast into the mainstream. Jackass, which ran from 2000-2002, sold us the dream of Bam Margera skating (relatively badly, but then he was willing to jump off very big things), and messing around in his parents' house, and making so much money that he could just drive around in sports cars and sleep with mega-babes. It was very other to the classic skater ethos, but very in keeping with traditional adolescent fantasies. At the time Bam and his acolytes appeared as invincible men-children, forever young piss-takers like Peter Pan, long before laughing gas addiction and a terrible car crash and other unfortunate incidents turned everything to darkness.
Today the best skaters are multi-millionaire superstars, the most handsome ones show up in fashion magazines and the X-Games and Street League are bombastic competitive sporting events like any other, with lots of Nike sponsorship. When I was growing up in the noughties Nike were selling limited edition Air Force Ones in Slam City and you couldn't buy them unless you could kickflip in front of whoever was working there. That's what it was like before the recession; having to land a kickflip to be allowed to buy some shoes… Now HTC have opened a skatepark in the basement of Selfridges and Converse have opened one next to the churches in Peckham, and the House of Vans opens in the Old Vic Tunnels this week.
The "lad casual" look is a sweet mixture of different subcultures, it comes from a place of peace and intermingling, it blows raspberries at the history of youth tribes and violence.
Over the last decade in Britain there's been a delirium in masculinity and an ongoing embarrassment in football. The male self-image has been shattered into so many pieces because these days you could be waxed and tanned like TOWIE; you could bulk up ridiculously like the boys of Geordie Shore; you could become a football fashionista like Daniel Sturridge; you could dream of shagging lots of stylists like Harry Styles. Almost everyone wears skinny jeans and there's no real prevailing narrative, it's not even considered that weird to wear jeggings or a really, really deep-V, although it obviously should be.
Young men are confused! Blame the absent fathers, blame the buyers at Topman, blame the Football Association, blame Rob Dyrdek if you wish, but whatever the cause there's commotion everywhere. Still, no-one should feel nostalgic for a time when skaters and football fans fought with each other. The "lad casual" look is a sweet mixture of different subcultures, it comes from a place of peace and intermingling, it blows raspberries at the history of youth tribes and violence. Also, as I can personally attest, you don't actually have to be a lad to wear any of it, and you don't really have to be able to kickflip down the Southbank Seven either; although you should join the Long Live Southbank campaign to save it. Because everyone likes skating now, even Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock: "I'll tell you one of the great activities is skateboarding. To learn to do a skateboard trick, how many times have you got to get something wrong 'til you get it right? And you hurt yourself, and you learn to do that trick, now you've got a life lesson. Every time I see those skateboard kids I think, 'Those kids'll be alright.'"
Text Dean Kissick
Image courtest Palace x Umbro