The New Romantics were a fashion movement that peaked in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s. It was often associated with new wave music scene that had become popular at that time, as the two often intertwined. Spandau Ballet, for instance, was New Romantic both fashion-wise and music-wise. Adam and the Ants, however, while certainly New Romantic in the fashion sense, were post punk musically.
The genesis of the look took place largely through the nightclub Billy’s in Dean Street, London, which ran Bowie and Roxy Music nights in the late 1970s. Teens & twentysomethings at the time were becoming disillusioned with punk rock, thinking it had lost it’s original appeal and they had nothing to identify with. Bowie and Roxy Music quickly became these ‘New Romantic’ idols. In 1979, the growing popularity of the club forced organizers Steve Strange (Visage) and DJ Rusty Egan to relocate to a larger venue in Great Queen Street called the Blitz, which was also a wine bar.
The goal of the patrons was self expression and to be unique, cool and noticed.
[below is a v.cool vid of the Blitz Kids and you can spot Boy George, Marilyn, Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley in it]
The Blitz club quickly became known for the colourful and flamboyant fashions of its patrons (who became known as the Blitz Kids), which greatly contrasted with the ripped/offensive t-shirts and jeans associated with the punk movement of the time. Both sexes often dressed in counter-sexual or androgynous clothing and the guys thought nothing of wearing eyeliner, eyeshadow and lipstick. Many wore frilly fops shirts in the style of the English Romantic period, or exaggerated versions of upscale fashion and grooming which drew influence from sources such as glam fashions of the 1970s, science fiction films as well as the golden age of Hollywood.
Clubgoers frequently made it a point to dress as uniquely as they possibly could in attempt to draw the most attention to themselves. Midge Ure credits David Bowie for spreading the New Romantic look. Bowie cast Steve Strange and a few other Blitz Kids in his video Ashes to Ashes and, according to Ure, within two weeks New Romantics were popping up in clubs all over the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world.
Musically, New Romantics spawned many bands. Blitz owners Steve Strange and Rusty Egan joined Billy Currie and Midge Ure of Ulltravox to form Visage. Boy George and Marilyn worked in the cloakroom of The Blitz; George obviously formed Culture Club while Marilyn became a well known and loved solo artist. As with most things, the movement moved out from London to other regions and soon New Romantics popped up in other places. *Bands such as Adam and the Ants, Ultravox, Japan, Visage, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were labeled New Romantics whether they were or not. The actual term New Romantic is disputably reported to have been coined by Richard James Burgess (studio drummer, producer & author) in an interview with reference to Spandau Ballet.
Speaking of Spandau Ballet, as previously stated, they were New Romantics. Indeed, they debuted at the Blitz and were patrons before that. Their debut was actually headlining the Blitz’s Christmas party in 1979. The band had been invited to play after exclusively inviting Strange et al to come and see them play. The played To Cut A Long Story Short and needless to say, impressed their audience.
*Musically speaking new wave/synth pop and New Romantics seemed to criss-cross in the media and thus the public’s perception melded the two together. Ironically, Culture Club and Marilyn weren’t New Romantics, despite having been Blitz Kids. Japan, Adam and the Ants and Duran Duran have all downplayed or denied outright that they were New Romantic. Certainly Adam and the Ants and Duran Duran were actually post punk and pop/rock. Duran, however, did ride the New Romantic bandwagon for promotional purposes but quickly discarded the look by mid ’81.
New Romantic music is tied into heavily synthesized music – such as Ultravox/Visage & Human League.
Adam had pretty much discarded his NR/glam look by 1982 while Nick Rhodes continually experimented throughout the 80′s. Ironically, neither would describe their music as New Romantic.
The reason I decided to have this page was because the movement captured my imagination. I think it would be nothing but fun to go to a club dressed up as something from another century, planet – or just to explore your imagination with make up and outfits. There were so many looks that to me, were cool, and I’d wished I’d been able to go to one of the numerous clubs that popped up thanks to the likes of the Blitz Kids and Bowie. I also believe it’s a shame that the New Romantics were so short lived and can only hope that one day it will once again become a worldwide phenomena. To me, since the 90′s at least, self expression and something new and exciting has long eluded the world and it’s time for people to be inspired again; to push past the homogenized bland bands and have people like the Lady Gaga’s of the world to once again instill wonderment in inspiration in the young.
The spirit of the New Romantics lives on at Ashes to Ashes club night in London, which is run by a group of enthusiasts. The club is endorsed by Rusty Egan and Steve Strange. The era was creative and fascinating and each kid took Bowie’s Heroes as their anthem – that, despite the misery and bleakness of the era, they could be a hero – just for one day.