The Button Up Rebellion: where style and class clash

Buttoned Shirt pic: 2Tales

The young men of east London button up to rebel. Pic: 2Tales

A few years ago young men all over east London ditched the trainers, threw away the hoodies and reached for the suit.

A neatly pressed shirt and shiny boots became a postcode signifier and was a look summed up through its most important aspect: the done up top button with no tie.

While this could just be seen as a passing trend, the buttoned up youth has a place in our cultural history – young English men have been using their personal style to signify displeasure at society around them for decades.

Through British history dissatisfied young men have been buttoning up.

The buttoned up collar creates a look that is straight laced yet rebellious. The self-strangulation of doing up that last button gives the wearer a sense of neatness, yet the deliberate exclusion of a tie creates tension in the contentious empty space at the collar.

Mods of the sixties reacted against the uninspired and class-obsessed British culture through buttoning themselves into a radically tailored style with European inspired suits and Vespas.

Suedeheads later followed suit, expressing their place as an oppressed generation through taking formal dress into their everyday lives: Crombie coats and button down collars aggressively clashing with their worker boots.

Recent figures with show that at 22 per cent, the rate of unemployment of London men between 16 -24 is the highest in the capital. With this in mind we must consider, is this new breed of the buttoned up man the newest participant in a history of very British rebellion?

“Dressing better than our central London counterparts displaces the class balance,” says Steve, a Dalston button-up devotee. “You see the big city bankers with their ill-fitting Burton suits and fat English teacher ties then compare that to the well dressed east London gent on a shoe string budget, there’s a symbolic violence in dressing better than your social superiors.”

The new suited man is a stylistic symbol of tension, barely concealed under a tightly buttoned collar.

Society has changed since the economic agitation of the sixties and seventies; the violence of its anti-establishment sub-cultures has mellowed. However, the buttoned up shirt that represented the style of this rebellion still resides within the tribes of the twenty-something male.

Aggression has turned to apartness and modern men no longer give off an air of anger, but of aloofness instead. The overly formal and often whimsical look of the modern buttoned up man gives a sense of fragility, otherworldliness and a sense of being not of this time.

So when walking into the pubs and coffee shops of Shoreditch High Street, consider the crowds of well dressed, well groomed and buttoned up men who still need to count their coppers and catch a night bus home.

Just like the collars of disillusioned generations before them, the buttoned up collars of east London today and the men who wear them are still sending out the same message.

We may not have as much money as you, but we’ve got better ideas.

One Response

  1. Carla March 17, 2017

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