Thursday, October 19, 2023

book review: Dressing The Beatles


Virtually everything has been written about The Beatles by now, but their impact on fashion has been largely overlooked. Renown Toronto arts journalist and Beatlesfreak, Deirdre Kelly, has taken a deep dive and just published a highly detailed study of the band's sartorial impact on culture in the 1960s and beyond.

Kelly's done her homework, interviewing former tailors, including the cutter of Dougie Millings, Beatle experts like Piers Hemmingsen. and even the band's ex-hairdresser. Her book describes the wardrobe of John, Paul, George and Ringo in exquisite detail that fashionistas will respect and Beatlefreaks (like myself) will enjoy. 

The four Beatles dressed in stylistic unison, starting with their punk look of leather jackets and sneers c.1960 (15 years Punk Rock itself), through their elegant-yet-hip Mod phase of the mid-1960s (dogstooth jackets, turtlenecks), and into their Indian-influenced psychedelic phase where they raided Carnaby Street. Each time the Beatles changed their look, so did Western youth. Kelly's book credits the band for boosting the British fashion industry, something that few historians have done.

Kelly isn't afraid to dish out the dirt on some questionable characters. Dutch designers, The Fool, represented hippie excess and exploitative behaviour. Similarly, the Apple Boutique, which showcased The Fool's garish clothes, was a short-lived money pit that proved The Beatles were genius musicians, but lousy businessmen.

Fashioning The Beatles offers the most revelations in the final years of the band (White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be), a period that is hard to define sartorially. John went through his white phase courtesy of wife Yoko Ono. They all sprouted grew beards and wore denim (the working class uniform). Formalism lingered though, as there are three Beatles sporting suits designed by Tommy Nutter on the cover of Abbey Road. In this period, their fashion choices reflected the members asserting their identities, though their overall casual style remained uniform. (Ringo emerges in this book as the sharpest-looking Beatle.)

Fashioning The Beatles bursts with detail (there are 20 pages of sources) and is highly accurate. Kelly knows her stuff, and her book is an enjoyable and illuminating read.

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