1990s Club Kids Revisited

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James St. James and Michael Alig

On World of Wonder they’ve been reliving the Club Kids days of the late 80s and 90s in NYC with some fabulous videos. Infamous and still-thriving club kid James St. James posted the Phil Donahue episode where the Kids were (unusually) in full bloom for daylight and daytime viewers. This is how many of us in the Midwest and other places around the country learned of this fascinating and vibrant culture, including all of its dress extremes.

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Leigh Bowery at work sewing up an outfit

sallonmenu0Philip Sallon-New Romantic pioneer in dress and nightlife

 

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Contemporary clubber going to Misshapes (no longer running)

Certainly the kids’ ideas of dressing to-the-max for the clubs harkens back to Leigh Bowery and Taboo (a night club) in London in the mid 80s, and the New Romantic fashion and music scene in London in the early 80s. More recently inspiring Misshapes and other dance and see-and-be-seen nights around the country. Also one could say there is a relation to rave and party culture, but it’s more of a familial relationship than a direct lineage, especially when discussing dress habits. Same could probably be said of drag. 

But the NYC Kids of that era took their night-life dress to a heightened level that seems to not have been reached again. No matter how much exhibitionism is explored online and how voyeuristic the web allows people to be. 

ckjeans14d Jenny Talia in a Calvin Klein ad (I had this ad pinned up for years!)

One of the younger NYC Club Kids, Jenny Talia, has recently resurfaced doing social welfare work with young girls in NYC, and St. James snagged a fun interview with her to recap some of their old exploits. It’s interesting to see how club kid dress, punk dress, body modification, and other subcultural styles have blended and transformed over the years. 

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Michael Alig-Club Kid icon and the center of the murder controvery

There’s not a ton of academic work on the dress of the Club Kids. (It’s  fun project I’d love to explore one day). There are great books about the controversial murder that took place among major players in the scene, that also chronicle their dress behaviors as it was such a part of daily life. These include Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland, its corresponding documentary Party Monster – The Shockumentary, and the Macaulay Culkin, Wilson Cruz, Seth Green, Diana Scarwid, Chloë Sevigny Docudramaof the same name staring Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, and off screen fashionista Chloe Sevigny. There is another book entitled Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture that is fairly popular that I haven’t read. Those are all popular press books and movies, and although there are more than a few pieces on drug and club culture in the journals of the past two decades, I’m surprised at how little there has been on the spectacular dress in the club world.

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Leigh Bowery

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 Richie Rich and Heatherette cofounder Traver Rains

Francesca of Fashion Projects is doing her dissertation in part on Leigh Bowery, which is rad, and Ted Polhemus and others have written short pieces on club culture in books aimed toward fashion-focused acdemic readers. But more work certainly needs to grow in this area. There are a decent handful of pieces on Richie Rich, who went from club kid to running a fairly popular fashion line with Heatherette, but again, popular press pieces are great, but I’d like to read more academic stuff that goes even further into analysis.

I certainly was never really a club kid, although I did have a few fun times visiting friends and family in NYC as a teen and dressing up for the clubs with glitter, face paint (more than simple make up), shiny everything, platforms, etc. In fact, my platforms were a site to be seen as there was a little cobbler on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village that would take your sneakers (red patent leather Airwalks in my case) and glue layers of foam rubber to the bottom. So I got about 4 layers of black and white stripes. I’d take a picture but  they are buried in my basement right now. I wore them everywhere when I returned to Detroit as they were a site to be seen and actually quite comfortable!

Anyway, the feeling was creativeexhilarating and somewhat escapist to get dressed for the clubs. And I was certainly only a dabbler in that scene. I cannot imagine doing it night after night, and I’d love to read those stories and see countles more images covered in dress scholarship. Let me know if you know of any good articles or books I should check out.

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3 Comments

  • Francesca July 17, 2009 09.05 am

    Hi Monica, This is a really interesting post, and you are right there is very little on New York club kids when it comes to academic writings. Leigh Bowery used to host nights with Michael Alig in New York.

    There is an hilarious clip with Bowery, Alig Lapore and others on the Joan River’s Show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAm1RcsCOEg

     
  • Monica July 17, 2009 09.13 am

    Thanx for the tip Francesca on the clip. I’d love to hear more about how your research is going.

     
  • kat typaldos September 04, 2012 06.49 pm

    hi guys
    i am a nyc based stylist – i am prepping a shoot that focuses on 90s club kid vibe but recontextualized to now…any suggestions as to where to pull visual images? i want some real pics from the limelight, etc..but having a hard time sourcing online..would love to hear your insight

     

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Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.