Book Review: Casuals
by Nick Schonberger
Phil Thornton. Casuals: Football, Fighting and Fashion, the Story of A Terrace Culture. Lytham, UK: Milo Books, 2003. ISBN 1-9038-54148.
Employing a series of potent anecdotes, Phil Thorntonâ€™s Casuals documents the origins and progression of casual culture in the UK from the 1970s on. Outside the of the fashion industry, away from the self-appointed cognoscenti, â€œcasualsâ€ formulated their own styles, promoting a shared identity and building a unique set of standards. From Liverpool to London, and points in between, the development of this fashion driven subculture was spurred by Football related travel, creating an intriguing dyad between mainstream and underground.
The strength of Thorntonâ€™s account comes in the power of the individual stories. Regardless of geographic area, a young manâ€™s (or womanâ€™s) transition into the â€œcasual cultureâ€ relayed a point of discovery, and the slow accumulation of a critical visual vocabulary. Picking, and utilizing, discrete locations as entry points, Thorton seamlessly establishes how the â€œcasualâ€ movement spread and mutated over space and time. His ability to tie in surrounding culture (music especially) with the central phenomenon, football, contextualizes and grounds the story. Distinctions of specific styles, often geographically based, emphasize the nuances of casual andÂ prove the depthÂ and complexity of the movement.
Less useful are the â€œcasual bits and piecesâ€ that end the book. The lists are overly subjective, and have a tinge of generational bias. In part, this final addition undermines the notion of development so central to the rise of the culture. From a story that benefits so much from multiple voices, the lists close down and dilute an implicit point of the book, that casual is not a static culture. However, as a quick index to the names of prominent brands and key styles, the section has merit as a reference point. It is also good for a laugh.
Casuals should be viewed as an account of one of contemporary streetwearâ€™s antecedents. A culture defined by informed consumption and influenced by a myriad of subculture arts movements. Thorntonâ€™s book is an important jumping off point for understanding how our current culture has blossomed. Sure, the circumstances are different in some cases, but the nature of the progression, the learning and the connoisseurship has clear correlation.