Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances

Well as things stand at the moment, we certainly have difficult circumstances, so the challenge is the clean living.

The quote originates from Peter Meaden, one of those unusual characters that the postwar boom in the UK produced. At the dawn of Modernism, Meaden was in on the ground floor and was involved in the early days of the scene as it grew from the jazz music and coffee bars of Soho, such as the 2I’s and Bar Italia. He worked in an early form of PR, marketing shows by American jazz and blues musicians who came to be worshipped at this new temple of Modernism.

As the Modernist scene grew and evolved into what became commonly known as Mod, Meaden moved with it, and aligned himself with the new bands who were taking the American R&B sound and putting their own stamp on it in the early ’60s One of these bands were The Who, whom Meaden dazzled with his music industry knowledge, and he marketed them in his own likeness, persuading them to change their name to The High Numbers (numbers was a real buzzword in the early Mod scene), and writing a couple of single releases for them. “I’m The Face” in particular is Meaden’s life in a three-minute song, with its description of his clothing, hair and attitude being a manifesto of sorts for young Mods.

Unfortunately for Meaden though, the band got a better offer from Chris Stamp, brother of the leading UK actor and well known “face” Terence, and Kit Lambert. They bought out Meaden’s interest in the band for £500, changed the bands name back to The Who, and the rest is, well, you know.

Meaden faded from view thereafter, suffering from mental health and prescription drug addiction issues. He died at 37, but his memorable description of Modernism as a style cult lives on. The clean living encompassed clean lines and sharpness when it came to shirts, knitwear and tailoring. From early on in the development of the scene in the late ’50s, there was a strong American influence in terms of both music and fashion. American jazz musicians and some post-demobbed GIs who were still floating around London and elsewhere were an early reference point. The Ivy League Look was being aped in the UK early on in play, buttondown oxford shirts, sta-prest Levi’s and Bass Weejuns all were sought after and indeed drooled over by English modernists.

By the early ’60s English designers like Ben Sherman were appropriating Ivy for their designs, which was particularly helpful for UK Mods for whom Brooks Brothers or J. Press  were simply out of reach or not available. Slightly later on, entrepreneurs such as John Simons saw the gap in the market for Ivy League clothing in the UK and opened the Ivy Shop in London. Simons still operates today, providing style-conscious Modernists with the best that Ivy USA has to offer.

When jazz musicians like Miles Davis appeared like Ivy-clad kings either on album covers or in rare European appearances, it simply poured more fuel on the fires of love stoked for Ivy by these European modernists. Bands like the Modern Jazz Quartet dressed to a degree in Ivy staples. Where Jazz musicians went, Mods followed. The connection to Ivy continued through the ’60s and while it went out of fashion for a while in the ’70s as Modernism was superseded by Suedehead and Skinhead culture, by the mid-’80s it was back again. Any casual Internet search of images of The Style Council from ‘83 to ‘89 will show Paul Weller, Mick Talbot and bandmates in Levi’s, Seersucker, Madras, Bass Weejuns, and buttondown oxfords.

Indeed today in 2020, UK Modernists, for whom Paul Weller remains an important figure, still sport elements of the style, albeit with other elements of European fashion layered on top. Weller himself has been spotted in Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and Bass in recent years. So, Ivy enthusiasts, thank your jazzers and postwar demobbed GIs for spreading the Gospel over the Atlantic. Now time for some clean living. — CIARAN PEPPARD

9 Comments on "Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances"

  1. Peter Meaden? Holy cow. Haven’t thought of him in 35+ years since reading The Who: Maximum R&B during the late winter or early spring of 1983.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  2. Unseen Scene | May 21, 2020 at 5:00 pm |

    Ivy was imported into UK by Austin’s on Shaftsbury Avenue and John Michael Ingram on Kings Road then also in Soho. Some in Cecil Gee too. Later of course John Simons. Eric Clapton first met Pete Townshend in Austin’s when both looking at the same shirt. Carnaby St was the cheaper copies.

    Terry Taylor was one of the true originals who inspired Colin MacInnes and wrote Baron’s Court All Change. An interesting person who was friends with Johnny Dolphin from USA when nin town.

  3. Paul Weller has worn all sorts over the years,but ive seen the pictures of him in polo and brooks brothers recently.
    Much more suitable for a man of his age,after all he will be 62 next week.
    Toodles!

  4. Michael J. Lotus | May 21, 2020 at 7:54 pm |

    I have always loved that definition. It is not intuitive, at first. It seems to be more about character than clothing. But as you note, the word “clean” had a multi-layered meaning, including not only freedom from dirt and wrinkles ,but also freedom from clutter, and then from uniformity, from commonness, from what everyone else is doing, and breaking out on the the other side, sharpness, simplicity, clarity, focus, small details, and going farther, outwards to independence and freedom, honesty and standards, and all of this with no excuses, under difficult circumstances, not when it is easy, not when you are rich, but on a budget, on your own, in the real world, with limited time, limited cash, living the code among those who don’t get it, don’t even see it, and finding and recognizing those who do, and being recognized in turn. Poetic, compact … clean! Words to live by. RIP Pete Meaden. Good man. You saw it. You got it. Thank you, and we carry on in our own way and we don’t forget!

  5. It is astounding that the last paragraph does not mention Paul Weller’s recent collaboration with John Simons. The range of tartan Ivy shirts can be found here. https://www.johnsimons.co.uk/john-simons-x-paul-weller/.

    “A testament to the synergy between British Modernism and American Ivy League style, our collaboration with renowned musician Paul Weller is a natural one. A long term friend to the store and a style icon in his own right..”

    An unbelievable omission!

  6. Am I alone in not knowing what this was about? Particularly the comment from Mike Lotus.

    Will

  7. john carlos | May 22, 2020 at 12:32 pm |

    Sacksuit- I’m with you. Don’t believe the Modernism Movement made it to Texas.

  8. Trevor Jones | May 22, 2020 at 4:53 pm |

    And Saint John was at the forefront! Mod and Ivy, UK and Japanese menswear, and the legacy of the American look owes John Simons so much.

  9. Vern Trotter | May 23, 2020 at 3:38 pm |

    Speaking of the American look, Sperry Top Sider, owned by Wolverine since 2012, has dropped the name Topsider and is back in New England from Kentucky at Waltham MA. Claims they now have 20,000 employees with Keds, Stride Rite, Hush Puppies, more.

    Just bought a pair of leather “Top Siders” that are now sans large tying bow. Otherwise now the same but these have a seersucker lining. The bows were always coming untied anyway.

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