Friday, 23 April 2010

Dandies of Lowestoft

Look at these fantastically cocky young men. Out of the blue, I have learned about one of those fascinating historic byways that so easily get lost and forgotten. Not this time, however. I received a letter from Peter Wylie, an East Anglia native, about a research project he's doing with funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Peter is documenting the remarkable off-duty dress of sailors in the fishing port of Lowestoft in the early sixties. He calls the project The Dockside Dandies of Lowestoft, although at the time the distinctive clothes were known as 'fisherboy coloured suits'. When the fishing boats came in after a time at sea the fisherboys (with pay packets bulging) would go to Lawrence Green, the town tailor, and try to outdo each other by ordering highly coloured bespoke suits to be made ready for their next return to port. Dressed in the latest suit, they paraded the town with all the pride and confidence of Beau Brummel strolling down Bond Street arm in arm with a friend, quizzing all the girls they passed.

The idea caught on and became a craze with young trawlermen, fresh out of school, putting down deposits and setting out to dazzle in their made-to-measure suits in strong colours such as red and purple, which were a little bit spiv, a little bit rocker, but totally one-off creations. Lapels were wide, jacket backs were pleated, contrasting piping and insets of material were the norm and bell-bottoms up to 30 inches wide were considered very cool. For all the OTT style and colour these clothes were in no sense effeminate. Just the opposite. They were a badge of masculinity because only fisherman were allowed to wear them and their gaudy self-confidence reflected the fact that their trade, a hard and dangerous one carried out in all weathers, ensured that nobody would cast aspersions on their manliness.

It is a fascinating piece of sartorial social history and I wonder how many other pockets of fashion originality are waiting for someone like Peter Wylie to uncover and document them before it is too late?

All photos © Peter Wylie


  1. What a wonderful story! They do look wonderful, and what a great tailor! All that matching of checks and chic reveres and pockets, they must have been very well trained.

  2. Aside from the fact that the design and color palette of your blog is that of The Sartorialist, I love your blog. A picture may be worth a thousand words but in this case it is quite the opposite and I shall hang on each and every one of them.
    X David

  3. I agree with David, a fair comment.