Dexy's Midnight Runners
Northern soul was a music and dance movement that came out of the late 1960s mod scene in England. It sought to bring lively African-American music, particularly that of lesser-known Motown artists, to working class clubs. The movement peaked in the 1970s but saw a resurgence with a new generation in the 1980s.
Painting of Wigan Casino,
Northern soul hot spot in Lancashire
by David Barrow
The dancing associated with the music was remarkably athletic, featuring spins, kicks, and backdrops. As a result, the fashion associated with the scene gradually shifted from the clean-cut mod looks of the 1960s with button-down shirts, blazers, and brogues to looser fits in the '70s and '80s including high-waisted baggy trousers and sports vests.
Northern soul dancing from the 1970s
Karen Walker's collection in particular looks at the three primary aspects which defined Northern soul fashion, speaking to both the music's demographic and function.
- A working class aesthetic with elements like caps and peacoats straight from the docks
- Loose athletic pieces clearly meant for moving but certainly not meant for the gym
- "Sunday best" dresses with loose skirts to exaggerate the intense spinning on the dance floor
At times, Walker's collection was more literal. For example, check out how she incorporates the trademark patches. These patches celebrated various clubs and events and dancers would plaster them across their clothes.
And while Walker's collection is more heavily influenced by the late '70s and early '80s period of Northern soul, she does make some very chic references to the 1960s Northern soul generation, with mod-inspired pieces that hint at the movement's more refined and tailored early look.
Overall, Walker's collection was inspired more generally by the scene surrounding Northern soul than by the music itself. I think though, if you look closely, you can see some similarities to the musical style. For example, I can't help but think of one of the more frenetic tracks from the Dexy's Midnight Runners album when I see this look. They both have this almost electric energy. The print is so small and busy that it almost looks like it's in constant motion, just as the track's rhythm is subdivided into such smal beats that the pulse seems almost too fast to keep up with!