Today we welcome a guest blogger. All the way from the U.S of A. regular tweeter Janet Canning aka Lapsed Vinyl Goddess offers her take on the day she found Toyah at M&S...
“I first became entranced with the makeup of the punk era when I was a young middle school student, and my brother the Prog freak, introduced me to his Kraftwerk records. My art teacher provided a battered record player and several beaten up Talking Heads albums to the class.
Being a visual kid, I wanted pictures, so I found music magazines from the UK at Tower Records, the closest music store. They were sometimes out of date by months, but sometimes would included a crumpled flexi disc inside that you had to rewarm and press out gently, in the hope that you could play it on the turntable.
At that time, my only real source for any punk or post punk music was college radio, when I stayed up late at night with headphones and was popping in cassette tapes to record, hiding from my parents. I looked at the pictures of female punk icons of the UK and US music scenes, like Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde in any music mag I could find. These were the women we alternative girls wanted to look like, be strong like.
After all, not many women got up there on stage like that, with all the men playing guitars and drums. We needed our icons. And we needed to know why the men were so obsessed with them. As a girl growing up, you wanted to be noticed, and then you learned why – maybe it was that impossible beauty, and much of that was an illusion.
A few years later at 17, I’d saved enough from my student jobs to get to London. On my first visit to the UK in 1982, I spent days trying to retrace all the steps of the punk movement that I had been listening to and reading about for years. The movement itself had been replaced by the New Romantics and many other post-punk bands, but you could still find traces of punk in the clothing. Punk had been morphed by commercialism and tourism and I could feel that whatever movement and momentum there had been, was mostly gone.
It wasn’t entirely bad news, as Punk became more mainstream, it moved beyond Kensington Market and Acme Attractions and crept onto the High Street. Marks and Spencer’s is one of the major High Street shops in the UK, and it was here, in London for the first time I found two makeup boxes on display of Toyah (Willcox) brand makeup. I was agog. I’d finally found some trace of the kind of makeup that I couldn’t get in the West Coast of the US . It was insanely commercialized Pop Queen merchandising, but I bought several boxes and shipped them home to show to friends because I was just so fascinated with the pre-boxed punky peacock look. I knew that this was not the real deal, this is not what punk girls really wore. I still thought that they were more DIY, creating their look and movement from what could be found in second hand shops and using bin bags as dresses and shirts. Young punk girls were supposed to be skint kids that couldn’t afford to shop in a place like Marks and Spencer’s and, even on principal, probably wouldn’t use upscale department stores. Just like everything else that was DIY, ripped up and safety-pinned together, women had to get creative about what they used for makeup and where they got it.
It’s that memory to this day that made me think what an important statement the makeup was to the movement, the identity that each wearer took on when creating their personal look. It was such an integral part to the meaning and messages of punk as art and femininity that women were trying to make. Of course the men were wearing it as well. The lines were continuing to blur from gender/blender identity, and later into the post-punk years, where even the poser boys started begging to be made up.
Whether it was about being a peacock, or a bird of paradise with a tribal/clan identity that grabbed attention, it became an integral part of the punk statement. Boots, shredded trousers or skirts, zippers everywhere, jackets, insane colored and shaped hair, vintage clothing and the makeup that brought it all together. The high-end makeup brands started taking notice, demand was coming for extreme colors as even the more mainstream women started to take notice. The reality for the punk girl was that they had to find their own makeup at discount shops or make their own on the cheap, but that was part of the fun and mystique. Don’t be like the others. The harsh reality of being in Thatcher’s and later Reagan’s economy in the US meant very few jobs or money to go around, especially for the young. Punk lyrics were filled with it, no future, no jobs, and it was hard to find a place to live. Hungry punk girls wanted to live and be alive, and be as colorful as they could. So just as life could be lived out on the music scene and record shops, by 1982 major retailers had started to catch up, and for a few months in the summer of 1982, “Punk Style”, as it had become, had even found a toe hold in High Street behemoths like M&S”.
If anyone still has a box of Toyah make-up….please send us a pic!
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