The Secret Password is Elvis Codpiece

Nicole Wornette reviews Rebel Youths, a book about '60s German hooligans and what they wore

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Assuming style is a representation of what you know and think and like on your body, these young, genuine, and would-be hooligans take it to the next level. These boys like Elvis, so they literally wear a picture of his face as a codpiece. Sure, show a gal a subculture and she’ll point out its shared references: items of clothing so coded they amount to the secret password of a clubhouse. But rarely is it ever so literal, overt, or playful as it is with Karl Heinz Weinberger’s boys, who end up being virtually indistinguishable from one another. Their look is one assembled from nods to rebellious Americana: the West, James Dean, and of course Elvis Presley. They love him most of all.

This collection of Weinberger’s photographs of young German toughs in the ’60s is a mood board for referential aggressive style. Through a mixture of studio portraits with more candid images of the gang rough-housing and loitering, as hooligans are wont to do, a few specific details catch and keep the eye.

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First, in flipping through the pages of Rebel Youth, you might think you’ve seen the face of Elvis more than the face of any one of Weinberger’s subjects. And you would be right. Large plates featuring The King’s face decorate pelvises and chests, these two areas reigning supreme as targets for decoration. Should an image seem free of Elvis’s influence, simply looking to the hairstyle of any given hood provides an echo.

But these boys are no copycats. They have managed to create something wholly new and exciting by infusing iconic references with the kind of ingenious DIY spirit and playfulness most associated with the Punk movement. Denim and leather jackets couldn’t possibly come featuring the name of their particular gang or feeling about Elvis or the West or James Dean. So they paint it on. The pelvis of their jeans couldn’t possibly be purchased with the exact kind of aggressiveness they crave. So they leave the fly open, choosing instead to thread chain or string through to hold it closed.

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Another thing is amply clear: this is a boys’ club. Though there is certainly a handful of striking photos of or featuring women, these images are softer, the women in simpler dress. They seem to follow the boys, existing to complement them, as the gentler parts to a photo of some very masculine occasion. One gets the impression that to these boys, dressing up is a kind of battle: something they do for and against one another.

Though it thoroughly documents the style of a subculture long passed into memory, Rebel Youth has timeless appeal. In viewing Weinberger’s boys, with their style and their relationship to style, one is encouraged into a kind of playfulness, to do as these boys do. Ask yourself what you love; what legends stand the tallest in your own mythology? And then wear them swollen with irony and prominently located, so no one could confuse your referential loyalties. Or don’t. But be happy that these boys did it with such toughness, enthusiasm, and humour.

photography // Serah-Marie McMahon

Living in Print

Behind the scenes of issue 16's prettily patterned photoshoot

When we first moved into our new office in the historic George Brown House in Toronto, we liked to pretend that we had stumbled onto the set of Downton Abbey. Almost every detail of this 1876 home was lovingly captured in our issue 16 photoshoot, ”Living in Print.”

Wornette Chayonika Chandra puts the power in power clashing as she blends into and boldly contrasts the walls (and floor) of our new home.

video and text // Daniel Reis
end animation // Barry Potter
photography // Lisa Kannakko
art direction // Serah-Marie McMahon and G. Stegelmann
styling // Lydia Chan and Kaya-Marisa Meadows

Nails & Males

What happens when a boy falls in love with nail polish

I started painting my nails in college, the place where lots of experimenting happens. A girl in my residence had a bag of nail polish she was going to throw out so I took it off her hands, so to speak. (First thing I learned about nail polish: the bottles last forever.) I liked the smell of it when my hands were close to my face. I didn’t need drugs to kill brain cells. The toxic fumes of my quick-dry Sally Hansen were good enough for me.

Emerald. Fuchsia. Florescent orange. Sea foam. I gravitated towards bright, Kool-Aid colours. In fact, I don’t think I ever had red nails. Nor did I paint my right hand, partially because I was only good at painting with my right hand but mostly because having only one hand done became my thing.

When I painted my nails I felt a connection to the old-school glamour of the classic films I grew up on, the Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis movies which turned me gay. I pictured the scene in the camp classic The Women (1939) in which noble Norma Shearer finds out her husband is having an affair with Joan Crawford from a gossipy manicurist, who keeps interrupting the tale of infidelity with the direction “Rinse please.” All Norma wanted were nails painted ‘Jungle Red.’

I stopped painting my nails when I graduated and I entered the overrated ‘real world.’ I got a job at a café and assumed a boy with painted nails would be breaking uniform. I had boring hands for years.

Last January, I was in New York interviewing drag queens for my article in WORN’s forthcoming Hair Issue (start getting excited). Something about the queens’ bravery and flamboyance inspired me and, at a pharmacy by Times Square, I bought a small bottle of pumpkin orange nail polish. When I came back, my boss never mentioned my nails and I decided his silence was indirect approval. I’ve only received compliments from customers, especially from women who happen to be wearing a similar shade.

But I have a problem. While I enjoy picking out colours and the act of painting my nails (again, the yummy toxic fumes) I have absolutely no patience to let them dry. I’ll do one coat, and by the time I get from thumb to pinkie, I’ll start a second one. It will look dry but then I’ll touch it and create a giant smudge. I’ll then try to cover it up with more polish, which turns my nails into a goopy mess. By the time they are actually dry and hard, instead of being proud of my acid yellow nails, I am ashamed of my lacquer’s lackluster appearance.

Then it hit me: the time to have your nails professionally painted and to wait for them to dry was the luxury that meant you were a lady. That old school glamour I interpret as camp took a lot of work. That’s why women went to the manicurist, despite all the gossip about Joan Crawford. Nail polish is a completely impractical invention which demonstrated a woman’s commitment to being pretty. Shaving legs, tweezing eyebrows, wearing overnight hair curlers, putting slices of cucumber on the eyelids—women have always had to devote more time and energy than men in order to meet society’s standards of beauty. Men are never asked to put in the same amount of effort. We don’t shave for a couple of days and people compliment our ruggedness.

By messing up my freshly-painted nail polish by impatiently pulling on my sneakers I discovered the gap between female and male beauty. Just as every man at some point should try walking in heels, guys should discover how long it takes to paint one’s nails.

There’s plenty to think about while you’re waiting for them to dry.

photography // Serah-Marie McMahon

Worn to WORN: Katie Nails It

What inspired this outfit?
I mostly wear black, but it was an exceptionally warm day, so I decided to put on this new (old) skirt from 69 Vintage which flows in the breeze really nicely. I was also going to a fashion show that evening, so I wanted to wear something a bit different from what I usually wear.

Tell me about one of the items you’re wearing.
My leather tote is from Joe Fresh and it’s my favourite thing these days. It’s perfect for packing magazines and lunches, which I bring to work daily.

What’s the best book to read in this outfit?
Hmm… I think this skirt is sort of romantic, so maybe something like My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, which is a collection of love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, or The Marriage Plot, whichever.

Shopping Credits
Shirt from Fawn, skirt from 69 Vintage, silver collar from Bicyclette, tote from Joe Fresh, bracelet by Jenny Bird, and clogs and sunglasses from Chasse Gardée [R.I.P. :(:(:(].

photography // Serah-Marie McMahon