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“A New Romantic looking for the TV sound/You’ll see I’m right some other time” - Planet Earth, Duran Duran

New Romantic was a pop culture movement that originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. It was directly influenced and inspired by early 70s Glam Rock, especially David Bowie and Roxy Music.

It emerged from the nightclub scene in London and Birmingham at venues such as Billy's and The Blitz. The New Romantic movement was characterized by flamboyant, eccentric fashion inspired by fashion boutiques such as Kahn and Bell in Birmingham and PX in London. Early adherents of the movement were often referred to by the press by such names as Blitz Kids, New Dandies and Romantic Rebels.

Aesthetically it was a broad genre. The most famous visually is a Rococo, Glam Rock, and Native American inspired style perpetrated by Vivienne Westwood. The second is a suave, glamorous, futuristic detective mien likely inspired by David Bowie during his Thin White Duke phase, as well as Kraftwerk and Krautrock in general.

New Romantic went on to influence the early Goth/Deathrock scenes and even the nascent Visual Kei, but itself ended in the mid 80s after the advent of LiveAid.

It is particularly remarkable for being one of the few completely androgynous fashion movements, as there were no bounds as to what was worn by either gender. Interestingly, this was done purely in the name of self-expression and had no solid gender-political influence, which was in a show of separation from the ever politicized UK Punk. (Another one of the major influential aspects to OG Goth.)

It can be considered a precursor to modern “pretty boy” bands, particularly those in J-Pop and K-Pop. (The members of Japan and Duran Duran being the most important visual “missing-links” with Japanese and Korean boy bands.) These men are called Khonminam (flower boys) and are popular with people in the Hallyu/Koreawave aesthetic.

New Romantic briefly resurfaced in Britain as “Roma” in the early 90s.

In the modern era, the Synthpop that was once under the New Romantic banner has come to influence 80s-inspired neo-retro aesthetics such as seen in Cyberpunk and Synthwave.

Aesthetic

Rococopunk

This variation mostly originated with Vivienne Westwood’s designs and The Blitz club. It was marked by a post-modern hybridization and romanticization of world culture and traditional clothing with punk and proto-goth. Their music was primarily post-punk and blue-eyed soul.

Adam and the Ants were major icons for this style. In Adam’s case this was a hybrid of imagery inspired by British punk, pirates, highwaymen, Celt and Native American regalia, and Romantic era paintings. Another influencer was Bow Wow Wow and their lead singer Annabella, who were also dressed by Westwood.

Other variants were seen in Culture Club (Boy George’s look was a hybrid of Japanese-and-Hasidic Jew influenced with 80s high fashion) and Visage (Steve Strange’s style was a mix of Pierrot-theater-costumes and Spanish bullfighter uniforms). In their early days even Spandau Ballet wore kilts and Duran Duran wore sashes and poet shirts.

It was extremely creative in its mismatch of styles, which is why it was important in the development of Goth, Deathrock, and Visual Kei. (Even their idol David Bowie was influenced by the New Romantics in his music video for “Ashes to Ashes”.)

Sophistipop

This is a sleeker, albeit often equally androgynous, take on the style. It was marked by suave suits (sometimes in unusual fabrics like gold lamé or leather) and by an glamorously upper-class influenced aesthetic. It typically featured darkly romantic cityscapes, wandering the streets at night, in the rain and the snow. Their music was primarily synthpop and blue-eyed soul.

Bands like ABC and (later) Spandau Ballet embraced an elegant, jazzy imagery that took place in the upper class, though casinos and theaters in a hyper-stylized world. Meanwhile, Ultravox and (later) Visage were more romantic, with Gothic architecture, the ballet, masquerades, and trains in the snow.

Bands like Japan evolved from glam rock to cyberpunk to a sort of proto-City Pop/Future Funk aesthetic. Their Japanese cohorts Masami Tschyuia, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Akiko Yano, and Sandii and the Sunsetz embraced this 80s/90s anime-esque imagery just as well. (The manga 8Beat Gag displays this clearly.)

Gary Numan, who came before the New Romantic scene, became an originator of Cyberpunk by his hybridization of Film Noir and science fiction in the vein of Phillip K. Dick.

This is a lesser-known facet of New Romantic culture, but was equally important to its development and the development of aesthetics like Vaporwave, Synthwave, Future Funk, and, of course, Cyberpunk.

Fashion

Often highly exaggerated and borderline costume.

Shared Aspects

  • Androgyny
  • Poet sleeves
  • Billowy pants
  • Oversized clothing
  • Vivid colors (often primary)
  • Theatrical makeup (sometimes tribal)
  • Bright hair dye
  • Metallic sequins and lamé
  • Dress shoes
  • Sashes (like swashbucklers)
  • Patterned scarves
  • Heavily teased hair


More Rococopunk Styles

  • Pirate influences
  • Byronesque
  • Romantic-era inspired clothing
  • Braids/ribbons
  • Heavy brocade and velvet
  • Military jackets
  • Kimonos
  • Headdresses
  • Point-toe boots
  • Pierrot costumes (like Bowie in his “Ashes to Ashes” video)
  • Inspired by Native American, Japanese, and Celtic traditional clothing

More Sophistipop Styles

  • Suits (worn by men and women)
  • Ties and bow ties
  • Dark sunglasses
  • Trenchcoats
  • Fedora hats
  • Leather gloves
  • Japanese school shoes
  • Tuxedo jackets (sometimes cropped)
  • Quirky, subtle prints
  • Collarless button-up shirts

Music

New Romantic music was primarily the synthpop and post-punk music that was popular in 1980s UK.

Bands

  • Duran Duran
  • Japan
  • Spandau Ballet
  • The Human League
  • Ultravox
  • ABC
  • Culture Club
  • Bow Wow Wow
  • Visage
  • Adam and the Ants
  • Heaven 17
  • Eurythmics
  • Soft Cell
  • Gary Numan
  • Alphaville
  • Propaganda
  • Arcadia
  • Scritti Politti
  • OMD
  • Classics Nouveaux
  • Kajagoogoo
  • Blancmange
  • Yazoo
  • The Passions
  • Bryan Ferry
  • John Foxx
  • Building Beauty
  • Marilyn
  • Sade
  • Masami Tsuchiya
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • China Crisis
  • Art of Parties
  • The Associates

Other

Manga

  • 8Beat Gag (an 80s era Japanese crackfic-manga centered on Japan the Band)

Gallery

References

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