By Matt Glazebrook, 17 June 2014
“Them a loot, them a shoot, them a wail,” complains Desmond Dekker on his classic rudeboy anthem 007 (Shanty Town), a telling off only slightly undermined by the fact that he sings it over one of the most joyful, downright cool-sounding reggae grooves ever to come out of Kingston.
The rudeboy tradition (a 1950s Jamaican street culture, based around young men doing bad things while looking super awesome) – and the sounds and styles inspired by it – are celebrated by a new exhibition at London’s Somerset House.
Return of the Rudeboy is curated by photographer Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, and runs until 25 August. Should you wish to check it out, we’ve got your primer on rudeboyism right here.
Ska and rocksteady musicians like Prince Buster (pictured), The Skatalites and The Clarendonians were the first to bring rudeboy street culture to the mainstream, with tunes that warned about sharply dressed Kingston delinquents and, in equal parts, lionised them. They also often adopted the style affectations of their subjects, hence Buster’s brilliant – and ludicrously impractical – tiny hat.
The ultimate rudeboy depiction (in the original, crime-inspired meaning of the word) came a few years later, with the 1972 film The Harder They Come. Starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, the cult classic follows a country boy's evolution into a flamboyantly dressed gangster rebel icon. Cliff's crusade against The Man is a pretty brutal affair, but damn he looks good while embarking on it.
The rudeboy look became a UK fashion phenomenon in the early 80s, when the look and sound of 60s Jamaica was revived by multicultural groups of young musicians from the Midlands like The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter (pictured). The 2 Tone groups' punk-infused take on ska style codified rudeboy cool for a new generation, replacing the celebration of outlaw swagger with anti-racist politics and inner-city social commentary.
There are couple of routes to go down when incorporating rudeboy attitude to your day-to-day look. First, there are the 2 Tone-era staples: buttoned-up Fred Perry shirts, pork pie hats, Dr Martens, skinny suits and Harrington jackets. But if that’s too prescriptive, remember that, at its heart, the rudeboy look is about combining a tough, masculine silhouette with enough self-confidence to add creative, dandyish touches like tie pins, cuff links, jaunty hats, pocket squares and scarves. Looting and shooting are strictly optional.