‘Well put together’: the style legacy of lovers rock

Early on in Steve McQueen’s film Lovers Rock, two girls arrive at a party. The man on the door, impressed with their outfits, lets them in for nothing. “It’s lovely to have such well put together ladies,” he says. “Well put together” could be the motto for the style of the lovers rock scene in the black British community of the 70s and early 80s: frilled dresses, smart suits and “done” hair were central. The narrative here, a sweet love story with extended dance sequences to Janet Kay’s 1979 hit Silly Games, as well as Carl Douglas’s Kung-Fu Fighting, is even more evocative thanks to a look that feels glamorous and also new.

Unlike the fashion around other reggae subgenres – the sharp suits of ska, say, or the red, gold and green of roots – this look has not seen much screen time before. “It was quite hard to find any reference for at all,” says Jacqueline Durran, the film’s costume designer. To learn more, she spoke to the cast’s parents for their memories of clothes at the time. “I started to think how brilliant it was to see a style that has not really been appropriated or taken up in fashion in the years after.”

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