What my research is about

This post will explain a little about me and the work I’m doing on the history of motorcycle clothing at the London College of Fashion.

If you’re reading this then I ought to thank you first for taking the time to check out my research project; I’m very grateful. I hope that it will be of at least some interest to readers and that it will perhaps prove to be a good way for me to meet motorcyclists and to document their own personal histories.

At the time of writing, I’m a 38 year old motorcyclist, a volunteer with bloodrunning charity SERV Kent (www.servkent.org) and a part time PhD student at the London College of Fashion researching the history of motorcycle clothing. The study focuses on the period from 1945 to 1965 and how motorcycle clothing evolves in the post War period to become a focal point for the media, with newspapers in the 1960s printing headlines such as “Wild Ones Beat Up Margate”, “Wild Ones Invade Seaside” and “Battle of Brighton”.

Daily Mirror (March 30, 1964) Wild Ones Invade Seaside

Daily Mirror (May 18, 1964) Wild Ones 'Beat up' Margate

I’m not looking to write a book, make a film or make any money out of this, I have another job and I’d rather do that to earn pennies and keep my academic study as a hobby, albeit one I take very seriously. I mention this because I know a lot of people are working on existing projects to make films and write books about the 60s motorcycle cultures and it would be completely counterproductive for me to try to compete with them. I’m a college researcher, not an author or filmmaker, and that suits me just fine.

Others have done a better job that I could ever do of documenting the Rockers / Ton up Boy subcultures.  Excellent books like Mick Duckworth’s Ace Times, Johnny Stuart’s ROCKERS! and a whole host of websites contribute to a great record of motorcycling history. My work is slightly different. I’m doing a purely academic Oral History project over the next 4 years to record the memories, experiences and opinions of motorcyclists from all walks of life. The primary objective is to interview older motorcyclists about how they started riding, how clothing choices were made and how they perceived themselves as riders dressed a particular way. The study takes into account the functional nature of the clothing and the way some garments (i.e. leather jackets) became fashionable whilst acting as signifiers of delinquency and Moral Panic as featured in Stan Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics, a great book setting the facts straight about the newspaper hype on Mods and Rockers. Cohen’s book is the end point for the study I’m doing; how  do we end up at a place where young men in motorcycle clothing are perceived as a threat to the order and stability in society? I take into account the films like the Leather Boys, Some People and even older films like No Limit with George Formby. We share a hometown, Wigan, it would be rude not to sneak him in there somewhere given he made a film that is still shown at the TT nearly 80 years later!

Formby-ShuttleworthDM

I’m looking for people who started riding before 1965, though not exclusively, as I know from chatting to some riders that the age they started riding legally with a licence and the age they actually started riding might have been different! Ideally I’d like to talk to men and women from all walks of life for about an hour about their background, motorcycling experience and the clothing they wore. Participants can choose to be anonymous if they prefer, and the only stipulation the College puts on me is that I can’t meet you at your home. We have to do a risk assessment as part of our research proposal and College rules say no home visits but I promise to buy cups tea at a convenient place for the interviewees, be they individuals or groups.  Participants will be contributing to a valuable and unique academic study. If I get to meet some of the people who volunteered doing blood deliveries in the 1960s, even better, but it isn’t essential.

If you or anyone else you know might be interested in talking to me, please email me at tdarrowsmith@gmail.com or call me on 07767 701920.

So how did I end up here?

Late in 2007 I was in Paris on a sneaky weekend away with my partner. One night I found myself so inebriated that I decided it would be a good idea to propose to her. She was clearly in a similar state of confusion as she foolishly agreed.

As we later planned the various components of the ceremony, I thought it might be nice to avoid all the nonsense of hired morning suits and chintzy waistcoats. They never fit properly and the resulting photos look bloody awful. So I did the decent thing and spent some of the money on a bespoke suit. Flush with cash from the apartment I’d just sold, I walked into the little tailor’s shop near my office in Kent and nervously enquired about getting a suit made.

It turned out that the tailor had spent many years working on Savile Row. He encouraged me to borrow a book: The Savile Row Story: An Illustrated History. I found it fascinating, bought some other books about the history of men’s fashion and gradually started forming the idea that it might be nice to study something in this area at a college. After all, I’d just finished two nightschool courses in car maintenance – Basic and Advanced, serious stuff – so I was primed and ready for the big time! A quick search online for suitable courses only brought up one option: London College of Fashion’s MA in History & Culture of Fashion. Assuming I had a background inadequate for their entry requirements I emailed to ask what I would need to do to prepare for an application. The reply from the Course Director (the author of a book I had just read) encouraged me to apply, so I did.

After sending an application, an interview, submission of a short written piece and a bit of a wait, I got a letter with an unconditional offer to start the MA. I was that chuffed I even blubbed a bit. Five years on I’m still at LCF with 4 years of a part time PhD left to go.

The tailor? He made a beautiful suit and we’ve become very good friends. He now sends me texts with the filthiest jokes you could ever imagine….