80s New Romantics | An Iconic Fashion Movement

The 80s New Romantics movement, a charismatic underground iconic subculture that began in the late 1970s in the UK. Its roots can be traced back to the vibrant nightclub scene, with hotspots like Billy's and The Blitz in London and Birmingham.

80s New Romantics | An Iconic Fashion Movement
80s New Romantics

The 80s New Romantics Movement: A Tale of Fashion, Music, and Culture

Welcome to the world of the 80s New Romantics! This was an influential movement that emerged in the UK during the early 1980s, characterized by its unique fusion of fashion, music, and culture. It was a time when bold self-expression and extravagant style were celebrated, and artists and individuals pushed the boundaries of traditional norms.

The Birth of a Movement

80s picture of Bryan Ferry

The New Romantics movement was born out of the post-punk era, as a reaction against the mainstream music and fashion scene. Artists like David Bowie and Bryan Ferry paved the way for this new wave of creativity with their eccentric personas and experimental sound. The movement drew inspiration from the decadence of 1920s and 1930s fashion and combined it with futuristic elements, creating a distinct look that was both glamorous and avant-garde.

Glam Rock Influence

Glam Rock, darling, was the sassy elder sibling of the New Romantics, parading around in the limelight of the early '70s right before the New Romantics strutted onto the scene. Its ostentatious style, theatrical performances, and hedonistic attitudes set a wild precedent that the New Romantics were only too happy to follow.

David Bowie applying his face make-up

Key Glam Rockers, such as David Bowie and Marc Bolan, were revered as demi-gods by the New Romantics. Bowie, with his androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona and fearless exploration of genres, wasn't just an influence - he was practically the movement's patron saint! The Glam Rock emphasis on flamboyant fashion, glitter, and make-up was wholeheartedly embraced and further evolved by the New Romantics, exemplified by bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. It's safe to say, without Glam Rock, the New Romantics might just have been a tad less... well, romantic!

London and Birmingham: The Twin Turbo Engines

Princess Julia & Boy George at The Blitz club

If you're looking for the beating heart of the New Romantics movement, then 'Allo gov'nor, welcome to London and Birmingham! These cities were the twin engines powering the movement, propelling the New Romantics to dizzying heights of popularity.

In London, the nightlife played midwife to the movement with clubs like the Blitz and the Batcave setting the pace. Home to the 'Blitz Kids', these clubs were a kaleidoscopic playground for those seeking to escape the mundanity of everyday life. Imagine it, sequins, shoulder pads, and gender-bending fashion lighting up the dance floor, while synth-pop, the movement's signature sound, reverberated through the walls.

The Blitz: The Progenitor of the New Romantics

outside The Blitz club

The Blitz: A club that has become synonymous with the New Romantics movement in the annals of pop culture history. Quite the paradox, it was, nestled away in the heart of Covent Garden. From the outside, just another unassuming wine bar; on the inside, a veritable fashion runway and musical hotspot.

This was the place where the ‘Blitz Kids’ congregated, a group of young, artsy individuals who were eager to express their creativity and break free from societal norms. It wasn't just a club, it was a catwalk, a stage, a hotbed for new talent. The Blitz was to New Romantics what the Batcave was to vampires, only with less blood-sucking and more synth-pop.

Steve Strange and Julia at The Blitz Club 1980

Here, the likes of Boy George, Marilyn, and Steve Strange would strut their stuff under the strobe lights, their vibrant and exaggerated fashion statements as much a staple of the Blitz experience as the music itself. They weren't just party-goers, they were trend-setters, pioneers, the vanguard of a cultural revolution.

The music? A euphonious blend of electronica and pop, underscored by the futuristic, other-worldly sounds of the synthesiser. This was the soundtrack to the New Romantic movement, echoing through the corridors of the Blitz and spilling out onto the streets of London. The Blitz wasn't just a club, it was the birthplace of a cultural phenomenon.

Birmingham: The Unsung Hero of the Movement

Now, let's take a quick jaunt up the M40 to Birmingham, often overlooked in favour of its glitzier sibling, London. But don't let the understated reputation fool you, Brum was as much a driving force behind the New Romantics movement as the Big Smoke.

You see, while London was busy with its laces and frills, Birmingham was synthesising a sound. Bands like Duran Duran and Dexys Midnight Runners were born out of the city's vibrant music scene, their unique blend of synth-pop and soul music adding a new dimension to the New Romantics sound.

The Rum Runner Club: Birmingham's New Romantic Hub

Duran Duran’s first gig at the Rum Runner: Birmingham

Right, let's take a closer look at the Rum Runner, shall we? Tucked away on Broad Street, this club was to Birmingham what the Blitz was to London - a breeding ground for artistic innovation and cultural rebellion.

The Rum Runner was a club ahead of its time, sporting a state-of-the-art video screen and a DJ booth encased in perspex. Imagine that! It was like stepping into the future, and the future was wearing a ruffled shirt with shoulder pads. The club was named after a whiskey smuggling ship from the Prohibition era, a nod to the rebellious spirit that would come to define the 80s New Romantics.

Rick P. Jones (Swans Way) & DJ Dick - Rum Runner 1982

Much like its London counterpart, the Rum Runner was a hotbed for local talent. It was here that the band Duran Duran was formed, practising during the day and performing at night. The club was their launchpad, propelling them to international fame.

Duran Duran wasn't the only band to grace the Rum Runner's stage though. The club was also home to Dexys Midnight Runners, another influential band known for their melodic blend of soul-pop and new wave. This was a club that nurtured talent, a club that championed the New Romantic aesthetic and sound.

Outside of the club Rum Runner

But it wasn't just about the music, oh no. The Rum Runner was also a hub for fashion. The club's patrons embraced the New Romantic's love for flamboyant, androgynous fashion, making it an integral part of their identity.

The club was a beacon for the New Romantics, its pulsating energy and vibrant atmosphere encapsulating the essence of the movement. It was a place where individuals could express themselves freely, using fashion and music as their language. The Rum Runner was more than just a club - it was an incubator for the New Romantic movement in Birmingham, and its influence can still be felt today.

1987: The End of an Era

A night out with friends at The Rum Runner Club

In '87, the heart of Birmingham's New Romantic scene skipped a beat. The iconic Rum Runner Club, once teeming with the relentless energy of the city's most audacious and creative individuals, fell silent. The club was demolished to make way for the construction of an office block. The loss was devastating for the city's vibrant nightlife scene and marked the end of an unforgettable era. The walls that had once reverberated with the eclectic beats of synth-pop and New Wave were reduced to rubble, burying with them countless stories of artistic innovation, cultural rebellion, and unforgettable late-night shenanigans. Yet, while the physical embodiment of the Rum Runner may have been silenced, its spirit lived on, reverberating through the city's clubs and pubs, its influence still palpable within Birmingham's nightlife scene. Indeed, the end of the Rum Runner was not the end of the New Romantic movement in Birmingham, far from it. It merely marked a new chapter, a transition from a physical space to a cultural ethos, deeply ingrained in the city's DNA. Seemingly, you can demolish a building, but you can't tear down a legacy.

A Blue Plaque Tribute: Honouring Birmingham's New Romantic Heartbeat

Birmingham Civic Society Rum Runner club iconic blue plaqueFast forward to the 16th of December, 2022, and the site of the Rum Runner club, now an unassuming office block, witnessed a nostalgic nod to its illustrious past. Birmingham Civic Society, renowned for recognising and immortalising the city's historical significance, bestowed upon the site an iconic blue plaque. A simple, yet profound, cerulean marker that stands as a testament to the club's unique influence and pivotal role in Birmingham's cultural landscape.

The plaque serves as a tangible tribute, a permanent reminder of the seismic impact this establishment had on the city's nightlife, music, and fashion scene. It proudly proclaims to passers-by that this was the birthplace of something extraordinary – a cultural revolution that resonated far beyond the city's borders. Despite its understated appearance, this office block once pulsed with the rhythm of the 80s New Romantics, a rhythm that continues to echo in the city's vibrant present. 

The unveiling of the blue plaque was a poignant event, prompting a wave of nostalgia amongst the city's denizens. It was a thought-provoking encounter with the past, a reminder that beneath Birmingham's ever-evolving urban landscape lies a rich tapestry of stories, an intricate network of cultural threads that have woven together to create the diverse and dynamic city we know today.

Strutting the Catwalk: Fashion, Clothes, Hair, and Makeup of the New Romantics Era

New romantics with big hair styles

The New Romantics movement was as much about the visual as it was about the auditory. The fashion, clothes, hair, and makeup of the era were flamboyantly expressive, reflecting the movement's ethos of individualism and creativity. Let's take a strut down the catwalk and explore the unique style aesthetic of the era.

Fashion during the New Romantics era was a wild and exciting mix of past and future. Drawing inspiration from periods like the Victorian era, the 1920s flapper era, and the futuristic sci-fi genre, the fashion was a mishmash of frilly shirts, velvet blazers, high-waisted trousers, and metallic fabrics. 

Clothes were often oversized, with broad shoulders and exaggerated silhouettes. There was a love for drama and embellishments, with clothing adorned with sequins, ruffles, and lace. The look was often completed with accessories like pearl necklaces, brooches, and oversized belts.

Adam and the Ants backstage at the Birmingham OdeonThe hairstyle of the New Romantics was as distinctive as the clothing. Wild, gravity-defying hairdos were the order of the day, with artists like Boy George and A Flock of Seagulls' Mike Score sporting some of the most iconic hairstyles of the era. The hair was often dyed in bright colours, teased up to incredible heights, and styled in unconventional ways.

Makeup, too, played a crucial role in the New Romantics look. Heavy eyeliner, brightly coloured eyeshadows, and bold lip colours were the norm. The makeup was often theatrical, with artists such as Steve Strange and Siouxsie Sioux pushing the boundaries of what was considered socially acceptable at the time.

Overall, the fashion, clothes, hair, and makeup of the New Romantics era embodied the movement's spirit of rebellion and individualism. It was a bold and unapologetic expression of identity, a visual language that spoke of a generation yearning to break free from convention and explore new forms of self-expression.

The Starman's Influence: David Bowie and the New Romantics

David Bowie smoking a cigarette on a break from filming MFE in New Mexico 1975.

Let's have a little chinwag about our mate, David Bowie, shall we? Bowie was the glittering North Star in the New Romantics' universe, a beacon of fearless creativity and boundary-pushing artistry. He was the cornerstone in the foundation of the New Romantics movement - not just a musician, but an icon, an inspiration, the very embodiment of the movement's ethos.

Bowie's eclectic style, androgynous aesthetic, and innovative musical fusion of rock, pop, and electronic music laid the blueprint for the New Romantics. His groundbreaking album, "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" only solidified his influence, offering a new sonic landscape that the New Romantics would eagerly explore and expand upon.

His music, his fashion, his fearless embrace of individuality and non-conformity – it all resonated deeply with the New Romantics. Bowie's theatricality, his knack for reinvention, and his daring explorations into the unknown territories of music and fashion were greatly admired by the likes of Boy George, Steve Strange, and Duran Duran. They saw in Bowie a mirror of their own aspirations – to push the envelope, to challenge norms, to be unapologetically themselves.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust during the 1970s

Bowie's influence on the New Romantics was more than just inspirational, it was transformational. His impact can be seen in the flamboyant, androgynous fashion that became the movement's trademark, in the synth-pop sound that defined its music, and in the rebellious, non-conformist spirit that fuelled its fire.

The legacy of Bowie's influence is still evident today, visible in the works of modern artists who continue to draw inspiration from his groundbreaking oeuvre. So, when we talk about the New Romantics, we can't overlook the pivotal role that Bowie played. After all, without the Starman guiding the way, the New Romantics might have never found their path to stardom.

Well-Known New Wave Bands and Artists: A Deep Dive into their Bio

Duran Duran poster

Duran Duran

Duran Duran, formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England, was a quintessential New Romantic band. The original members were Nick Rhodes (keyboards), John Taylor (bass), Roger Taylor (drums), Andy Taylor (guitar), and Simon Le Bon (lead vocals). With their intoxicating blend of synth-pop, punk, and rock, Duran Duran topped charts globally and became a symbol of the New Romantics movement. Their music videos were cutting edge, featuring a blend of music and high-concept visual storytelling, and were instrumental in transforming music video production into a veritable art form.

Spandau Ballet poster

Spandau Ballet

Another titan of the New Romantics movement, Spandau Ballet, originated in London in 1979. Comprising Gary Kemp (guitar), Martin Kemp (bass), Tony Hadley (vocals), Steve Norman (saxophone), and John Keeble (drums), the quintet brought an elegant, romantic edge to the New Wave scene. Known for their polished pop sound and flamboyant fashion, Spandau Ballet achieved international acclaim with hits like "True" and "Gold." They were a staple of the 80s music scene and the epitome of New Romantic glamour.

The Human League poster

The Human League

The Human League, formed in Sheffield in 1977, was a pioneering force in the synth-pop genre, a cornerstone of the New Romantics movement. The band initially comprised Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh, and Philip Oakey, and later included Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Their breakthrough came with their album 'Dare', which featured the global hit "Don't You Want Me." The Human League’s sound was characterized by heavy synth layers underpinning catchy pop melodies, a defining sound of the era.

Culture Club poster

Culture Club

Culture Club, formed in London in 1981, was another key player in the New Romantics scene. Fronted by the charismatic Boy George, the band included Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, and Jon Moss. They skyrocketed to fame with their unique blend of pop, soul, and reggae, and visually, they epitomized the New Romantic aesthetic. With hits like "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and "Karma Chameleon," Culture Club left an indelible mark on the 80s pop culture landscape. Their music and style were a perfect fit for the New Romantics movement, and their legacy continues to inspire artists today.

A Flock of Seagulls poster from the 1980s

A Flock of Seagulls

A Flock of Seagulls is another name synonymous with the New Romantics movement. Formed in Liverpool in 1979, the band was comprised of brothers Mike Score (lead vocals, keyboards) and Ali Score (drums), with Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar). Their music was a unique blend of electronic new wave and synth-pop, and their aesthetic was defined by futuristic fashion and distinct hairstyles, particularly Mike Score's iconic seagull-winged hairdo. They achieved international success with tracks like "I Ran (So Far Away)" and "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)". A Flock of Seagulls' sound, style, and flair made them a staple of the New Romantics scene and one of the definitive bands of the '80s.

A Symphony in Synth: The Songs and Record Producers of the New Romantics Era

Fade to GreyIn the grand tapestry of the New Romantics era, songs and record producers played crucial roles, fabricating the distinctive sound that came to define the movement. Let's take a gander at some of the most influential tunes and the maestros behind the mixing desk.

"Fade to Grey" by Visage, a band led by the iconic Blitz Club's gatekeeper Steve Strange, was a landmark tune. The song, with its haunting lyrics and ethereal synth soundscape, exemplified the New Romantic aesthetic. It was co-produced by Midge Ure, whose dexterity behind the production deck was instrumental in shaping the sound of the New Romantics.

Don't You Want MeDuran Duran's "Rio," produced by Colin Thurston, was another sonic masterpiece. It epitomised the band's lush, vibrant style, with its infectious, danceable rhythms, soaring vocals, and lush synth layers. Thurston, a veteran producer, deftly balanced the band's rock roots with their experimental forays into synth-pop, crafting an album that would become a New Romantic classic.

Speaking of classics, we can't overlook "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League. Produced by Martin Rushent, the song was a perfect example of synth-pop at its finest. Rushent, a visionary producer, harnessed the band's synth-driven sound, blending it with a pop sensibility that made the record a chart-topping success.

Spandau Ballet’s True

Spandau Ballet’s “True,” produced by Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, captured the romantic spirit of the movement with its soulful lyrics and soft, emotive melodies. Swain and Jolley were known for their slick, polished production style, which helped Spandau Ballet transition from their earlier punk-infused sound to the more sophisticated pop sound that defined their most successful years.

In the world of the New Romantics, record producers did more than just twiddle knobs and slide faders – they were architects of sound, crafting the sonic landscapes that would come to define an era. From the ethereal synth soundscapes of Visage to the polished pop of Spandau Ballet, these songs and record producers left an indelible mark on the New Romantics movement. Their influence can still be heard in the music of today, echoing through the decades like a timeless synth riff.

The Power Brokers: Record labels of the New Romantics Era

EMI Records logo

Record labels were the power brokers of the music industry during the New Romantics era, shaping the direction of the movement and providing the platform for artists to reach a global audience.

EMI Records, with its stable of artists including Duran Duran, played a significant role in the commercial success of the New Romantics. EMI's ability to market and distribute their artists' music globally helped to establish the band as global superstars.

Chrysalis Records, the label behind Spandau Ballet, was another key player. Recognising the band's potential, Chrysalis provided the resources and support that enabled Spandau Ballet to transition from a punk-inspired band to pop icons of the New Romantic movement.

Chrysalis Records logoVirgin Records, the home of Culture Club and Human League, was at the forefront of the synth-pop and New Romantics movement. Branson's label was known for its risk-taking approach and willingness to sign unconventional acts. This approach paid dividends, as both the Human League and Culture Club enjoyed massive success.

ZTT Records logoZTT Records, founded by producer Trevor Horn, journalist Paul Morley, and businesswoman Jill Sinclair, had a profound influence on the sound of the era. Horn, known for his innovative production techniques, helped to define the sound of the 80s and the New Romantics movement.

These record labels not only provided a platform for the artists of the New Romantics era but also played a critical role in defining the sound and aesthetic of the movement. They were the power brokers, the gatekeepers, and the tastemakers of the New Romantics era. Their influence can still be seen in the modern music industry, with many adopting their strategies for discovering and nurturing new artists.

The Visual Symphony: Music Videos and MTV

The 80s New Romantics era coincided with the rise of another cultural phenomenon - music videos. This burgeoning form of media expression found its perfect platform in MTV, a cable channel launched in 1981 dedicated solely to music. Suddenly, the visual presentation of music became just as important as the audio, and the New Romantics, with their flamboyant style and theatricality, were perfectly positioned to take advantage of this new medium.

Duran Duran's "Rio" is a prime example. The music video, directed by Russell Mulcahy, was filmed on the exotic beaches of Antigua and showcased the band's lavish lifestyle. It was colourful, glamorous, and utterly intoxicating, just like the New Romantics movement itself. Duran Duran's "Hungry like the Wolf", with its Indiana Jones-inspired narrative and exotic locale, was another MTV favourite. These visually stunning music videos helped cement Duran Duran's global superstar status.

Culture Club's

Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" music video, featuring Boy George with his distinctive androgynous look, pushed cultural boundaries and challenged the conventional notions of gender and fashion. The video's impact was transformative, opening the door for future artists to express their identity freely.

Adam and the Ants’ "Prince Charming" video was another game-changer. It was an avant-garde blend of theatre, pantomime, and pop culture, reflecting the band's flamboyant and eclectic style. This visual spectacle was a perfect match for MTV's format and helped to elevate the band's popularity.

In essence, music videos served as a visual extension of the New Romantics ethos, a canvas upon which artists could paint their lavish and colourful visions. The rise of MTV provided these artists with a global platform to reach a wider audience, one that extended beyond the clubs and record stores of their local scenes. As a result, the New Romantics movement, with its fusion of music, fashion, and visual art, left an indelible mark on the landscape of popular culture.

The Resounding Echo of New Romantics Music

Collage of music artists

The movement was a sonic revolution, transforming the soundscape of pop culture and leaving an indelible mark on the music industry. Bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, and Visage were at the forefront of this movement, their melodic fusion of pop and electronic music setting the tone for the New Romantics sound.

The music was an enchanting mix of futuristic synths and classic pop melodies, creating a sound that was unique, eccentric, and utterly captivating. Their tracks were chart-toppers, their lyrics poetry, and their music videos - oh, don't get me started on the music videos! They were theatrical, extravagant, and visually spectacular, perfectly encapsulating the movement's ethos of flamboyance and individuality.

Early picture of the rock band The Killers

But the influence of the New Romantics' music didn't stop at the charts. It permeated every aspect of pop culture, from film soundtracks to television, from fashion runways to advertising. Their music was the backdrop to the 80s - the defining sound of a decade.

And it didn't stop there. The sonic legacy of the New Romantics can still be heard today, their influence echoing through the music of contemporary artists like Lady Gaga, The Killers, and La Roux. Their synth-pop sound, characterised by rich, layered textures and catchy hooks, lives on in today's pop music. The New Romantics didn't just create music – they created a musical revolution that continues to resonate. So, put on your best frilly shirt, crank up the synth-pop and let's keep dancing to the beat of the New Romantics.

The Setting Sun: The Decline of the New Romantics

Adam and the Ants and Boy George collage

However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. By the mid-1980s, the New Romantics movement began to decline. The once fresh and innovative sound started to feel overplayed and commercialised. Some of the original fans began to grow disillusioned as more mainstream pop acts adopted the New Romantic style, robbing it of its rebellious edge. The music industry, ever fickle, was also turning its attention to new genres, like hip-hop and house music.

The fashion aspect of the movement suffered a similar fate. Aspects of the New Romantics' distinctive style were adopted by mainstream fashion, gradually diluting the movement's unique aesthetic. Moreover, the economic difficulties of the late 80s meant that the flamboyance and excess of the New Romantics' style were increasingly out of step with the times.

Chris Sullivan with Michele Clapton 80sDespite its decline, the cultural impact of the New Romantics movement cannot be underestimated. It didn't merely fade away into the annals of pop history, but left an indelible mark on the worlds of music, fashion, and popular culture. The movement's influence still echoes through the corridors of contemporary pop culture, with many current artists and trends reflective of its legacy. Even though the sun has set on the era of the New Romantics, its influence continues to shine bright.

The Lasting Legacy of the New Romantics

Harry Styles wearing dress

Even after several decades, the influence of the New Romantics continues to reverberate in the annals of pop culture. Though the movement faded, its concept of radical individuality and artistic freedom has, in many ways, become a rite of passage for the artists that followed. It transformed the music industry, changed the way we perceive fashion, and revolutionised the concept of music videos, influencing artists across the globe. Today, traces of New Romanticism can be seen in the music of acts like The 1975 and Charli XCX, and in the fashion choices of celebrities like Harry Styles, signalling a resurgence of the New Romantic spirit. As we look back, the New Romantics era stands as a testament to the power of creativity and self-expression, a flamboyant, colourful chapter in the annals of popular culture. As the saying goes, "you can take the boy out of the 80s, but you can't take the 80s out of the boy!" So, let's raise a toast to the New Romantics, for they didn't just embrace a movement, they created a legacy that will be remembered for generations to come.