Rudeboys emerged from the Kingston ghettos in the late 1950s. These young men battled on the streets with a dangerous swagger, prompting Bob Marley to urge them to ‘Settle Down’ on the Wailers’ debut single in 1963. The image of the confident rudie in a sharp suit, porkpie hat, skinny tie and good shoes has made its presence felt in fashion and music ever since. Wound up in the first wave of Jamaican immigration to the UK, this style influenced everyone from mods and skinheads to the 2 Tone / ska movement. Now a new generation of impeccably dressed rudies have inspired an exhibition by noted photographer/filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director/stylist Harris Elliott.
Return Of The Rudeboy at Somerset House features 60 photographic portraits of creatives who have reinvented and refined this sartorial subculture for the modern day. The likes of designer Charlie Casely-Hayford, musician Seye Adelekan and DJ Don Letts feature alongside rudegirl stylists Cynthia Lawrence John, Ayishat Akanbi and Zoe Badeaux, proving that now being a rudie surpasses gender, race and geography. The essential wardrobe stays the same but then, as today, what makes a rudie is the poised attitude as much as the clothes on his or her back.
“I first became aware of the rudeboy in the 1980s. The term not only defined the way they dressed, had their hair styled and danced, but also brought with it all manner of assumptions and cultural signifiers,” says Chalkley, who spent a year curating these exclusive images with Harris. “I soon became aware that the heritage went back several decades and was rich and fascinating. It is thrilling to observe the new generations of rudies walking tall and confident, and looking every part as impressive as the sharpest of their forefathers.”
The exhibition also features installations by shoe maverick Mr Hare and travelling tailors Art Comes First, specially commissioned ‘Sunday Best’ hat boxes by Kitty Farrow and celebrity hair stylist Johnnie Sapong’s pop-up We Are Cuts barbershop – plus films and soundtracks – all exploring the life and style of the rudie. Rihanna had it all wrong; rudeboys don’t “giddy up”, they glide through the streets like hot knives through butter.
Return Of The Rudeboy, until August 25th, Somerset House, London.
Images: Dean Chalkley. Creative direction Harris Elliott.
Words: Helen Jennings