Conversations The Bureau

The Bureau: Tony Sylvester

By Drake's

Jul 13, 2022

The Bureau: Tony Sylvester

Menswear Writer, Turbonegro Singer, Umbrella Enthusiast.

I grew up on the suburbs of North West London. So suburban in fact, that if you looked one way there was the city, look the other and there were fields. It was frustrating to feel like you were on the periphery of things. in retrospect, I feel lucky to have grown up where & when I did but at the time it felt like I was missing out on everything. I had two older sisters so after devouring their record collections, I was looking for something to really hang my identity on; and the second wave of American hardcore came along in the mid 80s which I found out about via skating - Thrasher Magazine to be specific. Hardcore as a culture seemed pretty alien. As this was pre-internet, the information was drip fed sporadically via records and fanzines, which made it all the more enticing. The look was definitely a reaction against the gutter culture of punk and incorporated the jock vibe of skating, military style, a little hip hop swagger, and then this clean cut Ivy League Varsity vibe. I was hooked. I think a lot of that still informs my look today. 

Even at 43 years old, and having got into a plethora of other things and taken on a lifetime of influences, I still consider myself a hardcore kid at heart. It gave me independence at a really young age - going to shows at 13/14, travelling the country by coach at 15, networking with other kids, then leaving home at 16 - promoting shows, forming bands, putting out records, booking tours and so on. And I think that's how it was for every kid - you had to get involved, it fosters engagement. There's not much difference I don't think between the hardcore kids in Britain in the 80s and all the UK youth cultures that proceeding them: we were consuming imported records, imported clothes and then using that as a springboard to starting bands and creating our own scene: no different to the blues kids 30 years previous or the mods the next decade. I was stoked to see hardcore kids on the pages of The Bag I'm In with all the other British youth tribes - felt like a validation. 

In a roundabout way, I became the singer for [Norwegian rock & roll band] Turbonegro through hardcore. The chaps in the band are the same age, and grew up with the same influences - music, skating and so on, despite them being in Norway. I first heard them in the mid 90s; a very studious time culturally - ‘post hardcore’ was all the rage - every record came housed in brown paper with wordy song titles and hand stamped fonts, everyone was listening to jazz and furrowing their brow. Turbo just came through like the party wreckers - too dumb to be smart and too smart to be dumb. I felt a lot of kinship. Once we met when they reformed the first time in the early 00s, they became good friends and I ended up working with them as their UK press officer. We stayed in touch, and somehow it seemed like a good idea for me to try out for their re-resurrection. That was about five years ago now.

I’ve always bought or traded vintage or second hand clothing out of necessity. Growing up I remember the local Army surplus shops as being these strange musty autonomous zones piled high with all manner of treasure and rumness. Good taste and adult oversight appeared to evade them completely. My first camouflage combats, leather jacket and plimsolls definitely came from one of those dusty ramshackle emporiums. Then it was the heyday of Camden & Kensington markets, Flip in Covent Garden and American Classics in the Kings Road which meant digging through old 501s and varsity jackets; it was still a comparatively cheap pastime in those days. I’m fascinated as much as the similarity in men’s clothing from the past 100 years or so as I am by the difference. If you pick up copies of Esquire or Apparel Arts from the early 30s, it’s incredible how much of it would be still look usable and stylish today. I like the idea of building a wardrobe that’s comprised of items from different eras from the past century that can work together in harmony. I think that’s the biggest pitfall with wearing vintage: You have to avoid dressing like you’re in fancy dress. I do have some big ticket heirloom pieces - a pair of blue US Navy N1 jackets from WWII or an original Browns Beach Vest, but probably the items worn most often are old Army jackets, which I find invaluable when travelling.  When I’m searching things out, I’m looking always for practical, wearable clobber. There’s a US Marine Corps HBT P44 jacket with the big map pockets on the front that I tend to live in while touring. It’s beaten up, fraying, the buttons are mismatched, but I can’t find anything else that’s as workable. 

I’ve always been pretty lucky that in all my employment there’s never been enforcible dress codes, so I’ve been pretty free to swan about as I please. Dressing up has always been a leisure activity rather than a chore; or even a weekend or afterwork activity. For the most part between work and travelling, I'm always looking for ways to smarten up more relaxed unstructured outfits and I find that the range of fabrics that Drake's produce ties and pocket squares in invaluable to this. Particularly the light cotton scarves and shantung ties for summer, and the challis and wool/silk mixes for winter. I suppose it’s the antithesis of the current fad for 'dressing down': the pairing of a suit with converse for example or the “casual Friday’ phenonemon. I take more inspiration from, say, Mike Disfarmer's stunning portraits of working men from Midwest America in their Sunday best - dressing up and adding a formality to their practical clothes. I think I inherited a little of the sartorial oneupmanship of the casual scene that was de rigour when I was growing up - I was a little too young to be a part of it but that was definitely what I was looking at and studying. It had this sense that your personal style was about the subtle difference between your look and the bloke next to you. I think that’s still a major factor for me. 

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