The Bromley Contingent were a group of young punks, including Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, Steve Strange, Billy Idol, Soo Catwoman, and Jordan, whose style and attitude had a huge influence on the UK punk scene.
As long as there’s been rock ’n roll, there’s been a fashion sense and attitude to go with it. And when it came to punk—at least in its early days—the music, fashion, and attitude were all about giving a big middle finger to the mainstream, shocking the Moral Majority, and shunning commercialism. It’s no wonder, then, that the kids who were drawn to punk shows tended to be the ones who felt “out of place” growing up. In the U.K., many of these misfits ended up at the Sex Pistols shows, where it was just as much the fans influencing the artists as the artists the fans.
Journalist Caroline Coon noticed the group of uniquely dressed fans, including Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, Steve Strange, Billy Idol, Soo Catwoman, Simon Barker, Jordan, Linda Ashby, and others at several shows and asked where they came from. Someone told her Bromley, the suburb in the southeast of London (though only a few of the kids actually were). She coined the term “Bromley Contingent”, and to the dismay of some of the members, it stuck.
And, of course, we can’t talk about the fashion of the U.K. punk scene without mentioning Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The duo’s shop on King’s Street, which changed names several times throughout the 1970s from Let it Rock, Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, Sex, and Seditionaries, was a meeting ground for young fashionable punks, many who even worked there at one point or another. Selling a mix of bondage gear and original designs by McLaren and Westwood, the shop inspired—and was inspired in return—by the kids from the burbs who lusted for anarchy.
In time, their fringe fashions made their way to the forefront, and the original punks of ’76 became household names. Some went on to form bands of their own, and others simply said “fuck it” and walked away, disenchanted by the commercialism of the scene. But, thanks to the magic of movie cameras, we’ve been left with some great footage of their heyday, when they had no idea their outfits would one day land in books and museums as a part of history.
“Had you sung on stage before?”
“Didn’t you think that was important?”
“No, not really.”
Arguably the most well-known member of the Bromley Contingent (and one of the few actually from Bromley), Siouxsie Sioux was one of the most unique fashion icons of punk, along with having a successful decades-long career as a musician. Growing up, Siouxsie had a troubled and isolated childhood, and she dropped out of school at 17. She felt more at home hanging out at the gay disco clubs, and quickly became well known in the London club scene for her glam-bondage fashion sense and gothic, bold makeup. After seeing the Sex Pistols perform in 1976, she befriended the band and was a mainstay at their shows, even joining them during their infamous interview on Today with Bill Grundy. Siouxsie can be seen standing behind the band, and her interaction with Grundy, who makes a lewd suggestion they meet up after the show, unleashes a string of expletives from Steve Jones and landed our girl on the cover of the tabloids with the headline “Siouxsie’s a Punk Shocker”.
Siouxsie Sioux did what many young punks did after seeing the Sex Pistols play—started a band of her own. Their first gig was at Malcolm McLaren’s 100 Club Punk Festival and lasted 20 minutes, with Sid Vicious on drums, Steve Severin on guitar, Marco Pirroni on bass, and Siouxsie at the helm on vocals. Unlike many of the other DIY groups of the time, however, Siouxsie and the Banshees had legs. They developed their own post-punk sound, and their first album, The Scream, was hailed as one of the best debut albums by the NME. They put out ten more studio albums over the course of the next 17 years, and Siouxsie continues to have a successful solo career. She’s inspired countless other musicians and artists, showing what can happen when you don’t compromise your style for anyone.
“You can’t tell what somebody’s about by taking their picture, can you?”
Soo Catwoman had been sporting homemade outfits and wild hairstyles since her teens, and her name comes courtesy of the signature “cat ears” haircut—back and sides shaved with two tips in the front flared up, which she had done at a barbershop in her hometown of Ealing in 1976. Spotted on the street while shopping that summer, she was approached by a girl from Louise’s, the lesbian bar that served as a proto-punk club before there were such places, who invited her into the scene. It was there she met Sid Vicious and John Lydon. She is a familiar face in a lot of the footage from early Sex Pistols shows and briefly shared a flat with Sid before he joined the band. As she once explained on her Myspace account;
“Way back in 1976 I found myself in the middle of a scene that became known as ‘Punk’ (I never liked the label that much personally, but that’s another story). There were a crowd of people who hung out at the same places and looked rather different to the norm of the time (picture the white suit in Saturday Night Fever, or the feathercut of Farrah Fawcett-Majors)… It still seems strange to me that what happened back then could bring about so many changes, in hair, music, fashion, etc. It seems quite funny that what started out as anti-fashion became fashion in itself.”
Soo left the scene soon after the Sex Pistols broke up and started a family, occasionally lending vocals to bands, including the New Wave group The Invaders. More recently, she can be heard on the Derwood Andrews cover of the O’Jay’s “Backstabbers.” Her daughter, artist Dion October, now runs Soo’s website and even started making her own screen-printed shirts with her mom’s iconic image on the front. Which, if your mom was that cool in her early 20s, is a great idea.
“It was great at the time because nobody else was doing it.”
Steve Strange may be better known for fronting the synth-pop group Visage or for his role in ushering in the New Romantic scene at London’s Blitz club, but he was once the kid from Wales in the front row of the Sex Pistols show who had three chains hanging between his pierced nose and ear. He befriended Glen Matlock of the Pistols and JJ Burnel of The Stranglers, sharing a flat with JJ and Billy Idol in 1977. Strange went on to work for Malcolm McLaren in London before briefly joining the punk/new wave group The Photons in 1978.
As the scene began to dissipate, Strange leaned heavily into the burgeoning synth-pop sound, forming the group Visage along with former members of the bands Rich Kids and Magazine. They had a hit in 1980 with their song “Fade to Grey,” and had two albums in the UK Top 20 before they broke up in 1985. Strange tried to reform the group later in life and continued to make music with different line ups until just before his untimely death at age 55 in 2015.
It was as a doorman, oddly enough, that Strange made the most lasting impact on music and fashion. Between 1979 and 1980, he and bandmate Rusty Egan hosted Tuesday nights at the Blitz in London, imposing a strict dress code of flamboyance and decadence that reportedly even got Mick Jagger turned away. Bowie turned up one night and was so impressed with the look and sound that Strange had curated, he requested him to handle makeup and costumes for the upcoming “Ashes to Ashes” video.
“Why do you dress outrageously, why do you spend 8 hours getting your hair spiked like that?”
Jordan: Why does Picasso paint pictures?
The most celebrated shopgirl in the history of punk, Pamela Rooke, better known as Jordan (she changed her name when she was 14), was a walking talking mannequin while she worked at Malcolm and Vivienne’s shop. Growing up nearly two hours south of London in East Sussex, Jordan had always wanted to be “a work of art” and had a penchant for experimenting with fashion—no surprise her wild hairstyles got her suspended from school. Having to commute two hours on the train every day to London meant loads to curious looks and nasty remarks from fellow riders, and Jordan was eventually given her own spot in first-class so as not to “upset” other passengers.
At age 21, she strolled into SEX with her bleached blond bouffant, vintage 50s net skirt, golden stilettos, and suspenders to ask for a job. The manager on duty, Michael Collins, was impressed but had to inform her there were no positions available. So Jordan went over to Harrods (without changing her outfit) and got a job in their progressive fashion department where she thrived until getting a call from Collins a few weeks later to come back for a job at SEX. Customers often wanted to buy clothes right off of Jordan, and her look was so appealing that Malcolm McLaren insisted she be on stage during the Sex Pistol’s first televised gig. She’s a familiar face in any footage from the UK punk scene, often with her Picasso-esque makeup and peroxide beehive.
Outside of the shop, Jordan became an early manager for Adam and the Ants and performed with them briefly. She married bass player Kevin Mooney and managed his second band, Wide Boy Awake. She also starred in a few cult British films like Sebastiane and Jubilee. After divorcing Mooney in 1984, she moved back to East Sussex and became a veterinary nurse as well as a Burmese cat breeder. In an interview with The Guardian a few years back, Jordan reflected “Those years showed me, if you just have the courage, you can be anyone you want to be – I still believe that as much as I did in 1976.”