Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go: How Wham! Became The 80s Icons Of Italian Sportswear
Although musically Wham’s target audience and listeners were pop music teenagers, it was the posers, the gangsters and the casuals that really took note of their image.
Yes films like The Business couldn’t really do a better job if it tried of capturing that whole nostalgic 80s casual sportswear era, but the cult classic was released some 20 years later after the original scene. Introducing two fresh faced school mates from Bushey Beads, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. Nothing screamed 80s casual style like the Wham! boys did. Bringing their centre court ‘get up’ to viewers in their millions on shows like Top Of The Pops, their sound wasn’t exactly what you would associate with the original casual scene if you heard it. A million miles away from the distorted guitars and post punk sounds of The Buzzcocks and Joy Division, Wham! never really likened their music as the next ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ or ‘Disorder’ type tracks. If anything their musical inspirations came from more of a ska direction and a care free attitude. Wham! captured the colourful sound of the 80s with their catchy pop tracks, ditching the over the top pirate costumes and bizarre song titles for bright coloured Italian designer sportswear and a new found glamorous look. It was all about the youth, 80s pop culture and looking cool as whilst you did it.
Above: Backstage with the Wham! boys wearing the Fila Terrinda track top, Fila shorts and Diadora Borg Elite trainers.
Clean cut pop with a somewhat easy going catchy charm, their sound took the late 70s/early 80s new wave synth sound and made it sound fresher and more “popular”, connecting with teenagers all over the UK. Their debut album ‘Fantastic’ from 1983 addressed the UK’s ongoing unemployment problem and teen angst just like the punk movement had some years earlier. Those who had a keyboard from the 80s era may even remember one of the demo tracks that was in fact taken from the 1984 hit single ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. The Wham! boys were soul boys, smoothies, and trendies from Bushy-Herts, which ironically was also the home of the UK distributors for Fila and Diadora at the time. Rumour has it that the lads even use to put shuttlecocks down their shorts and play a mock game of badminton on stage!
Above: The Wham! boys flexing in Miami wearing matching Fila swimshorts.
Formed by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in Watford back in 1981, Wham! championed the colourful and easy going sound of 80s pop music. Their debut studio album ‘Fantastic’ released in 1983 included classic 80s hits such as ‘Young Guns’, ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Club Tropicana’. Wham!’s big career break came when TOTP requested them on the show after another act had cancelled, with the pop duo glamorising the whole Italian sportswear look of Fila and Sergio Tacchini to young impressionable teenagers throughout their highly profiled musical careers. To celebrate the launch of their first studio album Wham! also embarked on their first UK tour dubbed the ‘Club Fantastic Tour’. Starting out in Aberdeen and finishing off in Brighton the tour also saw co-manager Simon Napier-Bell obtain a £50,000 sponsorship with Fila, of which the Wham! boys wore throughout.
Above: The ultimate Wham! style featuring the Fila Terrinda, Fila shorts and the Fila 5 Stripes track top.
Whilst sports personalities like Björn Borg and John McEnroe endorsed Italian sportswear brands such as Fila and Sergio Tacchini on the tennis courts throughout the late 70s and early 80s, it was Wham! who brought the colourful designer labels to a new and younger musical audience. Tracks like ‘Club Tropicana’ became big hits in nightclubs and glamorous holiday destinations capturing the sound and poser style of the era from the yuppies to the casuals. Whilst Liverpool and Man United football casuals in the North West may have still been seen sporting the latest Peter Storm cagoules and adidas trainers, the casual look had already evolved, becoming more flamboyant and glamorous in the process. No longer just associated with the terraces thanks to the pop duo, the casual look was now accessible to everybody on prime time TV and MTV music videos.
Above: It’s all about the tan. Andrew Ridgeley (right) posing for a photo shoot in the Fila Terrinda track top in classic navy colourway.
What is interesting about this particular era is how everything came together in such a short period of time. The question really we need to ask here is; was it Liverpool’s Wade Smith? The Borg tennis connection? Or the likes of Wham!’s George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley that really catapulted Italian sportswear into the mainstream? Arguably a contribution of all 3, before Wham were seen dancing in Fila Terrinda’s and shorts shorts on stage in 1983 the casual look was still young and more football related. Wham! made casual fashion more acceptable to wear if you weren’t looking to start a fight with everything that moved, they made it more glamorous and more importantly, more desirable. Wham! captured a style that would later be revived in Nick Love’s The Business from 2005 with Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan. The film had clear references and inspiration from videos like ‘Club Tropicana’ with Fila swim shorts and swimming pools.
Above: George Michael (left) also wearing the Fila Terrinda track top in the original electric blue colourway.
Pioneers of the original Essex Boy ‘geezer’ look, Wham! were constantly seen sporting styles like the iconic Fila Terrinda track tops and full tracksuits, shorts shorts from Fila, bleached wedge haircuts with beach ready bronzed sun tans. Other famous 80s styles included the classic 5 stripes Fila track top and a hybrid Fila yellow track top worn by George Michael. If there was any particular trainer style that was associated with Wham! it was the Diadora Borg Elite in the signature white/gold colourway as worn by the Swedish tennis champion himself. George Michael can still be seen wearing a pair of Borg’s in the video for ‘Careless Whisper’ from 1984 as he embarked on his own solo career.
Above: Wham! performing a Ray Of Sunshine in 1983.
Above: Wham! interview from 1983 on channel 4’s The Tube which ran from 1982-1987.