“Knocked back” – Term in the north of England for: (1) refusal of service while trying to buy an age restricted product; (2) turned down for a date; (3) denied entry to a bar, club or other establishment.
(1) “Did you get served for our beer?”
“Nah I got KB’d.”
(2) “Is Mike going out with that girl from last night?”
“No way, she KB’d him.”
Saturday night in Liverpool: you’re out, having just piled out of a taxi at St Luke’s, the Bombed Out Church. From here you make your way through the cobbled streets of Ropewalks, having either arrived armed with a game plan or arguing amongst yourselves over which bar you’re most likely to get in. If your group is made up of a gaggle of immaculately made up Scouse girls, the likelihood of getting into your bar of choice is far greater than if you head to town as part of a group of brand-loving lads, clad in box-fresh Balenciaga Arenas and a meticulously chosen branded T-shirt. Think Armani, Hugo Boss or Stone Island.
Since a rise in violent behaviour in city centre bars of late, bouncers are growing noticeably stricter in terms of door policy. Stabbings are increasingly frequent; the tragic death of 21-year-old Sam Cooke in Empire in October 2017 was shortly followed by another fatal knife attack in Maya in early February. While being a Hugo Boss fan by no means implicates one in this type of behaviour, the easiest way to keep out violent gangs of lads is to implement dress codes. It’s less personal than a straight up refusal, which is important considering that attacks on doormen in Liverpool are steadily on the rise. In 2017, 249 bouncers were attacked on the job, a figure which has increased every year since 2013, when there were 160 attacks. Many of the larger clubs simply enforce a blanket ban to keep out trouble; a “no tracksuits, no brands” policy, whereas the higher end establishments (such as Empire and Maya) tend to keep track of the codes of dress of those who cause trouble.
When asked about dress codes, the bouncer on the door of Maya (which had recently re-opened following the fatal stabbing) explained: “We’re quite casual but we don’t let certain lads in with sportswear or big brands showing. We don’t mind a casual shoe but no Adidas, Reebok – we don’t like them on lads.”
A promoter for one of the larger clubs followed a similar set of rules: “If you’ve got Nike trainers like Huaraches or 110s on, you’re not getting in anywhere. Armani or Hugo Boss, you’re getting KB’d at most of the bars in town. Apparently, it’s because these big brands are associated with gangs, a lot of them are wearing Armani and Hugo Boss.”
Owen, an 18-year-old sales assistant at a popular sportswear store, almost exactly echoes this assessment, again noting that “90 per cent of clubs will KB you for wearing Hugo Boss. They associate it with scallies and that image isn’t really going to go away for some time”. Despite this association, he’s still a fan of the brand, taking care to “never wear Hugo Boss to go to town, only if I was having drinks somewhere else, or going to a party”.
It would appear that the majority of Scousers are similarly undeterred, as Hugo Boss still has two wildly over-performing stores in the city. Elizabeth, a sales assistant at BOSS Menswear explained that the brand’s popularity is such that in the lead up to Christmas, the store stays open late through the month of December, “easily making up to £70,000 a day”. The brand is also responsible for creating the navy suits for Liverpool Football Club, which the players and managers wear to all official formal engagements.
While brand obsession is by no means exclusive to Liverpool, this approach to dress is something that was born here, when Liverpool fans returned from Rome in 1977 having witnessed the team win their first European cup. It was during these ‘away days’ that the Scousers began to pick up on otherwise unheard of European brands such as Giorgio Armani as well as unusual pairs of Adidas trainers that weren’t stocked in the UK. This formed the beginnings of what is now known as the ‘football casual’ style, which went on to popularise the practice of dressing according to brand names in the UK. This conspicuous approach to dress is one that stuck firmly in Liverpool; it is certainly something that I have always been conscious of growing up there, and when I asked Owen to describe how he likes to dress he immediately started listing brands. “Day to day, I wear a black Adidas tracksuit; the black bomber with the three stripes and then the logo. I’ll wear that with a plain T-shirt and my white Adidas Ultra Boosts – I’d never wear Nike and Adidas together, though. That’s a no-go for me. If I’m wearing a particular brand I’ll do my best to make it like a full set. So, if I’m wearing Nike; Nike shoes, tracksuit, Nike hoodie – that sort of thing.”
It’s interesting that the ‘scally’ association that Hugo Boss, Armani and others now carry in Liverpool sort of echoes the attitudes that were widely held about the casual style of dress – the very mention of casuals is synonymous with football hooliganism for many. However, part of the appeal of casual dress to fans was that it meant avoiding attracting the trouble that wearing team colours often attracts. With standing pens having been banned from all stadiums following the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, as well as alcohol later being banned from the stands, rates of ‘hooliganism’, or antisocial behaviour at football games have significantly dropped. Yet, casual clothing was never outright banned at Anfield or Goodison. Instead, to combat violence and knife crime, both of these stadiums now routinely employ metal detector checks and bag searches upon entry. As clubs and bars in Liverpool are now beginning to introduce the same measures, it will be interesting to see which establishments continue to enforce dress codes as a matter of taste or crowd control.