Mod Beginnings | 1958-1964

Mod Beginnings

Italian Rounded-collared Shirt, Short Roman Jacket Very Tailored | 1958-1964

The first wave of modernist youth emerged in or around London in the late 1950s. Most commentators agree on certain basic themes: mod was predominantly working-class, male-dominated, and centered on an obsessive clothes-consciousness which involved a fascination with American and Continental styles.

The Dean in Colin Macinnes’ Absolute Beginners is a typical early modernist:

Defined by a geography of dress, he is English by birth and Italian by choice. His unnamed girl is described in similar detail:

Mod was largely a matter of commodity selection. It was through commodity choices that mods marked themselves out as mods, using goods as weapons of exclusion to avoid contamination from the other alien worlds of teenaged tastes that orbited around their own (the teds, beats, and later the rockers).

Mods exploited the expressive potential within commodity choice to its logical conclusion. Their furious consumption programme enveloped clothes, clubs, records, hair styles, petrol and drinamyl pills.

Scooters became the preferred means of transportation, and a style became fixed around the vehicle-a uniform of olive green (parka) anoraks, jeans and hush puppies. Sometimes French berets were worn to stress the affiliation with the Continent and to further distinguish themselves from the rockers whose own ensemble of leather jackets, flying boots and cowboy hats signaled an alternative defection to America.

By the time Mod had an identity reinforced as a set of newspaper photographs and bank holiday headlines, its significance and influenced had stretched beyond the confines of a mere subculture. Towards the end of 1964 the coffee bars and shirt/bra stores as described by Macinnes had given way to discotheques and boutiques. A thriving fashion industry arose in London based on Carnaby Street and King’s Road. There was now a mod television programme (Ready Steady Go, whose opening sequence was a mod on scooter at traffic lights with a voice-over of “The weekend starts here…”).

The mass commercialization and media attention given to a subculture based on exclusivity and elitism resulted in a natural identity crisis by the middle of the 1960s. At that point, two new subcultures quickly splintered off leaving only small remnants behind. On the one hand, furthering the non-aggressive, hedonistic, and intellectual aspects were the set of people who would give rise to Swinging London, psychadelia, and ultimately the hippie regression.

The other set, wearing boots and sporting crops as early as 1964, were the forerunners of the skinhead cult, a group which even today maintains an innumerable number of similarities and ties to the mods of the early 60s (as late as 1969 they would still occasionally be referred to as mods by outside observers).

The places where a large portion of the modernist essence survived through the 1970s were, surprisingly enough, far removed from the clubs and cafes of London. Up north in clubs like Wigan’s Casino Club and Stoke’s The Torch, a scene developed devoted to scooters and soul music which matched classical modernism in terms of its obsessiveness and oneupmanship.

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