There is a lot of talk of a Mod revival these days. Bradley Wiggins being a good example of a Mod role model for the media. The irony is that we never went away and when the clamour has died down Mods will still be there, won’t we? Like many young men and women who found their way in to the fold with the late seventies revival, I am approaching my half century and fighting to get in to the clothes the high street has re-labelled ‘Mod Fit’. So it seems a good time to re-assess and ask myself why I have stayed with it, or am I too old and Mod is really a young person’s game?
Every morning I wake up and still think, what am I going to wear? I then spend a few minutes putting back the shirt I chose the night before, getting out a different one, changing my tie and sometimes undoing all the new choices and sticking with my original ideas. The wife banished my gear to a spare room long ago. She needs her sleep so my wandering about before the lark doesn’t keep her awake anymore, though she is always on at me to fix those creaky boards. The question I often ask when I’m weighing up a vintage knitted tie up against a new paisley silk one is should I still be bothered? Sipping my Italian coffee a few minutes later from a carefully chosen cup, as I buff my brogues to a high sheen, I ask myself am I a Mod or am I just bloody fussy about stuff that doesn’t really matter? It’s clearly a Mod life crisis. Until about five years ago the term ‘Mod’ had disappeared from my life for quite a while. And recently when Wiggins et al appeared on Television or the papers, my older friends would often say, ‘You were a Mod, weren’t you?’ I often had the urge to raise my hands in despair and explain I still was, launch in to a diatribe about how I had never totally surrendered my position for an easy existence and still flew the flag for the ‘Mod’ way of life. But I never did, and unless I’m berating the sales assistant in Ben Sherman about the quality of their shirts I still rarely mention the ‘M’ word in public.
The Mod psyche to me was always about aspiration. Oscar Wilde once said that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars. That’s Mod to me. Originally it was a working class movement followed by those that suddenly found themselves in an emergent post-war Britain with a small but economically significant disposable income. It eschewed the run down, make do and mend society in which it lived and was not so willing to imitate American youth movements like the Teddy Boys and Rockers of the day did. Its obsession with appearance, cleanliness and to an extent modernism as well as Mod-ism made it a movement that appealed to my character. It’s about grace under pressure, hard work and hard play, being the best and standing out. It’s about leading the way, but also being a positive member of a group. I identified my Mod-ism in the late 1970s and like my forebears I was rejecting the decrepit socio-economic system around me for something much better. So those stars to me were a good life, free from the constant threat of unemployment, a self contained existence armed to the teeth with qualifications and looking good thrown in. Those early desires aren’t Mod in themselves, but being a Mod has helped me to achieve some of them. So it doesn’t take a professor of sociology to realise the bubbling cauldron of economic collapse and the creative expression that it usually brings could be the main reason for a return to Mod for some of our more discerning contemporary youth.
Over the last five years, my personal resurgence has partially occurred through availability and development of modern technology all around me. It has opened doors and allowed me to re-establish bonds with other Mods that had broken. The recent availability of digital mass communication has enabled me to uncover the whereabouts of the rest of my urban tribe. The other reason for staying a Mod must also take in to account that it is a style, not a fashion, so even though it evolves it has at its core a set of iconic looks, desires and common themes that I have always stuck with. I am not a retro Mod, though I was once married to a 60s revivalist who would only style her look around original photographs or what she could purchase from vintage clothing emporia (Charity shops as they were then known). I myself have just continued to buy the same old things, but better quality since my income has risen slightly since 1979. These are now just classic pieces of menswear still in production. Chinos, knitted ties, button down collars and nice shiny brogues can be purchased anywhere that’s remotely decent. Every day I look smart. But some days it’s really obvious I am a Mod, as my clothing suddenly clicks with the expectations of others. There have been times it’s been hard to find a slim tie or trousers which are narrow enough, but it was always fun looking for them. But I know when I’m off kilter when the wife says it looks like something her dad would buy. Now recently that’s becoming a statement I worryingly hear a lot more.
I suppose I could have been a bit more explicit over the years, perhaps by donning a Parka, sporting a target patch or wearing my black Harrington more often. Perhaps I should have steered away from my obsession with British motorcycles and stuck with my PX, but I thought my identity was from within and any clichéd outward sign wasn’t really needed. In fact, I was right in believing another Mod would spot me from a mile off even if I wasn’t carrying a copy of Quadrophenia around in a plastic bag. It was at work. It was my line manager who spotted my Modism and even confessed to his own. But he did it in a surreptitious way, as though it was possibly an embarrassment to admit, as though it was his deep dark secret even though it was clear as day to me. The Brooks Brothers’ shirt, Church’s brogues, flannels and sharp Italian Blazer meant this man knew his gear. In a meeting we were got diverted and started to talk about our mutual battle with our wives about domestic decoration. I simply said I liked furniture to have clean simple lines and no ornamentation. I stated I was a Modernist, meaning Modernism the design movement originating around 1905. He thought I meant I was a Modernist as in Modern Jazz, or simply a Mod. He then produced his key ring with a target on it and told me his son had recently bought it for him. I responded by producing a Paul Weller CD from my filing cabinet and putting it on the battered CD player on a nearby dusty shelf. He then leant forward and told me that Chris, another colleague, once owned a scooter. It was obvious, even in his late forties Chris still had that rude boy look about him. We were outed. So from then on it’s been a three handed battle to look the best. I even bought a burgundy lab coat and had the textiles teacher put a velvet collar on it as a joke.
In essence it’s easier to be a confessed Mod when you are no longer alone. It was at that point I started to notice that there was a bit of resurgence and an on line community. I was even surprised to find that there were specialist shops; I mean places where you don’t have to sort through stacks of dullness to find a bit of diamond gear. Ok, I admit, it was obvious but I just hadn’t been looking. I had retreated in to a shell, made shopping a habit and took myself somewhat for granted. The trouble is I now need more wardrobe space that my wife and my shoe collection rivals Imelda Marcos. My better half keeps asking me how many pairs do I need?
My other Mod-life crisis issue is that Mod-ism has its roots in a certain tradition too, it uses roundels and union flags as part of its graphic presentation, its associated with a point in history when Britain started to flourish, so Mod subculture is one of optimism and that’s a good reason to still turn to it. To me it’s the positive face of nationalism if there is one. There is a pride in being British, because of its heart felt desire to embrace a multi-cultural version of our society that enriches us creatively and economically. Or at least I thought so as a kid. I have met a sad few who reject this version of my country and though they label themselves as Mod, as far as I’m concerned they exclude themselves because of this. Like button down shirts I’ve stuck with the notion that Britain, is a place for everyone regardless of your colour or religion. The recent Olympics proved to me, not that I needed proof, that there is strength in our union and the recent resurgence in admitting to being Mod has to be seen as part of that. I do fear that it might be mistaken for, or hijacked by the resurgent Right Wing. I refer to those bigots who once climbed on board the Skinhead movement, who now try and masquerade as political parties. Skins, Mods and Rude Boys shared a lot back in the late twentieth century. Haircuts, shoes and clothes were widely, though not totally, interchangeable, but I did notice even as kid a tendency to associate the union flag (the clue is in the name) with something slightly unpleasant, an undercurrent of racism. Coming from a very traditional Northern Western town it was there, but not explicit. The only Afro-Caribbean lad in the town was a mate from school. We were all ‘in it together’ so race wasn’t an issue. But there were times when I saw outright hostility to the immigrant community from a small amount of certain individuals which could only be equated with the Nazis. Some of these people were dressed like me. I was shocked, in my small town naivety I thought my country had risen above that. Even now I know we haven’t, we still have people who want to exclude and divide our Nation. I’m not saying that we can sweep aside the issues that arise with conflicting beliefs and cultures, but what I am saying is that we owe it to ourselves to try. Its hard work, but I’m a Mod, so it’s within my nature to devote time to things until the problem is solved. What I am saying is that I don’t want my movement, my clan, becoming associated with the problem. I see us as part of the solution. I don’t want people thinking that because I have a target on my lapel my uncle was Oswald Moseley.
My next issue is clothes, the one universal obsession that all Mods share. Fred Perry and Ben Sherman are undeniably iconic Mod brands and ownership of their products are to an extent de rigueur. If you go in to your local Ben Sherman outlet you will see the word Mod everywhere. Slim fit is now Mod fit. However this is a recent thing and just like Citroen has tried to disown the 2CV, Sherman was, until recently just a tad Mod averse or even a little embarrassed about its roots. But no brand is bigger than the movement. Austin Reed was probably the original Mod outfitters, and high street greats like Jaeger and even Marks and Spencer’s were, and are, just as Mod if you look hard enough. I wear what I fancy, what I feel fits, even if its from Matalan, After all there is a profusion of Mod standard items such as desert boots and polo shirts for instance and there is no law that you can’t search for a similar item by another manufacturer if the fancy takes you. In fact though Mods follow, they also lead and like the M51Parka a lot of older Mods see these brands as a bit of a cliché. This has become the case since Sherman, in particular, has lowered their quality. The introduction of their Plectrum designer brand does seem a bit disingenuous too. Shouldn’t all Sherman stuff be well designed and good quality? Plus that little plectrum logo looks naff compared to the signature.
Then there is the belly, or the cake shelf as my wife calls it, it’s that slump of excess which varies in mass depending on how much salad I eat. Most of the older Mods I know have one, and the middle aged Mod just can’t be expected to be the shape of a twenty year old. Recently in the Penguin shop a young lad steered me towards the standard fit section, informing me that essentially cutting edge Penguin gear was no longer designed for me. Age has finally disenfranchised me I thought. I just hope that Sherman and friends remember that not all Mods, even the young ones, are slim or I will be what they describe as 2XL forever. As I like to call it ‘Contentment Fit’.
There is evidence that my generation is valued though, and our life and times can be considered as art. I refer to ‘This is England’ piece of cinematic genius. Not since Ken Loache’s Kes has a film really left me startled by its rawness. Now the early eighties is far enough gone to be brought in to the realms of nostalgia there will probably be quite a few visits to this period of the the Mod revival time line. My daughter seemed to be particularly happy to peak in to a cinematic version of my youth and certainly gained a greater understanding of her Dad’s formative years because of it. Other films have stayed with me though. Bill Liar and Room at the Top, these films also reflect the emptiness at the core of working class society, and how the working class British male in particular is searching for an identity. We have very little folk culture in Britain. The industrial revolution wiped it out in the sudden rural depopulation. Since then men in particular have searched for a group identity beyond a sneaky bit of Morris dancing. This England is about people, like me, in their late 40s now, and their children are being presented with the sub-culture of their parents in a way I wasn’t. They can identify with the socio-economic circumstances as they reflect what is happening now within a new economic depression. With wardrobes full of their mum’s and dad’s vintage gear and parental approval we are seeing a return to what I perceive a Rude-boy semi Skinhead culture rather than a purely Mod one. Looking at the Warrior clothing website there is clearly a call for this type of gear and it can’t just be old geezers like me. My daughter is a bit more eclectic than I, but I know where my target T shirt is if I can’t find it, and she hassled me until I bought her a Harrington to go with her Doc Martin’s. In the nicest possible way this is one of the reasons that I feel I might be past it. Am I now a museum piece for my daughter’s friends to look at and say that I’m stylish for an old chap and am I in danger of dressing too young now a lot of my style is …well…back in fashion?
I suppose I saw things in, and was influenced by old movies. Actors like Steve McQueen, James Dean, Tom Courtney, etc loomed large over my wardrobe. These icons of my youth are now largely forgotten by contemporary society. Technology and the media move so fast, very few things find a permanent niche anymore. The slow pace of life that once was, gave us time to build heroes in our imagination. Personalities didn’t flicker and go as they do now. Perhaps the new Mods will do the same. Here today and gone tomorrow, just a few new converts hanging on just as we did when the nineties came. So okay, I admit it, I’m not quite ready to hang up my parka yet to use a well worn tabloid cliché. My hopes and fears will come and go as usual. Mod has had plenty of opportunity to die out. In between resurgences there have always been those that keep the faith. I sprung from the Quad revival and I have held on to the basics ever since. Mod is me, I am Mod. It’s ingrained so I can’t escape it. I’ll stick with thinking like a roundhead and dressing like a cavalier. After all just as I remember bunking in to the Odeon to see Quadrophenia with its X certificate, some Mod in thirty years time will be re-counting how they cheered when Wiggins crossed that line and they went out and bought a Fred Perry to celebrate. I’ll move on to my next crisis. Life changing things such as can you wear Argyll socks in the summer if they are beige? That has kept me worrying for days.