Mods: The Beginning

The Mods are a widely known British youth sub-culture, consisting mainly of working class teens, predominantly of the male gender, although there has been a linked fashion of the "Modette". This movement has inspired many thousands of young men and women not only in the United Kingdom, but across the globe, in areas of the world such as Australia and the USA, over generations and many decades, and in at least three periods of time. However, to truly understand this very British phenomenon, it must be first traced back to its very roots: the streets of London, England, at the turn of the 1960’s.It is often stated that both the Mods and their rougher, tougher, counterparts, the Rockers, emerged from the rise of the Teddy Boy movement in the mid 1950’s, during the primary wave of what is widely considered the first ever “youth music”, that of Rock ‘n roll. However, this theory is widely disputed by Mod purists, in favour of the concept that the Mods, or Modernists as they were originally known, sprang from the dissatisfaction post-war teens found in their bleak, working-class environment, and longed for an affluent, smart, clean lifestyle as opposed to the humdrum society in which they resided. Originally the Modernists were not a teen cult, but merely a way of thinking, and in the ideal Modernist world, smooth steel would replace crumbling brickwork, bright colours would step in to fill the grey drizzle, and fast-paced adventure would fill the gaps the dull monotony of their lives had left. Yes, the Modernists one and only main principal was that of moving forward, an idea that remains to this very day.Another theory of the beginnings of the Mods is that many teens were left uninspired by their elders taste for Traditional, or Trad, jazz music, and instead found an outlet in the rise of the Modern jazz, or Mod music. Whichever the case, it led to a tradition that has shaped many lives to this very day. In both aspects, the British youths of the early Sixties, both the Mods and the Rockers, were the first generation to escape being disciplined by the once compulsory National Service, and instead found well-respected (and well-paid) jobs, and whilst living with their parents, found that they had large amounts, at the time, of money that was their own, and with which they could purchase whatever clothing or items they desired. This disposable income, a privilege that their parents had not experienced before them, allowed them to style themselves into individuals, rather than the dull suits and dresses that their elders were clad in.Around this period, a large range of Italian imports were flooding into the country, including various clothing and also the legendary two-wheeled transport associated so strictly to the Mods. Specifically, these youngsters found themselves attracted to the slim, fitting style of Italian designer suits, with their narrow lapels and 5” side vents, giving them a tighter, sharper image than many others. Along with this clothing came the rise of the motor scooter trade in Britain, usually either the sleek, jet-like Innocenti Lambretta models, or the feminine, breast like curves of the Piaggio Vespa. This granted the rider a sense of individuality, and prevented them from rubbing shoulders with the mundane general public of which they tried so hard to distance themselves from. Also, unlike the motorcycle range on offer, which was adopted by the Rockers, the engine was covered up, giving an image of cleanliness, which suited the Mods to the ground. The Mods now had one general rule, to which any individual had to abide in order to become a Mod, and this was of miniaturization: short hair, narrow lapels, clean-shaven, slim ties, tight clothes, and the aforementioned small scooters, as opposed to the large motorcycles. Another vital aspect of the Sixties Mod lifestyle was the drugs; pills to be more precise. Both alcohol and cannabis were easily available to the adolescent public, yet both had a degenerating effect on the user, which neither was appropriate to a scooter rider nor did it fit in with the Mods sharp lifestyle. Instead they chose from the large range of amphetamine pills on offer, with Blues and Purple hearts topping the bill for the most common. However, when supplies ran dry, desperate times called for desperate measures, and the Mods would take whatever they could get their well-manicured hands on, from headache pills to throat syrup, even just for the tiniest kick.By this point, around 1963, the Mods were a fully evolved species, clad in their beloved designer suits, and having also adopted a British range of clothing to suit their heritage, such as Fred Perry sportswear and Ben Sherman clothing which began the use of the RAF target logo as a pop art symbol, and which eventually became the main symbol for the Mods. The more affluent Mods bought their designer clothing, such as straight-legged Levi's jeans and Sta-Prest trousers from the legendary Carnaby Street in London. They also began to wear the US Army Fishtail parka, an overcoat which has become synonymous with the Mods, as a means of protecting their expensive suits from the hazardous British weather. Now more and more Beat bands emerged, claiming to produce Mod music, however the original Mod music was considered to be Modern jazz and American Soul. With Mod becoming larger and larger, the newer, less purist Mods accepted bands such as The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who (formerly The High Numbers) as Mods, as they walked, talked, dressed and acted just as they themselves did, and so they could be related to. To a fair extent, these bands were Mods, but simply a new variation on the original Mod.Around this period came the law of every mode of transport possessing at least one mirror, and as a sarcastic revolt against this new order, the Mods began to adorn their prize scooters with multiple accessories, particularly many mirrors on long stems and spot lights on the front carriers and crash bars, and soon a large range of additional Mod scooter extras followed, such as the long “ironing board” back rest, flags, foxtails, mud-flaps, and fly-screens, which to suit the general Mod ethos, were taken to a short length rather than the traditional longer ones.This scooter look, (although only one of many styles including the “Sports” and the “Skeleton” look) bedecked in a vast array of chrome accessories, was to become the enduring image of a Mod scooter, as during the infamous May Day and Bank holiday seaside riots in which Mods and Rockers descended upon resorts such as Brighton for a violent confrontation catalyzed by the media, during 1964 (glamorized in the 1979 Who Movie Quadrophenia),and many photographs were taken of scooters possessing these accessories and so released this image to the public and preserved it for decades to come. Following these riots, there came a new wave of “Mods” travelling to the coast for battles with police and Rockers, and due to these fist-happy wannabes, the general perception of Mod was tarnished as a cult of violent hooligans, so far from the idea of what it originally meant to be a Mod. This was the beginning of the end.Mod was now a nationwide cult, having spread from its roots in the working class areas of London across the country, mainly due to the press coverage of the bank holiday riots, now a legendary ritual for Mods. For the first Mods, or the much more purist ones, known as Faces or Top Mods, they were leading an army of vandals and hooligans, so different from the very early Sixties in which to be a Mod meant being sharper and better than the elders, not punching and kicking a leather-clad greaser on the coast, and more specifically, to be an individual, and not have to be “led” by anyone. All Mods now wanted to be a higher rank, and the Faces and Top Mods began appearing everywhere. The originals became disillusioned with the scene, and slowly began to fade away from it. By the mid-60’s, Mod was slipping away, to be seen in only the pages of history, as the less purist Mods became bored and the originals, staying loyal to the principal, kept evolving.Around 1967 came the first stirrings of a new rivalry between cults, caused by two separate natural progressions of Mod: the more easygoing former Mods joined the upcoming flower-power movement and became the first Hippies, whereas the more hardcore Mods, still moving forwards, took their “Miniaturisation” principal to the extremes: their short hair was shaven completely, their Desert Boots were traded for the larger, darker Dr. Martens, jeans became tighter and drainpipe, ties and blazers were lost for braces, and parkas, staying with the military tradition, became the US bomber jacket. However, for the first Skinheads, some aspects of Mod remained, such as Ben Sherman shirts, Fred Perry polo shirts, Harrington jackets, and the love of Jamaican Ska and Reggae music. Overall, for this new, extreme cult, the general principle was to be as anti-conformity and working class as possible, hence the Dr. Martens workers boots.By the turn of the 1970’s, Mod was lost completely. It was left to the Hippies and Skinheads to continue their legacy in the decade that brought Glam rock and punk, and, in the later years, the first Mod Revival.Kurt Whitlock
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  • I always heve and always will disagree that "mod was lost completely" by 1970. There were many young people on their early 20's at that time who had married and may have had kids, but who still retained their sense of style and dignity, as they had in their teens. They probably wouldn't have agreed that they were still mods, but they would certainly dislike being regarded as hippies or skinheads. In fact, these same people might not have self-identified as "mods" before the media hype gave them a label in the mid 60's. new many who were fashion conscious and discerningly so into the 80's, and who, despite having families, took opportunities to go to gigs and clubs when they could.
    Of course, they didn't look like extras from Quadrophenia......they moved on and evolved in terms of their fashion sense and musical tastes ( they got cars too!). They shopped in the King's Road, Burlington Arcade, and South Molton Street. They hung out at Stringfellows and Peppermint Park on occasion. They are now grandparents and you can still occasionally spot them from a distance by the "put together" look of their clothes, and the neat,stylish cut of their hair. No..........mod didn't all but die out at all, it just grew up.
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