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Youth Culture - Skinheads 1968-1971

(image copyright@ Time & Life Pictures)


The Skinhead look from the late sixties and early 70s is almost a forgotten fashion. Although, most people associate Skinheads with the late 70s and early 80s, there was a strong Skinhead movement in Britain between 1968 and 1972, with 1969 to 1971 being the time when Skinheads were primarily in the news.


Most people think of the 60s as the era of the Mods, then Flower Power and Hippies. The Hippy era though was mainly a middle class rebellion against middle class values. Many working class young people found they could not identify with it. They never had the middle class lifestyle to rebel against. Whereas Mod embraced the consumer society, the Hippy movement, although later much commercialised, itself rejected it. These working class youngsters had nowhere to go.


The Skinhead fashion for men evolved from the Mod fashion earlier in the sixties. The original Skinhead fashion was smart style derived from the American Ivy league fashion, although unlike Mod fashion, which was an ever changing scene, the 60s Skinhead became a uniform.


The late 60s and early 70s Skinhead took elements of Mod and was a clear evolution from it. The look was smart. Short hair was a brave statement in the late sixties, when most young people wanted to grow their hair long. The original Skinhead was not completely shaven, but had a short, smart haircut. The inspiration may have been a combination of the college boy haircut favoured by the Mods and military style haircuts. A new hero was emerging on our TV screens in 1968 and 1969, the American astronaut. Their short, smart haircuts were the complete opposite to the Hippie style.


By 1968, the Skinhead look comprised short hair, a button-down shirt, or sometimes a Fred Perry instead, Stay Prest trousers or Levi 501s, brogues or boots with an army-style shine on them (often not Dr Marten's for the 1968 look). Sometimes a suit was worn, often a classic Mod style tonic suit with narrow trousers and lapels, the complete opposite of the flared jeans preferred by the hippies. Ties were narrow, usually striped. Sometimes a cardigan replaced the suit jacket.


The button down shirt was often a Ben Sherman. Skinheads wore gingham check, sometimes other check patterns, or plain Oxford cotton. Ben Sherman struggled to keep up with demand and alternatives from Brutus and Jaytex were also available in similar styles. Fred Perry shirts were also worn by Skinheads in the 60s.


Skinheads wore Crombie overcoats, favoured by gangsters such as the Krays, but smart and expensive. Alternatives were fly fronted gabardine Macs or sheepskin coats. The look was grown up and smart. Very definitely not hippy.


Doc Martens were originally associated with anti-social and rebellious teenagers, skinheads, punks, rock music and heavy metal music fans. During the 60's, however, Doc's began to appear on rockstars and celebrities, and soon they became a mainstream brand within the fashion industry. In the 2000's, Doc's are now widely worn across the globe.


Dr. Martens is one of the most idiosyncratic and recognizable brands of footwear in the world. With absolutely no spending on advertisement, the brand has become a well-known and fashionable design.


During the 2010 Fashion Show in New York in April, the Doc Martens 14-Hole black leather boot won two fashion awards; one for the 'most popular men's footwear in latest fashion' and the other for 'best counter-cultural footwear of the decade'.


Sta-Prest (intended to be pronounced as "stay pressed") is a brand of wrinkle-resistant trousers produced by Levi Strauss & Co., beginning in 1964.


These products are marketed as wearable straight out of the dryer, with no need for ironing. The trousers were especially popular among British mods of the mid 1960s and skinheads of the late 1960s (as well as among traditionalist skinheads and mod revivalists of later decades).


Vintage pairs of Sta-Prest trousers have become collector's items. Other companies, such as Lee and Wrangler, produced similar styles of trousers during that same period. Lee's version was called Lee Prest, which came in similar colors and patterns as Sta-Prest; although they were much slimmer and tapered. Decades later, Merc started marketing a brand called Sta Press.


Skinhead was not Mod, since it was much more of a rigid dress code. The Mod look was ever changing with the mood of the Mod fashion of the time. The later 1979 Mod revival, turned the Mod fashion into more of a uniform, but in the 60s being Mod meant you needed to change your look frequently to stay in fashion. Skinheads had no such problem.




Probably one of the most important parts of the skinhead uniform. Back in the first wave (around '69), about any kind of leather lace-up boot would work. After being classified as weapons, the style became Doc Martens because they were comfortable as hell, came in good colors and were quite durable. Today, the most popular colors are black, red, and oxblood (a dark reddish brown). Other colors are available. Most popular are 8-10 hole (as far as I know) while 14 are in large numbers, although 14+ holes are mainly worn by boneheads. Keep your boots SHINY! The shinier the better. For oxblood,use a neutral wax, or alternate between red and black polish. Also...if you can, get steel caps. Never know when you might need them. Here are some other makes of boots you'll find skinheads wearing:


Grinders: Respectable make of boots coming in a wide range of colors and eyelettes. A bit more costly mainly because all models come with steel caps. Let the bovver begin.


Rangers: I've never owned a pair, but I hear good things. Like the Grinders they come in wide selection. Their red and blue being most popular I believe. I heard Rangers are popular with the gay skinhead crowd. I dont know why, though.




Jeans, like boots, are worn by all skinheads. They're a must. Sometimes replaces with slacks (in the case of a tonic, or other kinds of suits). Before Levi's were the best choice Lee and Wrangler were widely worn. Still are, though Levi's are probably most popular. Levi's red tab, 501's more specifically. Either rolled up (or cut/shortened) to show off most of the boots and, maybe, laces (for a statement...more on this later). Sometimes you'll see the whole boot exposed but usually they're turned up to right above yer ankle. The jeans were meant to be worn lower in the waist, but we tend to wear them high, which brings us to our next item...




Also known to the unitiated here in the States as "suspenders." They're called braces because, in England, "suspenders" is what we Americans would call a garder belt. See where the confusion would come in? By far, the most popular variation is the thin, half inch or so ones. Although 3/4-1 inch have been seen before. Boneheads have some color-coding system for them, but you know what? Boneheads sniff glue. Most popular colors are black, white or red. I've owned a pair of burgandy ones before, and I've seen some skins with blue braces. Not an absolute must-have, but pretty important.




There's a lot of different kinds of shirts popular with different skins.


T-Shirts You'll see these most often I think. Usually those of bands, but sometimes slogans and declarations (i.e. "EMO SUCKS" or "SKINHEADS - Still alive and kickin'!").


Ben Sherman was some Canadian guy who wanted to market his button-downs. He made a wise choice becasue these are one of the most popular shirts worn by skinheads the world-over. They come in all kinds of colors and designs.


They even have SLIM FIT, and some polo shirts.


Fred Perry Another classic. Polos, cardigans, pull overs, jackets, sweaters. They have a lot of stuff worn by a lot of people; Mods, Skins, Suedes. Fred was a tennis player (a good one, from what I hear) who lent his name to the clothes. These are expensive, and somewhat rare. Check out The Last Resort shop and Crash And Burn, Atlanta to get ahold of some.


Lonsdale A boxing supply kind of company from London. They got v-necks, polos, T-shirts, skull caps, and some other cool stuff. The Last and Crash & Burn had some last I checked.




Jackets have always been pretty popular with skinheads, and mods before then & the suedeheads after. Here's some notable kinds you'll see:


Harrington Jackets Made popular by some guy from British TV. A basic looking jacket. The black, red and blue being most popular


Denim jackets Self-explanitory. A Levi's denim jacket is a great addition to any skin's wardrobe. I like how well they hold patches & the like.


MA-1 Flight jackets U.S. Air Force flight jackets, by Alpha preferably are a awesome article of clothing. Warm, good-looking, and comfortable. Most popular colors are sage green, blue, black and burgandy. Boneheads seem to take a liking to the black ones...nothing wrong with taking it back though.


Donkey jackets A long, heavy wool material coat with deep pockets and a plastic, leather or vinyl area on the shoulders and upper back. This was used for coal miners and other workers to rest their tools on without fucking up the material. Very nice.




Suits were worn by Rude Boys, Mods the Hard Mods that came before Skins. So naturally, skinheads wear them a decent amount too. The two basic types you'll see are tonic suits and just a black and white suit (not a tuxedo!) with shortened sleeves and pant legs. Top of with some shades, maybe, and a pair of shiny brogues (steel toed, of course) or some boots you'll be looking "the business" and ready for a night out.




The color of the laces in your boots can mean more than you think. Some people wear them to make a statement, others wear them just 'coz they like the color. In the case of the former, the colors mean a lot of different things in a lot of different places. So here's SOME things they can mean in some places.


Black This usually means freshcut (a new skin) or "I just got these boots and I havent got other laces yet" or even "I could give a fuck about what color my boot laces are!"


White If you asked most people what this was for they were quickly tell you "White power" but I've heard of skins from NY and New England wearing the white laces in defiance. I know thats why I do. Dont assume either the case without talking to the skin first.


Red Communism, RASH, Redskin, Leftist politics, boneheads wear it for something about being willing to bleed for their make believe "Aryan race"


Blue This can mean sXe(straightedge), it can mean cop killer, or even anarchy.


Yellow I've heard yellow meaning anarchy, looking for ultra-violence (murder, rape etc), being and Asian basher, or liking bannanas.


Pink Gay skinhead, or "Queer basher". Even "Queers bash back" Not necessarily for gay skins in the latter case, but supporting them.


Green I've heard all kinds of stuff for this one; Ska fan, SHARP (?), environmentalist, celtic pride

Orange An FAQ once said this meant "Biohazard fan". I assume they were joking...




Not really clothing, but cropped (short-cut) hair is, so you would think, extremely important. Today using the electric razor without and attachment seems popular, while back in the day any length up to a number 5 was acceptable. If you have a fucked up looking head get a crew cut...I know some people that look like monks unless they have a crew cut. There's some people that think you can be a skinhead with having a full head of greasy hippie hair.


See Photograph: 'Mods' on scooters, Upper Richmond Road

Producer: Terry Spencer Date: 1964


Were you a Skinhead? Do you have any stories from that era?


Skinheads on Video

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Taken on November 7, 2009