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British Youth Culture - Mods & Rockers 1960s - 1970s | by brizzle born and bred
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British Youth Culture - Mods & Rockers 1960s - 1970s

Youth Culture - Mods - Late 1950s to Mid 1960s


Mod (from modernist) is a subculture that originated in London, England in the late 1950s and peaked in the early-to-mid 1960s.


Significant elements of the mod subculture include: fashion (often tailor-made suits); pop music, including African American soul, Jamaican ska, and British beat music and R&B; and Italian motor scooters.


The original mod scene was also associated with amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs. From the mid-to-late 1960s onwards, the mass media often used the term mod in a wider sense to describe anything that was believed to be popular, fashionable or modern.


There was a mod revival in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, which was followed by a mod revival in North America in the early 1980s, particularly in Southern California.


Coffee bars were attractive to youths, because in contrast to typical British pubs, which closed at about 11 pm, they were open until the early hours of the morning. Coffee bars had jukeboxes, which in some cases reserved some of the space in the machines for the students' own records. In the late 1950s, coffee bars were associated with jazz and blues, but in the early 1960s, they began playing more R&B music.


By the summer of 1966, the mod scene was in sharp decline. Dick Hebdige argues that the mod subculture lost its vitality when it became commercialised, artificial and stylised to the point that new mod clothing styles were being created "from above" by clothing companies and by TV shows like Ready Steady Go!, rather than being developed by young people customising their clothes and mixing different fashions together.


As psychedelic rock and the hippie subculture grew more popular in the United Kingdom, many people drifted away from the mod scene. Bands such as The Who and Small Faces had changed their musical styles and no longer considered themselves mods.


Another factor was that the original mods of the early 1960s were getting into the age of marriage and child-rearing, which meant that they no longer had the time or money for their youthful pastimes of club-going, record-shopping and scooter rallies.


The peacock or fashion wing of mod culture evolved into the swinging London scene and the hippie style, which favored the gentle, marijuana-infused contemplation of esoteric ideas and aesthetics, which contrasted sharply with the frenetic energy of the mod ethos.


The hard mods of the mid-to-late 1960s eventually transformed into the skinheads. Many of the hard mods lived in the same economically depressed areas of South London as West Indian immigrants, and those mods emulated the rude boy look of pork pie hats and too-short Levis jeans.


These "aspiring 'white negros'" listened to Jamaican ska and mingled with black rude boys at West Indian nightclubs like Ram Jam, A-Train and Sloopy's.


Dick Hebdige claims that the hard mods were drawn to black culture and ska music in part because the educated, middle-class hippie movement's drug-oriented and intellectual music did not have any relevance for them.


He argues that the hard mods were also attracted to ska because it was a secret, underground, non-commercialised music that was disseminated through informal channels such as house parties and clubs. The early skinheads also liked soul, rocksteady and early reggae.


The early skinheads retained basic elements of mod fashion — such as Fred Perry and Ben Sherman shirts, Sta-Prest trousers and Levi's jeans — but mixed them with working class-oriented accessories such as braces and Dr. Martens work boots.


Hebdige claims that as early as the Margate and Brighton brawls between mods and rockers, some mods were seen wearing boots and braces and sporting close cropped haircuts, which "artificially reproduces the texture and appearance of the short negro hair styles" (though this was as much for practical reasons, as long hair was a liability in industrial jobs and streetfights).


It was also a reaction to middle class hippie aesthetics.


Mods and ex-mods were also part of the early northern soul scene, a subculture based on obscure 1960s and 1970s American soul records.


Some mods evolved into, or merged with, subcultures such as individualists, stylists, and scooterboys, creating a mixture of "taste and testosterone" that was both self-confident and streetwise.


A mod revival started in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom, with thousands of mods attending scooter rallies in places like Scarborough and the Isle of Wight. This revival was partly inspired by the 1979 film Quadrophenia and by mod-influenced bands such as The Jam, Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords. Many of the mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock and New Wave music.


The British revival was followed by a mod revival in North America in the early 1980s, particularly in Southern California, led by bands such as The Untouchables. The mod scene in Los Angeles and Orange County was partly influenced by the 2 Tone ska revival in England, and was unique in its racial diversity, with black, white, Hispanic and Asian participants.


The 1990s Britpop scene featured noticeable mod influences on bands such as Oasis, Blur, Ocean Colour Scene and The Verve.




Jobling and Crowley called the mod subculture a "fashion-obsessed and hedonistic cult of the hyper-cool" young adults who lived in metropolitan London or the new towns of the south.


Due to the increasing affluence of post-war Britain, the youths of the early 1960s were one of the first generations that did not have to contribute their money from after-school jobs to the family finances.


As mod teens and young adults began using their disposable income to buy stylish clothes, the first youth-targeted boutique clothing stores opened in London in the Carnaby Street and Kings Road districts.


Maverick fashion designers emerged, such as Mary Quant, who was known for her increasingly short miniskirt designs, and John Stephen, who sold a line named "His Clothes", and whose clients included bands such as The Small Faces.


Two youth subcultures helped pave the way for mod fashion by breaking new ground; the beatniks, with their bohemian image of berets and black turtlenecks, and the Teddy Boys, from which mod fashion inherited its "narcissitic and fastidious fashion tendencies" and the immaculate dandy look.


The Teddy Boys paved the way for making male interest in fashion socially acceptable, because prior to the Teddy Boys, male interest in fashion in Britain was mostly associated with the underground homosexual subculture's flamboyant dressing style.


The Royal Air Force roundel, was a mod symbol.


Newspaper accounts from the mid-1960s focused on the mod obsession with clothes, often detailing the prices of the expensive suits worn by young mods, and seeking out extreme cases such as a young mod who claimed that he would "go without food to buy clothes".


Jobling and Crowley argue that for working class mods, the subculture's focus on fashion and music was a release from the "humdrum of daily existence" at their jobs.


Jobling and Crowley note that while the subculture had strong elements of consumerism and shopping, mods were not passive consumers; instead they were very self-conscious and critical, customising "existing styles, symbols and artefacts" such as the Union flag and the Royal Air Force roundel symbol, and putting them on their jackets in a pop art-style, and putting their personal signatures on their style.


The song "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" by The Kinks from 1966 jokes about the fashion obsession of the mod community.


Mod fashion adopted new Italian and French styles in part as a reaction to the rural and small-town rockers, who were seen as trapped in the 1950s, with their leather motorcycle clothes and American greaser look.


Male mods adopted a smooth, sophisticated look that emphasised tailor-made Italian suits (sometimes white) with narrow lapels, mohair clothes, thin ties, button-down collar shirts, wool or cashmere jumpers (crewneck or V-neck), pointed-toe leather shoes that were nicknamed winklepickers, as well as Chelsea or "Beatle" boots, Tassel Loafers,Clarks' Desert Boots even Bowling shoes, and hairstyles that imitated the look of the French Nouvelle Vague cinema actors of the era, such as Jean-Paul Belmondo.


A few male mods went against gender norms of the era by enhancing their appearance with eye shadow, eyepencil or even lipstick.


Female mods dressed androgynously, with short haircuts, men's trousers or shirts (sometimes their boyfriend's), flat shoes, and little makeup — often just pale foundation, brown eye shadow, white or pale lipstick and false eyelashes.


Female mods pushed the boundaries of parental tolerance with their miniskirts, which got progressively shorter between the early and mid-1960s.


As female mod fashion went from an underground style to a more commercialised fashion, slender models like Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy began to exemplify the high-fashion mod look. The television programme Ready Steady Go!, presented by Cathy McGowan, helped to spread awareness of mod fashions and music to a larger audience.


Fishtail Parka


The Fishtail Parka was first used by the United States Army in 1951 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War.


There are two main styles of fishtail parkas; the M-51 fishtail parka; and the M-65. The M stands for military, and the number is the year it was standardized. The name fishtail comes from the fact that the coat is longer at the back than it is at the front. This was so the coat could be tied around the upper legs, much like a Knochensack for added wind proofing as they are not, as some think, waterproof. The hood of the M-51 Fishtail Parka is integral to the jacket and folds down inside the jacket collar when not in use.


The M-65 Fishtail parka has a detachable hood. Both types feature a removable liner. Designed primarily for combat arms forces such as infantry, they are to be worn over other layers of clothing; alone, the fishtail parka is insufficient to protect against "dry cold" (as used in the US military; see FM 31-70, Cold Weather Field Manual) conditions (i.e., below 14 deg. F.).


On the other hand, the N-3B parka has more integral insulation and can be worn alone in colder temperatures than the fishtail parka. Because it has less insulation but is designed to fit loosely, it allows infantry more latitude to add or subtract layers underneath to adapt to changing weather or situational conditions than that allowed by the N-3B parka, which was designed for aircrews who typically worked under more static weather and geographic conditions.


With proper additional insulating garments in the US military inventory, one can remain warm with the fishtail parka in -60 deg. F. temperatures. The fishtail parka has been replaced in the US military by the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS).


In the 1960s UK, the fishtail parka became a symbol of the mod subculture. Due to their practicality, cheapness and availability from army surplus shops, the parka was seen as the ideal garment for fending off the elements when on the mod's vehicle of choice, the scooter. Its place in popular culture was assured by newspaper pictures of parka-clad mods during the Bank Holiday riots of the 1960s.




Brutus Jeans is a British clothing company founded in 1966 by brothers Keith and Alan Freedman, who were 18 and 17 years old at the time, respectively.


The company started with one style of sweater and kept adding to the range, which eventually included shirts and jeans (for both men and women). The brand was very popular in the 1960's and 1970s with skinheads, Mod's and the football crowds. They won awards for their TV advertising, and had a hit record with one of the jingles called "Jeans On" (performed by David Dundas).


Ben Sherman


Ben Sherman is a British based clothing company, designing shirts, suits, shoes, accessories and other items that are, in common with many British brands, now made overseas, largely in the Far East. Their designs sometimes feature the Royal Air Force roundel which is often called the mod target. Some of the recent Ben Sherman shirts have unusual and complex designs, and have a Carnaby-style fit. The company makes clothing predominantly for men.




A Crombie coat is a three-quarter length, usually wool, overcoat. It is named after the company Crombie (also known as J&J Crombie), although not all coats known as Crombies are made by that company. Starting in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Crombie-style coats were popular within the skinhead and suedehead subcultures, although very few skinheads would have been able to afford a new Crombie brand coat. Crombies were also fashionable among some mods, who saw them as a stylish item of clothing that enhanced their clean-cut image. It was an alternative to the popular fishtail parka or trenchcoat.


The Crombie company, which produces high-end wool and tweed clothing, was founded in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1805. The Grandholm Woollen Mill in Aberdeen was the A-listed factory building where Crombie's clothing was originally made, although production at that site ceased in 1990. In 2005 it was converted into a residential project by the Cala Group.


The Crombie Woollen Mill is now an Indian Restaurant called The Spice Mill. They specialise in Indian fusion cuisine and have maintained the original elements of the factory.




Scooters were chosen over motorbikes because scooters' use of bodypanelling and concealed moving parts made them cleaner and less likely to stain an expensive suit with grease.


Scootering led to the wearing of military parkas to protect costly suits and trousers from mud and rain.


Many mods used motorscooters for transportation, usually Vespas or Lambrettas. Scooters had provided inexpensive transportation for decades before the development of the mod subculture, but the mods stood out in the way that they treated the vehicle as a fashion accessory.


Italian scooters were preferred due to their cleanlined, curving shapes and gleaming chrome. For young mods, Italian scooters were the "embodiment of continental style and a way to escape the working-class row houses of their upbringing".


They customised their scooters by painting them in "two-tone and candyflake and over accessorized them with luggage racks, crash bars, and scores of mirrors and fog lights", and they often put their names on the small windscreen.


Engine side panels and front bumpers were taken to local electroplating workshops and recovered in highly reflective chrome.


Scooters were also a practical and accessible form of transportation for 1960s teens. In the early 1960s, public transport stopped relatively early in the night, and so having scooters allowed mods to stay out all night at dance clubs.


To keep their expensive suits clean and keep warm while riding, mods often wore long army parkas. For teens with low-end jobs, scooters were cheaper than cars, and they could be bought on a payment plan through newly-available Hire purchase plans.


After a law was passed requiring at least one mirror be attached to every motorcycle, mods were known to add four, ten, or as many as 30 mirrors to their scooters. The cover of The Who's album Quadrophenia, (which includes themes related to mods and rockers), depicts a young man on a Vespa GS with four mirrors attached.


After the seaside resort brawls, the media began to associate Italian scooters with the image of violent mods. When groups of mods rode their scooters together, the media began to view it as a "menacing symbol of group solidarity" that was "converted into a weapon".


With events like the November 6, 1966, "scooter charge" on Buckingham Palace, the scooter, along with the mods' short hair and suits, began to be seen as a symbol of subversion.


After the 1964 beach riots, hard mods (who later evolved into the skinheads) began riding scooters more for practical reasons. Their scooters were either unmodified or cut down, which was nicknamed a "skelly".


Lambrettas were cutdown to the bare frame, and the unibody (monocoque)-design Vespas had their body panels slimmed down or reshaped.


Mods & Rockers


The Mods and Rockers were two conflicting British youth subcultures of the early-mid 1960s. Gangs of mods and rockers fighting in 1964 sparked a moral panic about British youths, and the two groups were seen as folk devils.


The rockers adopted a macho biker gang image, wearing clothes such as black leather jackets.


The mods adopted a pose of scooter-driving sophistication, wearing suits and other cleancut outfits. By late 1966, the two subcultures had faded from public view and media attention turned to two new emerging youth subcultures — the hippies and the skinheads.


Rockers, who wore leather jackets and rode heavy motorcycles, poured scorn on the mods, who often wore suits and rode scooters. The rockers considered mods to be weedy, effeminate snobs, and mods saw rockers as out of touch, oafish and grubby.


Mod or Rocker - 'You had to be one or the other '


The Mods had designer suits, Italian scooters and The Who. Rockers had leathers, motorbikes and Elvis.


For a few years in the early 1960s, the two groups represented a sharp division in British youth culture.


Their rivalry often spilled over into violence, and the 1964 holiday weekend clashes in resort towns on the south coast terrorised local residents and outraged much of the nation.


But soon after the seaside riots of 1964, this volatile split in British teen life faded away.


Musically, there was not much common ground. Rockers listened to 1950s rock and roll, mostly by white American artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran.


Elvis, The King of Rock & Roll



The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Janis Joplin

The Doors

Blind Faith

Credence Clearwater Revival

Jethro Tull

Pink Floyd

Moody Blues

Deep Purple

Jefferson Airplane



Procol Harem

The Byrds

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention


Mods generally favoured 1960s rhythm and blues, soul and ska by black American and Jamaican musicians, as well as British R&B/beat groups such as The Who, The Small Faces and The Yardbirds.


In the United Kingdom, rockers were often engaged in brawls with mods.


BBC News stories from May 1964 stated that mods and rockers were jailed after riots in seaside resort towns on the south coast of England, such as Margate, Brighton, Bournemouth and Clacton.


Were you a Mod or a Rocker? Do you have any stories from that era?


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Mods & Rockers on Video

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Taken on May 3, 2004