To understand the history of Mods it is necessary to review the situation and environment in which they came to be. In the early 1950s in Britain, the independence of youth was increasing. Previously, "young people showed absolutely no interest in being anything other than adults" (Cashmore 23). But the prosperous postwar economic climate served to create a new youth market, giving teenagers economic and social power.
Postwar production efforts created an open job market, and the small amount of unemployment might have contributed to the absence of class conflict during the early fifties (Cashmore 21). Average weekly wages rose and the price of many consumer products, such as televisions and appliances, decreased (Marwick 69). This economic freedom, combined with the end of National Service in 1960 led to new opportunities for youth. Previously, the pattern for young men had been to leave school, experience at least two years of mandatory service, and then find work. National Service may have instilled values of conformity and obedience as well (Cashmore 23). The new independence for graduates (who were also increasingly younger) and employed drop-outs was increased by the introduction of the hire-purchase system (making possible the purchase of expensive items such as record players by installment) and the availability of jobs, with higher wages for teenage workers (Laing 77, Barnes 7). These factors combined to give young people the leisure time and earning power with which to create their own cultures and identities, through music, clothes, and activities (Cashmore 24). Youth had acquired a new assertiveness, which "grew in proportion to youth's financial well-being" (Whiteley 5).
Into this climate was born the first British subculture: the Teddy Boys, or Teds. These were working-class teenagers who found themselves often unemployed or employed as unskilled laborers during an otherwise prosperous time. However, compared with other working teens, Teds were still relatively affluent and they spent most of their incomes on clothes and American records. The style of clothing worn by Teds was an adaptation of an "Edwardian" style promoted by Savile Row tailors in 1950 for young men of the upper classes, only the Teds adapted it quite freely. The style consisted of: long "drape" jackets with velvet collars, fancy waistcoats, tight "drainpipe" pants, Western-style string ties, and shoes with thick crepe soles known as "brothel creepers." Many wore their hair in a style called a "quiff," which was similar to the American "D.A." with sideburns and a greased pompadour (Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 168-169). In rebellion against "the sugary pap churned out by the music industry of the fifties and the B.B.C. light programme," they listened to American big band jazz and rock and roll (Barnes 7, Polhemus 35).
The Teds were depicted by the media as the British version of American juvenile delinquents, with depictions of "slashed cinema seats, flick knives in the back pocket next to the obligatory greasy comb and alleged participation in the Notting Hill race riots" (Polhemus 36).
In several ways, the Teds paved the way for Mods: by creating a youth market with the social and economic power to rebel against authority, introducing a fashion that originated within the working class, making it somewhat more acceptable for males to dress for show, using dress as a "symbolic way to express their social reality," and providing a precedent for the mass media's depictions of subcultures as "folk devils and moral panics" (Marwick 68; Barnes 8; Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 170).
The First Wave
By 1958, the phenomenon of teenagers being aware of themselves as specific groups was, quoting Colin MacInnes, "getting out of hand," leading to a generation gap effect not only between parents and children but between younger and older teens. Also, each succeeding group of teenagers seemed to define itself "stylistically and ideologically as the opposite of the previous 'generation" (Polhemus 50).
The first wave of Mods were the teenagers who resisted the "fifties yobbishness, coarseness and garishness" of the Teds (Barnes 8). They were more interested in new "modern" aesthetics: Italian suits instead of drapes and creepers; rhythm and blues or modern jazz (from which came the name "Modernists") rather than rock or "trad jazz" (a genre of British musicians playing Dixieland style, which was very popular in the late fifties).
At first, there was no specific fashion and no set group. Modernists were "completely and utterly clothes obsessed... mostly males... a scattering of daring and determined individual stylists" (Barnes 8). In general, Modernists wore some version of the Italian look: "sharp, short jackets and trim, tapered trousers which looked so right on a Vespa" (Polhemus 45). Modernists were generally interested in continental styles, riding Italian scooters, drinking espresso, getting French-style haircuts and watching New Wave cinema. They frequented the same London clubs as French students and studied their clothes (Hebdige Hiding in the Light 110, Barnes 9). Mods tended to see themselves as citizens of Europe or of the world, rather than just residents of Britain (Polhemus 51). Modernists were also intellectuals, and read the beat poets and existentialist writers (Pearce Something Beginning With O 4).
As the influence of the Modernists spread, another mini-subculture appeared: "by 1960 there were these little gangs known as 'Scooter Boys'. They too were very clothes conscious" (Barnes 9). Scooter Boys wore parkas to protect their clothes while riding their scooters, and this became part of Mod fashion.
The Second Wave
In 1962, an article in Town magazine brought the various proto-Mods together into a definable group, with photos and interviews with some Modernists from London. It was the first media attention for the subculture, and it provided "inspiration and confirmation" for the scattered groups of Modernists around London and the Home Counties, as well as instructing new converts (Barnes 10). Other magazines followed suit and the Mod subculture was increasingly exposed to the public.
Media attention brought about the second wave of Mods, when "single-minded dedication to clothes was replaced by wider interests which included drugs, motor scooters and music" (Whitely 100). The influence of clothes was still very much present, however, and was used to determine the hierarchy of the group, since the fashion changed quickly and those who didn't keep up were dropped (Barnes 10) . "If you got caught in last night's sweater, you were finished" (Schaffner 114).
The fashion became less geared towards suits and included more casual wear. The popularity of casual styles made Mod more accessible, since it was easier to afford ready-made polo shirts than custom suits. Casual wear was also less susceptible to weekly changes in fashion.
Fashion was also more easily obtained. A growing number of boutiques, many located in Carnaby Street and on the King's Road, catered to Mod girls and boys. The most famous of these were John Stephen's His Clothes and Mary Quant's Bazaar. A Mod market was growing to accommodate the increasing numbers of Mods as the "exclusive Modernist style" became "the very inclusive Mod style" (Cashmore 30). By 1963, the word "Mod" came to represent "male and female pop fashions" sold in the boutiques (Whiteley 101). The coffee bars frequented by the Modernists were replaced by Mod clubs and discotheques. By 1964 there was a television show (Ready Steady Go!) and "no less than six weekly magazines aimed directly at the Mod market" (Hebdige Hiding in the Light 112). Also, previously obscure R&B records were being re-released.
The importance of drugs, music, and scooters increased. The High Numbers, later renamed the Who, were the "official" Mod band, and they played Tuesday nights at one of the "official" Mod clubs, the Marquee. Other musical groups began jumping on the bandwagon (Polhemus 52). The use of speed was necessary in order to cram all the leisure activities into weekends, evenings, bank holidays and lunch-times (Tom Wolfe describes a "noonday underground" of dance clubs frequented by Mods on their lunch hours).
Girls were more prevalent in the second wave of Mod. Nehring describes the position of Mod girls as "autonomous" and "positive," since they were more visible than in other subcultures, and had the freedom to "explore stylistic options of their own" (Nehring 260).
By 1964 there were several sub-categories of Mod: the "art school, high camp" Mods who wore make-up and dandified styles; the "mainstream Mods" with narrow suits and pointy shoes; the "scooter Mods" wearing parkas and Levi's jeans; and the "hard Mods" wearing Fred Perry shirts and filling the ranks of the seaside rioters (Brake Comparative Youth Culture 75). Barnes lists several names which Mods used to denote a hierarchy within the culture. "Modernists" were the forerunners of the Mods. "Mods" were any adherents to the style. "Faces" were "top Mods" and fashion initiators who inspired the younger Mods. Faces determined the changing weekly styles and created new dances, and were "one jump ahead" of the others. As Mod grew in popularity, the Faces called themselves "Individualists" or "Stylists" to separate themselves from the "diluted" version of the culture. "Numbers," "Tickets," and "Seven and Sixes" were all names for the younger, second-wave Mods. "Numbers" might have derived from a style of T-shirt with numbers sewn on the front. "Seven and Sixes" wore "T-shirts from Woolworth's that cost 7/6d." "States" were "kids who thought they were Mods because they wore a pair of Levi's and a British Home Stores brand of Fred Perry." "Mockers" were kids who wore combinations of both Mod and Rocker styles, and "Mids" did the same thing only not purposefully (Barnes 122-123).
The media continued to spread the trend. Then came Easter weekend, and the first of the Mod-Rocker "riots," in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, and then in May in Margate and Brighton (Szatmary 108). The media coverage of these confrontations "reduced the Mods to caricatures" (Polhemus 54).
Rockers, who were in some ways the stylistic descendants of the Teddy boys, wore leather, listened to fifties rock and roll, and rode motorcycles, and were the British version of Hell's Angels (London 89). Stylistically, Mods and Rockers were polar opposites. Mods described the Rockers as "dirty and ignorant," while Rockers considered Mods to be "pansy and soft" (Hebdige Hiding in the Light 113).
The confrontations that occurred throughout 1964 and 1965 were provoked by several factors, including boredom and the mass media coverage, which in a way, encouraged the violence by building it into a spectacle and creating a Mod-Rocker polarity which forced many non-Mod and non-Rocker teenagers to take sides (Brake Comparative Youth Culture 64). Though opposites, Mods and Rockers were not natural enemies, since their geographical areas were separate; Mods were usually from London and Rockers were usually from Northern towns, and physical confrontation between the groups had to be created by having them meet outside of their natural habitats (Barnes 126).
Newspaper headlines, such as "Day of Terror by Scooter Groups" and "Wild Ones Invade Seaside" only served to draw troublemakers and more media to the scene. Every bank holiday, the newspapers would make predictions of violence that served to attract trouble to a particular town. "The scene had been set for a battle. People had gone down to see the skirmishes. After all it was cheaper than taking the children to the circus. The press were standing around with cameras waiting for something to happen" (Barnes 128).
All the media attention transformed the Mods, at least in the public eye, into a fighting gang. A Margate magistrate described them as "long-haired, mentally unstable, petty little hoodlums, these sawdust Caesars, who can only find courage like rats, in hunting in packs" (Booker 237). The combination of "indiscriminate prosecution, local overreaction and media stereotyping" created a "cabalism; the solidifying of amorphous groups of teenagers into some sort of conspiratorial collectivity, which had no concrete existence" (Brake Comparative Youth Culture 64). However, in the public's memory and in the "Mod myth", the Mod-Rocker fights are an important image: a Mod participant remembers Margate as "great... like a battlefield. It was like we were taking over the country" (Booker 225).
Increased commercialization brought about "the spiritual death of Mod" by about 1965. "Certain substantial and highly influential sections of the media had come to recognize the vast potential of the youth market and had begun to exploit that market to the full" (Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 88). From 1965 to 1968, there were magazines, boutiques, clubs, radio stations, and television shows (Ready Steady Go! and Whole Scene Going) all geared toward the "Mod" market, all of which "effectively popularized the Mod life-style and simultaneously disarmed and deprived it of its original meaning" (Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 88). Mods splintered into groups, each which took a different direction. "Art school" Mod became "swinging London" and later, hippies. "Hard Mods" rediscovered their working-class roots and became skinheads. Some "stuck with soul," reappearing as the Northern soul subculture of the seventies (Pearce Something Beginning With O 7).
"Swinging London" was the media's name for the cultural impact of Mods on London's fashion designers, artists and the young "aristo-bohemians" known as the "Chelsea set" (Hewison 71). Jonathan Miller described this trend in the New Statesman in 1964:
Economic growth in the areas of media and fashion, brought on in part by the consumerism of the Mods and the creation of a Mod youth market, led to an "acceleration of some people's careers in journalism, some businesses, theater and art" (Hewison 73). This new society of artisans and businesspeople tended to be young and from a mixture of class backgrounds, and the media celebrated the "youthfulness" and "classlessness" that was in vogue, though in reality, a new "talent class" had been created (Nehring 239). David Bailey, a fashion photographer, published his Box of Pin-Ups in 1965, which documented the members of this new class: photographers (including himself), pop singers and their managers such as the Rolling Stones and Andrew Loog Oldham, actors (Michael Caine), dancers, models (Jean Shrimpton), fashion designers, boutique owners, interior decorators, club owners, artists, hairdressers (Vidal Sassoon) and even criminals (the Kray brothers) (Hewison 73-74).
The greatest impact of this period was to extend the word "Mod" to describe all of popular design, from music and fashion to furniture (Whiteley 6). The influence of Mod consumerism was evident in the new designs, and ever-present desire for new products led to the use of materials like paper and plastic in fashion and furniture design: "the mini-dress of ever-shortening length and adorned with a variety of patterns in colorful combinations, silver polyvinyl chloride clothing influenced by the space race, throwaway paper furniture with a life-span of six months at the most, posters paying homage to pop groups and boutiques, and cheap mugs emblazoned with the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes" (Whitely 6). In describing some of the new boutiques, Andy Warhol also described the new style and its meaning: "...almost everything in the store would disintegrate within a couple of weeks, and that was really Pop... Paraphernalia had become a really mass boutique, which was sort of a contradiction - now if you designed for them, you had to be able to make LOTS of whatever you made, enough to send out to their stores all over the country. The masses wanted to look non-conformist, so that meant the non-conformity had to be mass-manufactured" (Palmer 92). Other developments of the period were that more men took fashion seriously (menswear sales sere up 15 percent in 1965) and that fashion began to "trickle up" from street and subculture styles to couture, rather than the opposite (Whiteley 103, Palmer 88-89).
The Third Wave
In 1974, a young musician named Paul Weller found himself attracted to the sixties Mod subculture, because he preferred the old soul and R&B records to the current popular music. He also thought the Mod culture would give an angle for song-writing and an identity for his group: "We went out and bought black suits and started playing Motown, Stax and Atlantic covers. I bought a Rickenbacker guitar, a Lambretta GP150 and tried to style my hair like Steve Marriott's [of the Small Faces] circa '66. I felt so individual and arrogant because of it. It was like my own little esoteric world, people stared and thought I looked strange" (Weller 33).
By 1976, others had picked up the style, "youngsters" in the King's Road "were going to Acme Attractions to buy the sixties warehouse-clearance stuff" (York 203). The momentum of the revival was helped by the release of Quadrophenia in 1979, which according to the Who, was inspired in part by the Jam. Quadrophenia was an rock opera, (first an album and then a movie), about a young Mod's experiences in the 60s, including a recreation of the Mod-Rocker confrontations. The movie provided revivalists with style and music clues to follow. There were also several bands on the London club scene who were very influenced by 1960s music and clothing, and who, like the Jam, played a style of music that combined those elements with punk rock, which was a currently popular style (Luther).
The Mod revivalists were much more influenced by the media than the sixties Mods. The participants also tended to be younger, and the whole movement was very centered around bands: mostly the Jam, and to a lesser extent, groups like the Secret Affair and Purple Hearts. "The New Mod thing was a personality cult - the Paul Weller movement" (Pearce Something Beginning With O 23). Weller himself described the revival as "a little saddening and cheapening for the kids involved" (Weller 33). This negative view is also held by Bill Luther, who sees the seventies revival as comprising much of the same "moron element" that caused the 1964 riots (Luther). By 1980, bandwagon jumpers and the rock press had overexposed the movement "to the point where they think that it's been and gone on their own pages" (York 204).
The summer of 1981 experienced seaside disturbances, such as during the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, when "a crowd of 300 Mods stoned the police and passing cars and threw petrol bombs" (Hebdige Hiding in the Light 34). However, the disturbances were not nearly as widespread (either in the media or in reality) as the sixties "riots."
The third wave was also the first time Mod culture had been exported to America, as part of the export of punk styles in the early 1980s. American Mods were located mostly in California, where the weather usually permitted scooter-riding year round.
The Fourth Wave
In 1989, Modernist tradition was rediscovered with the new context of "acid jazz," which, unlike the previous "Mod revival", "kept alive that progressive spirit which had always been the true heart of the Mod movement" (Godfrey 70, Polhemus 52). The main issue with fourth-wave Mods is the agreement of this "progressive spirit" with '"revivalism": listening to music and wearing clothes from the sixties, while retaining a forward-thinking "modernism." Fourth-wave Mods usually solve this problem by wearing current styles that are based on sixties fashions, and listening to current music that borrows from the sixties in style and instrumentation, as well as enjoying the original fashions and music.
Another issue is the many possibilities open to a nineties Mod: thirty years of existence as a youth culture have led to many variations, each defined by clothing styles and musical preferences.
Besides acid jazz, the popularity in England of bands like Blur and Oasis have created a "New Mod." It is widely disputed whether these bands and their adherents should be included in the Mod canon, but their widespread popularity has undoubtedly led to greater media attention and the growth of New Mod clubs in London such as Yes Please and Blow Up (Parkes 36, Benson 128). The nineties version of the Mod movement is heterogeneous and includes sixties fashions and music of all types: fashions and music which would never have been accepted by sixties Mods are permitted, perhaps because none of the nineties Mods can remember the original.
Mod is also seen, especially in England, as a reaction against American grunge bands and the scruffy style associated with it. Just as mainstream fashion of the mid-nineties proclaims a "return to glamour," Mod is a return to style and "dressing up without feeling like a ponce" (Manning 34).
Generally, there are more females involved in fourth-wave Mod than in earlier versions, probably because of the societal changes that have occurred since the 1960s and 1970s. With "New Mod", girl Mods are as prevalent as boy Mods. Kevin Pearce's ideal nineties Mod is "resplendent in an elegant hand-stitched Italian jacket, John Smedley top, perfectly sculptured Levi's sta-prests, Clarks desert boots, hair cropped in the French style and back-combed on top with just off-centre parting, a Mose Allison LP in one hand and a copy of Alain Fournier's "Le Grand Meaulnes" in the other, while her heart beats up love like Count Ossie's drums. Mod being about defying tradition and time by subtly subverting the norm" (Pearce Melody Maker 30).
Mods represented themselves to the public, and to other Mods, by their choices in clothing, scooters, and music. These choices, as part of a subcultural style, represent meaning as part of a social discourse.
Clothing is an important part of cultural identification. A culture or subculture serves as a reference group, by which the members of that culture enforce standards and provide recognition within the group (Horn 166).
Mod fashion progressed from the strict Modernists of the early 60s to the Adidas-wearing "New Mod" of 1994. During its history, Mod style has incorporated varied influences and has, accordingly, projected different meanings to the public.
The first-wave Modernists were influenced by the "Italian look" of the late 50s and early sixties, and paid great attention to detail. In his 1959 novel Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes describes his Modernist character, Dean Swift ("a sharp modern jazz creation"):
Such attention to detail set Mods apart from the public. While working, Mods fit in with the workday standards of grooming and style, "some subtle telltale quirk notwithstanding - the way his tie was knotted, perhaps, or a three inch-high collar or two-tone mohair suit" (Schaffner 115). These were like "secret signs" that differentiated a Mod from a mainstream office worker (Chambers Urban Rhythms 79). Such differences also gave the Mods a subversive quality: unlike other youth subcultures, they conformed to a certain level of social acceptance (neatness, short hair, suits) and therefore were harder for adults to identify and figure out (Laing 150). Mods could fit into society and have jobs, yet simultaneously be "outrageously fashionable and in-crowd" (Cashmore 20).
The great attention to detail also brought elements of competition and exclusion into the Mod subculture. A Mod's suit would have a specific number of vents, buttons, and pockets, and the fashion would change often, sometimes weekly:
Pete Townshend: "There was a craze also for several secret inside pockets, so one tended to fold one's jacket over and put one's hands in one's pockets, holding the jacket open so that people could see that you had the right number of inside pockets" (Cashmore 30).
The attention to details also determined the width of trouser cuffs, the point and length of shirt collars, and the type of shoe leather. A quick turnover of style helped separate the in-crowd from the part-timers. The strict fashion rules were determined from within the Mod ranks (Barnes 6-7).
Modernist girls wore flared skirts and menswear-styled button-down shirts, which were a rebellion against the formal fifties styles with their corsets and girdles. Modernists also rebelled with their makeup, and cultivated a "Juliette Greco look" with thick eyeliner, plucked eyebrows, and no lipstick. They also did not wear jewelry, except for a watch or cufflinks. They wore their hair in straight, classic styles, often cut short, and "they spent hours getting it straight and then lacquered into position" (Barnes 16, Brake 76). The female version of a Mod suit had a boxy-shaped jacket and a straight skirt, and suits were worn with patent-leather shoes and three-quarter length suede coats (Barnes 122). With female styles, minute details were less important. Since there were less girls, it was not necessary to create a hierarchy through specific styles and changing fashions (Hebdige Hiding in the Light 110).
First-wave Mod style also emphasized quality. "A desire to demonstrate affluence was always secondary to a desire to demonstrate good taste - better to have one perfect suit than a dozen with the wrong number of buttons" (Polhemus 51). Another example of this desire was that Mods had their shoes custom-made (Whiteley 100).
There were other influences on the sixties Mod style. Clarke, Hebdige and Jefferson also cite various "subversive" influences on the Modernists, such as "Jamaican hustlers" known as "rude boys," who wore suits with short pants, porkpie hats and dark glasses. These elements, as well as the rude boy's affection for "ska" (a faster precedent of reggae music), were sometimes included in the Mod style (Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 95). Also given as a subversive influence is the style of British gangsters of the period, such as the Kray brothers, and their affinity for West End clubs. The possible presence of gangsters led to "subterranean intrigue... and this was the stuff for which the Mod lived and in which his culture was steeped" (Clarke, Hebdige, Jefferson 96).
The image of violence is another influence. Though most Mods were more interested in clothes than fighting, Pearce finds an ideal Mod symbol in "a six inch gold blade, a solid silver stiletto, a pearl handled razor. Everything is acute, angular, pared down, sharp. There is no waste. Everything is functional, immaculate, precise, pure" (Pearce Something Beginning With O 3). Melly describes Mods as "neat, pretty and creepy... even their offensive weapons were pretty - tiny hammers and screwdrivers" (Melly 171).
Another influence was androgyny. Mod girls wore masculine styles and cut their hair short, while Mod boys wore makeup and sometimes carried handbags (Barnes 122). Since girls were not seen as sex objects, they became "part of the gang" along with the boys (Brake 76).
As Mod grew in popularity, casual clothes became more common. Second-wave Mods wore Fred Perry polo shirts, Lonsdale cycling shirts, and Levi's button-fly jeans (which were shrunk-to-fit by sitting in a bathtub full of water, then scrubbed to induce fading). Casual clothes were cheaper and slightly easier to obtain than suits and custom-made outfits, and first-wave Mods disapproved of these styles, especially since they were "diluted" versions of Mod (Barnes 11).
The inclusion of casual styles also increased clothing options: