Fashion Zeitgeist and Icon Report
February 19, 2013
With the end of World War II came the rise of the comfortable middle class. In Britain, middle class families were experiencing an increase in wealth; there was no longer a need to rely on elder children of the family to provide money for survival. This provided a new kind of consumer. Teenagers and young adults were acquiring after school jobs to have extra income, parents could afford to give them bigger allowances, and all the money was theirs to use. With disposable incomes, the end of the war, and the need to rebel from conservative notions and dress, the youth culture of Britain was on the cusp of a modernist revolution. The revolution was known as The Mods. The Mods were identified as “cool, hip, and modern.” Mod boys would wear tailored Italian suits and expensive shoes while the girls embraced androgyny-wearing mini-skirts and short bob haircuts. To understand The Mod culture, a phenomenon that spanned from the late 1950’s to the early to mid 1960’s, it is important to look at its origins, influences, beliefs, motifs, and how it has shaped and influenced the modern culture of today.
As mentioned before, The Mod generation was beginning at the end of World War II. It is important to note that many youth subcultures began to emerge during this time. Melissa M. Casburn, writer of “A Concise History of the British Movement,” describes the cultural climate for British youth: “Struggling to escape the oppressive morals, family obligations and strict discipline in schools and on the streets, a string of youth cultures emerged as a way of rebellion and self expression…”(Casburn, p. 1). The Mod culture origins come from a few different preceding subcultures. Before The Mods’ signature flashy Italian suits, the Teddy boys were a group of young men reviving the British “dandy” look: drape jackets with drainpipe trousers or jeans with their hair in a “quiff” all coming toward a single curl towards the front of the face. The Teddy boys, or Teds, came from copying American actors like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” and listening to rhythm and blues-another American influence. Dick Hebdige, author of “Subculture: The Meaning of Style,” describes the style of the Teddy boys as a “plundered form of black rhythm and blues and the aristocratic Edwardian style” (Hebdige, p. 50). The Teds developed from the blue collar lower class neighborhoods condemned to unskilled work, so becoming a Teddy boy was to live outside of this reality. It was a type of fantasy built upon the fetishism of American pop-culture: “Westerns, and gangsters, luxury, glamour and ‘automobiles’ (Hebdige, p. 50). Another influential group, the Beatniks, was also a precursor to The Mods with their introduction to coffee bar culture. Coffee bars were more aimed at middle class art-school students but brought in a mix of youths from different backgrounds. It was a place that stayed open past bar hours and would always have a jukebox playing the latest R&B, jazz and blues. It was a meeting place for the youth to trade records, dance, and stay up all night. The beatniks also loved more intellectually influenced styles such as French and Italian films and copied Italian magazines. From this, Hebdige argues, “the mod subculture gradually accumulated the identifying symbols that later came to be associated with the scene such as scooters, amphetamine pills, and music” (Hebdige, p 51). A new development of youth rebellion was on the rise as the Teds and beatnik culture was becoming a stale trend. Casburn describes the rise of The Mods as beginning with a small group of tailor’s sons in East London who adopted a smooth and sophisticated look by combining Italian and French modes of dress. They wore Italian suits with narrow lapels and impeccable tailoring that were worn with pointed collared shirts. The shoe of choice was an extremely pointed toe shoe...