The Mods: Style and Symbols

Topics: Subculture, Working class, Dick Hebdige Pages: 8 (2390 words) Published: December 1, 2013
Unit: Introduction to Cultural and
Historical Studies
Degree: BA Fashion Journalism
Term 2
Unit Leader: Janice Miller

Natasha Fawn

“Fashion (is) a key resource through which individuals in late modernity construct their identities and position themselves in relation to others” Bennett, A. (2005) Culture and Everyday Life, London : Sage. p.1115

In this paper, I will be looking at how post-WWII subculture, notably the ‘Mods’, constructed their distinctive style in response to cultural and economic changes that occurred after the war, with reference to historical occurrences in both America and Great Britain. I will also attempt to examine how the mods unique subcultural symbols are so recognisable to the movement, even though most existed from wider culture entities and were merely recycled to change the discourse meaning. I will also concisely look at the ‘Rockers’, a rivalling subculture that existed along the mods in the early 60’s, and draw comparisons and distinctions from their lifestyles, backgrounds and aspirations as well as comparing their distinct opposing style.

To start, I will try to define subcultural style referring to where it can be seen and why nonconformist fashion may appeal to youths. With subcultural styles, it is the sphere of leisure that we are most interested in analysing. This is because when defining ‘leisure time’ we think of free time, or a region of free choice, however, the working classes are restricted by structural and cultural factors and therefore cannot be described as free but as having relative freedom. This leisure time is restricted by financial restraints, limiting the individuals to budget part of their weekly wage to recreation (Clarke, 1976, p147). One could argue that this is where subcultural style flourishes as work/school wear restricts the individual from expressing their personality as they are made to dress in a uniform with the collective. This then subsequently triggers a response from youths wanting to rebel against the system and create an image that defines their

desired way of life, as well as cultural position in society. As a youth, rebellion through clothing is an attempt to stand out, but still remain part of a clique. By displaying different codes, they ‘go against the grain of mainstream culture’ to communicate a significant difference (Hebdige, 1979, p102)

Britain in the 1950’s was worlds apart from ‘the golden age’ that was occurring in the USA. While America enjoyed emerging from WWII wealthier and more powerful than ever, the UK was still struggling to come to terms with the damage that ensued after the war. Yet, for the youth of Britain, things were changing. With the national service being eradicated and full employment taking its place, the rise of the ‘teenager’ began. The ‘Teddy Boys’ arose, a movement that was influenced by American Rock ‘n’ Roll music and culture. This was something that society had never seen before. The establishments felt threatened by the youth movement and the press made sure to document and exaggerate the violence and unruly behaviour of the Teddy Boys. However, this period didn’t last long as the mainstream started to catch on, with the fashion and music being duplicated for the masses. The Teddy Boys then dissolved into various other subcultures as their proud identities were taken and exploited into everything that they were rebelling against in the first place. The two new major groups that formed were the ‘Ton Up Boys’ and the ‘Coffee Bar Cats’. The Ton Up Boys altered their image with Rock ‘n’ Roll as their foundation rode big motorcycles and wore leather and boots. Contrasting this, the Coffee Bar Cats had a more European influence, riding Italian scooters and dressing in tailored suits. From these two groups, you can undoubtedly see which group progressed into the mods and which one into their rivals, the ‘Rockers’.

The end of the 50’s saw the immigrant population increase...

Bibliography: Cohen, S. (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and
Rockers, 3rd Ed, London: Routledge
Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes (2007), Hodkinson, P. and
Deicke, W (eds), New York: Routledge
Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The Meaning of Style, New York: Routledge
Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain (1976) Hall, S.
Modculture (2011),, accessed 2 March 2013
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2009),,
Price, L. (2011) ‘The Modern Mods’, The Sun,, accessed 3 March 2013
Stagg, G. (2012) ‘Isn’t Bradley Wiggins a bit old to be a Mod?, The Telegraph,, accessed 3 March 2013
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