Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mods: Their Roots, The Revival and How Mainstream Fashion Has Borrowed From it Again

as thrilled as i've been to see ad campaigns featuring bold, geometric prints and a-line mini dresses, all topped with bouffants and beehives and multiple layers of lashes, i'm also, at times, annoyed at how other fashion writers are presenting these to the masses. titles and captions enticing people to be "go" or "become" mod are making me cringe, for reasons similar to the ones i've listed in a piece i wrote in november entitled no such thing as a punk fad: the effects of mainstream fashion borrowing from subculture style. in it, i briefly mention mod fashion and promise to write about it at a later date and so here we are.

firstly, let's look at an example of some of the recent designs i am referring to. the most notable collection, by a long shot, is marc jacobs' spring/summer 2013.

spring/summer 2013 louis vuitton by marc jacobs (courtesy of

and marc jacobs for his own brand, same season (courtesy of the

most designers included several mod-inspired designs and/or style elements in their spring/summer 2013 collection, even if nobody went quite as all out as marc jacobs. mini skirts, short, a-line dresses, trapeze coats, bouffants, twiggy-inspired eye make-up, etc., could be seen marching up and down runways last fall and have been making their way down the fashion food chain and onto the streets.

it's not because you wear a mod-inspired dress that you are a mod.

the mod movement started in england, in the late 1950's and peaked in the early-to-mid 1960's. the word mod derives from the word "modernist" (the current and prior mod revivals make that a tad ironic, given how wonderfully retro it now is) and it was, essentially, a rejection of the strict, british class system. it was born out of the 1950's jazz scene, where appreciators of the genre were usually split into two groups: those who liked traditional or "trad" jazz and those who preferred "mod" or "modern" jazz. it was also a counter to the rocker culture, deeming that the former were stuck in the 1950's and represented all that was dated and stubborn and boorish (and american).

over the years, there has been much debate over what subculture morphed into the mod one and it's somewhat clear to me that both the mods and rockers were influenced by both the teddys and the beatniks. the teddy boys and girls (known as judies) were the first teenagers and it's normal that, while england and america's youth all started to rebel and a market was created for and targeted at them for the first time ever, many changes occurred and subcultures rapidly gave birth to other subcultures, causing them to pop up every few years. 

mods first listened to modern '50's jazz and blues. in the 1960's, rhythm and blues came into play. they watched art films, rode around on vespa and lambretta scooters, read italian fashion magazine and lived a life based on frivolity, excess and fun. 

important fashion and cultural icons of the time were mary quant, thanks to her mini skirt design. i highly recommend the vidal sassoon documentary on netflix. it delves into the professional relationship between he and mary quant and how, together, along with twiggy and jean shrimpton, they drastically changed the fashion world.

mary quant. (courtesy of

jean shrimpton. (courtesy of

twiggy. (thanks to

more images from this time:

(courtesy of

(courtesy of

the who in 1962. (thanks to

in 1966, the mod movement experienced a sharp decline due to the commercialization of their trends and mainstream designers adopting them. hippies came in and psychedelic rock took over the masses, taking a lot of the mods in with it. the rolling stones, the who and the beatles all changed their music to fit the changing times. mods were also growing up. the 'hard mods'  of the mid-to-late 60's became skinheads. the poorer ones lived in same areas as people from west indies so ska was discovered. soul, rock steady and raggae was the music of choice for early skinheads. they turned away from the hippie movement, which was more middle-class and drug-oriented. 

it is important to note and to repeat that only the aforementioned 'hard mods' became skinheads. steve sparks, an original mod says, "mod has been much misunderstood... as this working class, scooter-riding pre-cursor of skinheads". 

for woman, the mod movement represented independent female thought. short skirts, androgyny, partying it up with the opposite sex and taking the first steps toward breaking away from the excessively patriarchal  society that had, until that time, been the only way.

there was a mod revival in the uk, during the late 1970's. quadraphenia came out in 1979. the jam became the most popular current band for mods but a lot of the new wave bands from that time were appreciate by this latest wave of mods.

the revival hit the states in the early 80's and especially in california. these mods were greatly influenced by england's two-tone ska movement.

the 1990's saw another revival, thanks to bands like oasis, blur and the verve. i remember someone i once dated and i talking about how all of those bands were before their time but i believe they started out both after and before their time. as you may have noticed, two out of those three bands are currently touring, having caught the latest mod wave.

it's hard to tell how many more mods there are this time around, compared to the last two revivals, but the internet makes it possible for us to see that the numbers have been steadily increasing for the last few years. this wave has been big enough to prompt designers to create new, mod-inspired lines, for mod-revival bands to pop up all over the place and for staple brands such as fred perry to open more stores in large cities around the world. mod clubs surfaced in bars around the world a few years ago and have recently been seeing an increase in regular patrons. 

thousands of photo bloggers on tumblr are newly proclaimed mods. a lot of them have interesting things to say and lovely wardrobes to display but i can't help but wonder about the slew of fifteen-to-twenty-year-olds claiming to be mods. what does it mean to them? is it only a fashion statement? fair enough, if it is but are they aware of their roots? a lot has changed between the earl '60's and today. 

also, parkas were and are worn by mods to protect their suits from mud and dirt from scooter-riding and, although they (like the doc marten boot, which used to be working boots) have become more than that over time, it still makes me chuckle to see someone who doesn't have a scooter or isn't even of age to own one wear one because it defines them as being a mod. i guess the same could be said about non-bikers wearing biker boots, cyber goths wearing aviation goggles on terra firma and around and around i could go but i'd much rather stick to the point and bring this home:

as i had discussed in my piece about designers yoinking punk style elements for their mainstream collections, there are pros and cons to this phenomenon. in short, clothing becomes more accessible and eventually so at reduced prices, as they make their way down the chain, but your culture becomes a fad and, before you know it, what you're wearing is not just retro, it's passe... at least it is for the masses, for those who don't get where you're coming from and so this is why i've added this piece to a few others out there. hopefully a handful of people will have learned something and may even express appreciation for an important part of cultural and fashion history! there a many publications out there for you to peruse, if you're interested in learning more. for a nice, visual representation of the times, check out "mods and rockers" by gareth brown. 

next up in three-part series: my very first style profile, that of a montreal mod.

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