Mod (subculture)  

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"Mods and Rockers were the first post-war style-based subcultures of Europe. The Mod lifestyle was based around fashion and music that developed in London in the late 1950s. Mods showed an affinity for scooters, such as the Italian Vespas. Rockers favoured American rock and roll music by artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and early Elvis Presley. Dress style was dominated by leather jackets, Levi's jeans, biker boots and the ubiquitous James Dean quiff. Motorbikes were also integral to the scene, with British brands Triumph and Norton being favourites."--Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mod (AKA Modernism) is a subculture that originated in London in the late 1950s, and reached its mainstream peak in the early to mid 1960s. Their fight with the Rockers are considered the first "style wars" of the twentieth century. See Mods and Rockers.


'Mod' music

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


The mod subculture began with a few cliques of teenage boys with family connections to the garment trade in London in 1958. These early mods were generally middle class, and were obsessed with new fashions and music styles, such as slim-cut Italian suits, modern jazz and rhythm and blues. Their all-night urban social life was fueled, in part, by amphetamines. It is a popular belief that the mods and their rivals, the rockers, both branched off from the Teddy boys, a 1950s subculture in England. The Teddy boys were influenced by American rock n' roll, wore Edwardian-style clothing, and got pompadour or quiff hairstyles.

Originally the term mod was used to describe fans of modern jazz music (as opposed to trad, for fans of traditional jazz). Eventually the definition of mod expanded beyond jazz to include other fashion and lifestyle elements, such as continental clothes, scooters and to a lesser degree a taste for pop art, French New Wave films and existentialist philosophy. The 1959 novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes has often been cited as an inside look at the late 1950s teenage London culture that spawned the 1960s mod scene.

Mods gathered at all-night clubs such as The Scene and The Flamingo in London, and Twisted Wheel Club in Manchester, to show off their clothes and dance moves. They typically used scooters for transportation, usually either Vespa or Lambretta. One reason for this is that public transit stopped relatively early, and scooters were cheaper than cars. After a law was passed requiring at least one mirror be attached to every motorbike, many mods added 4, 10, or even 32 mirrors to their scooters as a mockery of the new law. This can be seen in the cover for The Who's album, Quadrophenia, which depicts the main character, Jimmy, on his scooter looking into his four rear-view mirrors.

As the lifestyle developed and was adopted by British teenagers of all economic strata, mods expanded their musical tastes beyond jazz and R&B — to also embrace soul (particularly records on the Atlantic, Stax, and Tamla Motown labels), Jamaican ska and bluebeat. They also developed a distinct brand of British beat music and R&B, exemplified by artists such as Georgie Fame, The Animals, The Small Faces, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, and The Spencer Davis Group. Lesser-known British artists associated with the 1960s mod scene include: The Action, Zoot Money and The Creation. Cathy McGowan, who hosted the television pop music show Ready Steady Go!, became known as the "Queen of the Mods" (a title sometimes also applied to singer Dusty Springfield and model Twiggy).

Members of the rockers subculture (associated with motorcycles and leather biker jackets) sometimes clashed with the mods, leading to battles in seaside resorts such as Brighton, Margate, and Hastings in 1964. The mods and rockers conflict led to a moral panic about modern youth in the United Kingdom.

Decline and new beginnings

The mods were the products of a culture of constant change, and by the time Bobby Moore held the World Cup aloft in the summer of 1966, the mod scene was in sharp decline. As psychedelic rock music and the hippie culture rose, many people drifted away from the mod lifestyle. Bands such as The Who and The Faces had changed their musical styles and no longer represented themselves as mods. The Bohemian style of the hippie culture featured a passive outlook on life that differed from the frenetic energy of the mod ethos.

At the other end of the youth culture spectrum, both in philosophy and appearance, were the hard mods (also known as gang mods). The hard mods were rougher, had less emphasis on cutting-edge fashion trends, and got their hair cropped short. The hard mods soon transformed into the first skinheads. They retained basic elements of mod fashion – three-button suits, 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 boots. Their style also borrowed heavily from the Jamaican rude boy look, which included cropped hair, short-hemmed trousers and Trilby hats. Their shorter hair may have come about for practical reasons; long hair can be a liability in industrial jobs and in streetfights. The 1960s skinheads also kept some of the original mod music styles alive; specifically ska, soul, rocksteady and early reggae. These first skinheads weren't associated with any political movements and mostly represented working-class pride.

Mods have also made up a notable proportion of the northern soul scene, a subculture based on obscure 1960s and 1970s American soul records.

Revival and later influence

The 1979 film Quadrophenia, based on the 1973 album of the same name by The Who, celebrated the mod movement and partly inspired a mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s. Many of the mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock and New Wave music. The revival was led by The Jam (whose frontman Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords. This 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 scene in England, and was unique in its racial diversity. Mod revivalist scenes also developed in other areas across the United States and Canada.

The 1990s Britpop genre displayed obvious mod influences, with bands such as Ride, Oasis, Blur and Ocean Colour Scene (who have collaborated with Paul Weller). The mod subculture has spread around the world, but now mainly exists as an underground culture.


  • This Is a Modern Life: The 1980s London Mod Scene by Enamel Verguren, Helter Skelter Publishing (2004) ISBN-10: 1900924773
  • The Soul Stylists: Six Decades of Modernism - from Mods to Casuals (Paperback) by Paulo Hewitt, Mainstream Publishing (2003) ISBN-10: 1840185961

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