Mod: A Very British Thing

Posted by in July's Magazine

Mod was, essentially, a male fashion trend, so something of a first in the world of clothing. Short for modernist, followers didn’t look back but embraced everything modern – and helped invent the 60s.

John Stephen: A cool, cocky, Glaswegian – who never lost his accent despite the odd Cockney intonation – was the fashion equivalent of a rock star. The Mods besieged his fifteen boutiques in Carnaby Street. The Modfather was commemorated with a blue plaque in the street in 2005, one year after his death.


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David Bowie: Funny to think he was musically active in the mid-60s. There are photographs of him in full on Mod mode. The hair and clothes, the Look.

Twiggy, (who would later appear on the cover of Bowie’s Pin Ups): The first supermodel, now national treasure and face of M&S, Twiggy’s big year was 1966 when she became the epitome of swinging London. Knock-kneed and huge eyed – accentuated by (the late) Vidal Sassoon’s Eton crop – she changed the face of fashion modelling in an instant.

Europe: According to style writer Ted Polhemus the Mods loved everything European – from Italian-style suits and French new wave films: ‘To be Mod was to be international and this new generation saw themselves as citizens of the world, embracing everything from Jamaican ska to Italian cuisine’.

The music: Motown, modern jazz, Northern Soul, Georgie Fame, Julie Driscoll, DC Fontana, Ike and Tina Turner, Doris Troy, Eric Clapton, Britpop, The Who, Stone Foundation, Stax Records, the Small Faces…so much music to discover.

Vespas and Lambrettas: Were nicknamed ‘hairdryers on wheels’. The Mods preferred this mode of motorscooter transport to oily motorbikes because the engine was totally enclosed, so none of their fashionable duds would get soiled.

Mod Barbie: Francie dolls were introduced in 1966. Francie was Barbie’s ‘Mod cousin’ and was the first doll with real eyelashes. She had a slimmer ‘teenage’ figure than busty Barbie and wore the kind of go-go boots and minis that Barbie wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was becoming a mod, mod, mod world for Barbie but for real Mods it was all wrong, wrong, wrong.

La Dolce Vita: Fellini’s uber-stylish art movie crossover of 1960 was an enormous influence on the Mods.

University haircut, (men): Mod boys had ‘college-boy smooth cropped hair with burned-in parting’, according to Colin MacInnes’s seminal Mod novel Absolute Beginners.

Lulu: Of all the 1960s pop dolly birds she was the Mod-est of the lot, her earthy sound derived from Northern Soul.

Speed: The street name for amphetamines, the Mod equivalent of ecstasy. The drug was an upper which kept you buzzing all night. Though not a Mod, as far as we know, Judy Garland was known as Amphetamine Annie.

Martin Freeman: British actor and Mod fan famed for his role as the sensible one in The Office. Today’s modern Mod.

Parkas: These ex-Army surplus all-weather jackets had a detachable hood (often trimmed with rabbit fur) and a fishtail for wrapping between the legs for extra protection (mass contraception was in its infancy). They were ideal for keeping modern grime off Mod threads.

Quadrophenia: The amphetamine fuelled, and totally over the top movie recreation of the Mod world, with The Who throbbing on the soundtrack. Full of clumsy anachronisms, the film is fantastically exuberant teen junk. Horrible thought: Johnny Rotten was up for the part of the hero but Phil Daniels got it instead. Look closely and you can see a host of actors who have become national treasures (Timothy Spall, Ray Winstone, Toyah Wilcox). By contrast, the film version of Absolute Beginners is like being trapped inside a faulty pinball machine.

Baracuta G9: Not a summit meeting of sharks but, as any Mod knows, the definitive blouson.

Revival: The Mods will go on forever, for, according to Paul Weller, the Mod look has been constantly revived from The Jam in the 70s to Oasis in the 90s. Not forgetting football casuals.

Online: Too much to choose from. Check out,,,, the, Original Modernists 1959-1966 facebook group.

Blue Note records: The true cool record label. The music, the sleeve designs…’nuff said.

Vidal Sassoon: His most famous client was Mary Quant who sported the hairdo of choice for all female Mods. Sassoon opened his Bond Street salon at the tender age of 26.

Peggy Moffitt: America’s answer to Twiggy who later went on to model topless swimsuits and was famous for her austere, shiny, black bob.

The roundel: According to the new A-Z of Mod, Peter Blake used the target symbol in a painting in 1961 and the Mods adopted it with gusto. Keith Moon wore the red-white-and-blue target on a T-shirt on a record cover and the rest is history.

Fred Perry: British tennis star who gave his name to the to-die-for Mod staple, the polo shirt.

Info: A-Z of Mod, by Paolo Hewitt & Mark Baxter, published by Prestel at £16.99

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