The Mods, a subculture that took its name from a shortened form of Moderns, appeared in Great Britain around 1958. This group of young people adopted the title because they listened to modern jazz (and in the ’60s, psychedelic rock, soul and R&B), and adopted a fastidious mode of modern dress that bordered on the obsessive. Members were known to be club go-ers, often attending three or more nights per week, and identified as dressing with crisp lines, bold colors and impeccable cleanliness. They often were retail clerks and the like by day — working class people — and Mods by night.
Mod men began tailoring their Italian and French suits, which began with the garments’ modern style and thin lapels, to individualize their style. Many mods were either tailors, or had tailors in their families or circle of friends, so the modifications were available and affordable. Women also adopted this style, giving Mod fashion a more androgynous look with pants, shorter hair and dresses that did not stress body shape. In the early 1960s, the Mods hung out at selected clubs, including those on Carnaby Street in London. Fashion boutiques quickly sprouted up in the three block area in the late fifties and early sixties, inspired by these fashion dandies. Mary Quant became known as a chief designer of Mod fashions, which led to the popularization of the mini skirt by 1965. Though not the inventor of the mini skirt, it was her designs that entered the public realm. Top models of the day, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, exemplified the Mod style in magazines and on the runways. Mod fashion was also influenced by Op and Pop Art of the day.
Bands of the era began playing the clubs, and shopping the fashions in and around Carnaby Street. Early adopters of Mod fashions were Small Faces, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Who and The Rolling Stones — check out photos of the era and you’ll see band members decked out in thin lapel or lapel-less suits, bob-cut hair, checks, polka dots, tailored velvet jackets and pants, and shirts with pointed collars, chest and cuff ruffles. Very probably it was these British Invasion bands that brought Mod style to the attention of the American boomer population. It also didn’t hurt that the bright colors and bold geometrics of the style were perfect for a TV industry beginning to broadcast every program in color.
Interestingly enough, The Beatles started out dressing as Rockers, which was a second subculture group that took their style of dress from movies like The Wild One, with denim pants and leather jackets being their primary influence. Photos of the band before they hit American shores show the group playing onstage wearing jeans and leather jackets, or leather jackets and leather pants. Somewhere before their American tour in 1964, the band shifted to Mod style. More than one music historian claims the shift was for the American audience, since the Rocker style was associated with juvenile delinquents and miscreants throughout the fifties by the uptight Americans. Judging by the reaction they got from older folks regarding their hairstyles and higher-heeled boots when they did arrive in 1964, the sartorial change may have been best for their career in America.
Contrast the style of the Beatles circa 1962 and then in 1964, on their first Ed Sullivan appearance:
By 1967, elements of psychedelic and bohemian fashion blended with the Mod and Rockers style to produce the eclectic fashions of the late 1960s. Mod as a singular fashion moment was all but over. The Beatles had popularized an Eastern aesthetic and the Nehru jacket that year, and men’s hair became longer and facial hair was back in vogue.
Mister Boomer flirted with Mod style when he was able to, within the constraints of his parochial school. Throughout the early sixties, even though his parents had the final say on his clothing purchases, he favored brightly colored shirts, but took the plunge himself in 1967 with his first Mod-like flowered print shirt. He wore it on occasion into the 1970s. He has had several polka-dot and flower prints since that time.
Today Mod-inspired fashions are back in the sotres, updated for current tastes. This is most apparent in the polka-dot and flower print shirts and dresses now available through retail outlets.
How about you, boomers? Was your early wardrobe influenced by the Mod style?