It’s A Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod Boomer World

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?

Boomers Greeted 1969 With Hope and Trepidation

Fifty years ago, in January of 1969, the country was still reeling from the previous year. 1968 would forever be remembered as a tumultuous year, marked by violence, assassinations and an escalation of the war, mixed with hopes of peace and prosperity. A new president was elected and about to be sworn in, but his very presence divided the nation, in no small part along the Generation Gap of young and old. Television, the national highway system and an expanding economy all led to a widening of the Gap. This gave rise to the opening of the first The Gap retail store in 1969, in San Francisco, California. The store catered to boomers with a limited, but highly discounted, inventory of clothing that would appeal to the boomer generation; chief among the items was Levi’s jeans. Blue jeans had become the de facto uniform of the Boomer Generation. Jeans represented a break from the constraints of earlier generations, and exemplified the freedoms cherished by boomers to do what they wanted, when they wanted, dressed as they wanted. While not every boomer was in the streets protesting “Tricky Dick” in their blue jeans, the mistrust boomers had for the incoming president, especially when it came to Vietnam, turned out to be well warranted.

Here are some of the events that marked that month, fifty years ago:

January 5: The Space Race continued to heat up with the Soviet Union launching two space probes to Venus within a few days of each other, Venera 5 and Venera 6. The intention was that both crafts would arrive at Venus one day apart in order to cross-calibrate data collection of the planet’s atmosphere and surface before being disabled by heat or crushed by pressure. Venera 5 descended at a faster rate than Venera 6, broadcasting data for only 53 minutes, thus dooming the main goal of the mission.

January 12: Led Zeppelin released their first album in the United States. Featuring songs with titles like, Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown, boomers were immediately on board.

January 14: Lyndon Johnson gave his final State of the Union address before Congress. He only had one week left in his presidency, so it turned out to be his farewell speech to the people of the United States. He highlighted some of his accomplishments during his five-year tenure, including the passing of the Voting Rights Act (1964) and the creation of Medicare (1965). He mentioned that the unemployment rate, as 1969 began, was sitting at 3.3% and spoke of his hope for peace in Vietnam. He also spoke about the need for Social Security to keep up with the times, and urged a raise of “at least 13%” for the nation’s seniors on the program. Johnson also mentioned that though a new administration would be taking over, it did not mean a dismissal of the issues and challenges that faced his administration. On that front, he wished his successor well on behalf of the American people.

January 15: The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5 with the intention of docking with Soyuz 4, which was launched a few days earlier, and in orbit. The spacecrafts were manned and became the first ever to dock in space. Cosmonauts on board became the first ever to transfer from one craft to the other via a spacewalk before both vehicles headed back to Earth.

January 20: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States.

January 22: An assassination attempt on Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev failed. An army deserter, Victor Ilyn, fired shots at Brezhnev’s motorcade, killing a driver and injuring several cosmonauts who were riding with Brezhnev in the motorcade. Ilyin was captured and, while facing the death penalty, was declared insane. He was placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital for twenty years.

January 26: Elvis began recording what turned out to be his comeback album at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Among the songs that became hits from the sessions were, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.

January 28: A massive oil spill from an off-shore well occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It caused the closing of the harbor as oil leached onto the beaches. It was the first oil spill that was ever given coverage on TV as images of sludge-covered seals and sea birds reached into homes across the country. Historians say this event galvanized the people of the state and marked the beginning of state — and later, national — environmental legislation. The disaster inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson (Democrat, Wisconsin) to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Long a proponent of conservation issues, Senator Nelson wanted Earth Day to be a grass-roots effort by the people, with the goal of making the nation’s city, state and national governments aware of environmental issues.

January 30: The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios in London. After a few songs, including Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, noise complaints from nearby office buildings brought the police to the roof to shut the impromptu concert down. The 42-minute show was filmed and recorded with two eight-track machines in the basement, five floors below, and became the basis of the Let It Be film and album in 1970.

Nixon was sworn in as president, the Space Race was going full tilt, and the Vietnam War raged on. The Beatles played on a rooftop, and Led Zeppelin hit the shores of the U.S. Fifty years ago, the month of January was a momentous beginning to what would prove to be yet another historic year in the lives of boomers.

What event from January of 1969 looms large in your memory, boomers?