Mod is a subculture that began in London and spread throughout Britain and eventually elsewhere.
The term Modernist was used to describe a group of stylish young working-class men in London in the late 1950s who listened to modern jazz and danced at drug-fuelled Soho clubs into the night. They wore tailor-made slim suits and rode vespa scooters, looking to Italian and French films and magazines for style ideas. It is argued that they emerged out of Beatnik coffee bar culture. The Teddy Boys of the 1950s also paved the way for making male interest in fashion more socially acceptable.
Due to the increasing affluence of post-war Britain, the youths of the early 1960s were one of the first generations that did not have to contribute their money from after-school jobs to the family finances. Mods sought to reject the class-obsessed, old-fashioned and repressed British culture of their parents. They used their disposable incomes to buy stylish clothing at the youth-oriented Carnaby Street boutiques. From there, Mod fashion and Swinging London was born.
Mods were influenced by visiting American jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie to wear Oxford shirts from brands like Brooks Brothers. Ben Sherman cashed in on this by founding his shirt company in 1963 and was embraced by Mods. They also wore thin ties, cashmere jumpers and Chelsea boots. Their hair was modelled after French New Wave film actors. The American Ivy League look was another influence on the style.
The movement spread and peaked in the mid 60s with R&B and rock music groups incorporated into the culture including The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks. British symbols like the Union Jack flag and the Royal Air Force roundel were adopted to use in clothing and became associated with the look.
Mary Quant was an instrumental figure in the establishment of female Mod fashion. Women dressed more androgynously than before with short haircuts, trousers, men’s shirts and loose mini shift dresses. Supermodels like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton exemplified the female Mod look.
The ‘Ready Steady Go’ music show spread awareness of fashions and its presenter Cathy McGowan, dubbed ‘Queen of the Mods’, was so idolized for her style that she launched her own mail order fashion line in 1965.
The 1966 film Blowup portrays this period in Swinging London with the main character based on fashion photographer David Bailey.
The scene became entangled in well publicized clashes with a rival subculture: Rockers. Rockers considered Mods effeminate because of their interest in fashion and style. The term ‘Moral Panic’ was first used in conjunction with mod and rocker violence. These clashes subsided in the mid 60s when Mod culture gravitated away from its roots and towards Pop Art, psychedelia and rock music.
London became synonymous with fashion and music and the culture spread to the United States and elsewhere, known as the British Invasion. Mod became much less of a subculture and more emblematic of youth of the time in general and used to describe anything that was fashionable.
American musicians adopted the British look. It eventually became associated with psychedelic rock and the early hippie movement. It lost its vitality through over commercialization and when youth gravitated towards a less fashion conscious look by the end of the decade. The original Mods were settling down, starting families and had less time for all night parties and Carnaby street shopping. Some of the working class London Mods split off and later became skinheads in the 1970s and 80s, which was the subject of the film and television series ‘This is England’.
The 90s Britpop movement was heavily influenced by Mod culture. Modern Mod icons include the musicians Miles Kane and Alex Turner.