Mod a way of life

Peter Campbell on his GS 160  (circa 1964)

Peter Campbell on his GS 160  (circa 1964)

“I only found out the other day that that 'mod thing' was about the whole look, not just about scooters–thank God for that eh?” 

Frazer Jellyman, lovely Brummie biker bloke

To a born and bred biker or 'rocker', why anyone would want a scooter is just incomprehensible. But, in a way, what the lovely Frazer had only just found out, is that “mod” is really a way of life. It’s almost a belief or a religion for the urban working class. 

Mod as a “way” has been developing since the early “modernists” of the late 50s: the tailored suits and Cuban heels on young men was a serious departure from their fathers' way of dressing. The slightly younger generation, known as 'the baby boomers', then really got a hold of the modernist thing and turned it into “mod”; it was still all about the look and tailored suits, but also a softer, more Italian way of dressing.

Mod is a way of life: it has its way and it has its own ideas, and it's a predominantly male, working-class thing. Mod is not just about a fashion trend captured by the media and frozen in time to be forever harking back to the 60s pop nonsense that gets regurgitated by nostalgia programmes on the telly. At the core of mod is a pursuit of the aesthetic: the bella figura is everything, but it's really an appreciation of style, and an optimistic, if sometimes angry, view of the way things should or ought to be. Once you believe in this aesthetic way of life, it never really leaves you. 

Mod is its name; it's about being in the now, being well, er... modern. Obviously its style and tone have changed over the years but cut, simplicity and quality are still its guiding principles. Mod has moved from the modernists of the late 50s, early 60s, with their box cut suits and Cuban heels, then the mods of '64 with tailored mohair suits cut “bum freezer” style so their jackets didn't crease on their Vespas. This style is also aggressively young, as an older man cannot ever be thin enough to wear suits cut in this style. 

This “baby boomer” generation really accelerated mod and moved into Levi's, Hush Puppies, Fred Perrys, button-down shirts and soft knitwear. This generation broadened the style and music, listening to American Soul and home-grown bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who. They had neat haircuts without grease (my dad still won't use anything in his hair) and most importantly there was a lot of them. They didn't really see themselves as mods because that's just what they wore and what they did. They were urban. The US Army M65 Fishtail Parka was in abundance in the early 60s and available cheaply from Army Surplus stores. The mods adopted it for purely practical reasons: they were cheap and warm to ride your scooter in and, most importantly, the M65 protected the precious tailored suit. It was the suit that made the mod, not his parka.

Not only did the mod have bespoke suits, but often wore hand-made shoes: Dad said you could tell where a mod came from by the way his shoes were made, because the young men would use their local cobbler. Dad and his mates all wore shoes made by Solli and swears he only had one last...

Janet Campbell

Janet Campbell

Rockers represented almost everything the mod was against: Brylcreemed, greasy hair often styled into a quiff which was 50s American rock 'n' roll. This to the mods was the hangover from the war generation, and looked ridiculous to them with their new views and way of living. 

As ever, we can look back and see that the British rockers were quite different from anything America had; the “Café Racers”, or “Ton Up Boys” were just as an important working-class youth culture, but by the 60s, it was passé. Rockers were also more suburban than the mod urban cool. The problem with youths having a punch up on a bank holiday weekend is that it gives the press something to promote and sell papers. This media hype has left an historical over-emphasis on these minor skirmishes and the mod versus rocker myth lives on. The mods didn't go to Brighton to beat up rockers: they went there for a break from city living, promenade along the front in their finery, go to night clubs to dance and hopefully have sex. They were young, wealthy and on holiday. 

Janet & Peter Campbell (centre couple) St Leonards '64

Janet & Peter Campbell (centre couple) St Leonards '64

Mod then drifted out to the suburbs, and the next generation started to add mirrors and lights to their scooters (Lambrettas also became acceptable due to longer stroke and bigger bore engines which could tackle suburbia and beyond). 

Then there was a bit of a lull in “mod”. Just as everyone wondered what they were going to do after “punk”, The Who released Quadrophenia, and it kicked off a mod revolution for what were effectively the baby boomers' babies! In every comprehensive school across the land there were legions of parka-clad kids, identifying with a youth trend their parents had started. This new generation was younger and listened to The Jam while they waited to be old enough to ride a scooter. I'm one of those mods or 'revisionists', as I've noticed them now referred to.  This generation, mixed with skinheads and rude boys, found Northern Soul and adopted it, then drifted into 'scooterists' and the great Scooter Rallies of the 80s.

Mod got lost for a while as “casual” came and went, then “acid house” flattened everything in its wake of bass. I’m aware I'm being a massive generalist when describing the chronology of youth cults.

Paul Weller had given up on The Style Council, but out of the blue, mod reappeared in Brit Pop: Blur and Oasis reinterpreted Mod, and all of a sudden it was cool again. Weller finally launched his excellent solo comeback album and us old mods breathed a sigh of relief that mod was still relevant. 

But now, oh wow! - looks like mod is back and it means business. Weller is the man to record with, the Gallagher brothers have adopted mod. Then there's Miles Kane's debut album 'Colour of the Trap', which is a brilliant repackaging of mod. Then, if all of that wasn't enough, Bradley Wiggins: a mod that has kept the faith won the 2012 Tour de France  planting mod right back into our hearts and its European aesthetic origins.

My eldest daughter Florence is seventeen and she's currently wearing DM loafers, Levi's and a Fred Perry (borrowed from her brother) and her mother's old Sage Green MA1. She looks very cool and dare I say it a little bit mod, like her father, grandfather and grandmother before her.

This mod thing will never die, and it's certainly not just about the scooter.