An insider’s guide to Mod lifestyle and culture

These days, the Mod look is as popular as ever. In most large towns you can find shops and boutiques dedicated to the style. Based in Norwich, Mod One is a shop well known in the East Anglian scene and offers the quality and look that you would expect from such an image conscious sub-culture.

Here, Bikesure interviews Mod One owner, David Hanton, about Mod fashion’s connection with music, scooters and the seaside.

When did Mod fashion start and why?

“Mod fashion began in London at the end of the 50’s and has its roots in groups of young, working class men with a sharp sense of style. The name ‘Mod’ originated from the fact that this first incarnation listened, mostly, to modern Jazz. This would evolve with the movement over time as bands such as The Small Faces and The Who became the zeitgeist. But one thing that never changed was the sharp fashion that defines them.”

What inspired the clothing and look?

“As with most youth orientated sub-cultures, the Mods chose a look and style that distanced themselves from that of their parents. But there was also a want from these modern young (mostly) men to differentiate themselves from the ‘Teddy Boys’ which was a prevalent sub-culture of the late 50’s. Whereas the Teddys looked to America for their influences – Elvis, Brando in The Wild One, etc – the Mods looked to Europe and in particular Italy for their style. Slim-fit suits and sharp shoes became the uniform of choice.”

What materials were used to make clothing and accessories?

“Mods care deeply about the look and feel of their clothing. Quality wool and cashmere are often used. The footwear of choice, such as the famous Chelsea boots were generally made from high quality leather.”

Carnaby Street in the 1960s – Trevor Mitchell

Where did they purchase the clothing?

“During the 1960’s, Carnaby Street became known as one of the main focal points of British, and indeed, global fashion. It was a melting pot of colours and cultures and became the antithesis of the gloom laden and austere 1950’s. Musicians and film stars, from The Beatles and The Stones to Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot, were all regulars and it was even name checked in The Kinks’ ode to style, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’.

In 1979, fuelled by the music of Paul Weller and the film Quadrophenia, the Mod revival exploded across Britain. In the same year, Sherry’s opened its doors for the first time. It offered classic three button suits, Mod style parkas, Italian knitwear and other staples of the Mod wardrobe. From then up until the present day it has become a touchstone for Mod fashion.”

What were the popular brands?

“Some of the popular brands that made up the basis of the classic Mod look were Fred Perry, Merc London and Baracuta. Founded in 1963, during the early days of the movement, Ben Sherman has become synonymous with Mod culture and their crisp button down shirts are a key component in every well-dressed Mods wardrobe.

Over the years, newer labels such as Pretty Green (founded by none other than Liam Gallagher) have taken the classic style and subtly updated it for the 21st century. And of course, Lambretta not only provide the scooters but they make the shoes and the parkas as well!”

Due to the relatively short distance from London, Brighton became popular with the Mods – (AP Photo/Frank Leonard Tewkesbury)

Where did the Mods hangout?

“Because a big part of the Mod culture revolved around their scooters, naturally they wanted to show them off. They would tend to congregate at places where these could be shown off. Cafes and diners would often be the sort of places where they would meet and hangout.

The heart of the Mod scene was, unsurprisingly, London. Due to the relatively short distance to Brighton and Margate, these two seaside towns became popular with the Mods and are seen as important and iconic fixtures in Mod lore. They were the scenes of the famous battles between the Mods and Rockers during the 60’s.”

What was an ace face?

“An Ace Face was a term used to denote someone who was top of the Mod tree; he dressed the sharpest, danced the coolest and rode the best scooter. Sting’s character in the film Quadrophenia is called Ace Face and the term has become shorthand for the leader of the pack.”

One of the most iconic Mod bands were the The Small Faces (Image credit: Getty)

Who were Mod bands?

“The Mod movement evolved from the late 50’s onward and so did their taste in music. During the middle years of the 60’s the most iconic of the Mod bands were the The Small Faces and The Who. This developed through to bands like The Jam and in particular Paul Weller, who has become the Mod for all ages to such an extent that he has become ‘The Modfather’! The music and the look of these bands and especially the sharply dressed Weller, worked together in perfect synergy and provided a soundtrack and defining image of this bold and exciting culture.

Other key but less well-known bands during the Mod revival of the late 70’s were Secret Affair and The Chords, the latter of which were championed by the Modfather himself.”

How did the scooter fit into the Mod way of life?

“The scooter is without a doubt the definitive mode of transport for the classic Mod. Because it was (relatively) inexpensive and infinitely customisable it allowed individuality to come to the fore. Its clean, sweeping curves fit perfectly with the sleek good looks that were so beloved of the Mods. As with their clothes, their scooters were an expression of the continental style they embraced. Because of this, the two famous Italian brands, Vespa and Lambretta, were the scooters of choice. There was a tribalistic element to which of these two icons was preferable but both were firm fixtures of the scene.”

Special thanks to David Hanton at Mod One for helping with this feature. 

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August 8, 2023