The Mod Boy Look by Giles Metcalfe

by Modculture 6 September, 2011

Fred Perry polo shirt

Fred Perry polo shirt

As the mod scene moved out of London and into the provinces, many embraced a new commercialised mod look. Giles Metcalfe looks at this ‘mod boy’ look.

The younger mod kids who got attracted to the Mod movement with the rise of The Who and the Small Faces wanted cheaper “high street” alternatives to the bespoke and handmade clobber that their more affluent peers sported… Kids in the far-flung reaches of the country that got to see the bands but who could never get up to London couldn’t afford to get the gear hand made or source shops that sold the clothes at a price.

Cheaper alternatives were needed. Basically, style, quality and convenience. As it spread to the provinces, the look diversified away from the strict purist definition of Modernism and led to a wider “commodification” and commercialisation; with the ultimate conclusion being the availability of mod shirts in Woolworths! With the advent of cheaper alternatives, kids outside of London could afford to adapt the Mod look and add their own personal elements.

Levi’s 501s:
Shrunk to fit and faded to make them look worn in. Worn with desert boots, cycling shoes or bowling shoes – casual mod.

Fred Perry polo shirts:
The polo shirt emerged from the polo field (funnily enough), with tennis players Rene Lacoste and Fred Perry stamping their mark on the style. Looked good with jeans and desert boots but were smart enough to be worn under a suit. Basically a utility garment that could be worn both during the day and at night without having to go home to change.

Ben Sherman shirts:
Ben Sherman started off in Brighton and then opened shops in London. Retaining the elements of the sharp tailored shirts that early Mods had hand-made, Ben Sherman started mass production in his Brighton factory. Features such as the button-down collar, the button at the back of the collar, the back pleat and loop were staples of his shirt designs and endure today. Sherman expanded his own network of shops and placed in his product in department stores.

Clarks Desert Boots:
Nathan Clark brought the design for the desert boot back from Egypt with him after the war. Initially a staple of the Beatniks, the boots were adopted by the Modernists which led to its position as an essential part of any Mod’s wardrobe. Equally at home with a suit or jeans, the desert boot is another utility item. Due to Clarks ubiquitous presence on the high street, desert boots were also widely available whilst cheaper non-branded alternatives could be purchased from newspaper and magazine adverts.

With the commodification and commercialisation of the look brands emerged. The brands that offered the right product at the right price, or were the only manufacturers of particular items, became pre-eminent and well-established. Tailors and bespoke shirt makers went back to servicing their rich clients and the City Gents whilst the brands catered for the younger market.

Post-1960s, brands diversified so as not to become too readily identified with one relatively short-lived youth movement and, therefore, limit their appeal and selling power. However, connotations get attached to brands and these connotations are hard to shake off. Indeed, many modern brands seek to exploit these connotations and create them if they don’t already exist – you need only check out the Ben Sherman website or look at high fashion’s adoption of the “Modern Mod” and retro looks for instance.

To say that the Mod look is defined by a small number of brands is equally as narrow a definition as saying that it is only “bum freezer” suits or fishtail parkas, but certain brands will always be associated with Mod – Fred Perry and Ben Sherman for instance. This association continues today and is why I ascertained that certain brands are indivisible from the Mod look whilst not being the only definition of it.