Who were "the mods"?
The mod subculture originated in London,England in the late 1950s. It was one of the first, most distinctive and iconic subcultures, and lasted up until 1965. The strength of the Mod movement became evident when it was later revived in the 1970s, and then again in the USA in the early ‘80s.
The Mods were a group of young, predominantly working-class individuals that became associated with a distinct group of products and services, which included suits, parka jackets, winkle-pecker shoes, modern jazz, ska, soul, British beat and R&B music, Italian motor scooters, amphetamines, cafés and nightclubs. The Mod way of life can be summarised as a “total devotion to looking and being cool. Spending practically all of your money on clothes and all your after work hours in clubs and dance halls.” (Barnes, 1991: 8)
Clothes were most definitely the Mod core product, around which all their activities revolved, and all other “Mod products” complemented. Mods attached themselves to the Italian/French look and made it theirs. But why did the Mods need products to express themselves? The answer may well lie in the need for self definement, which Tuan describes aptly here: “Our fragile sense of self needs support, and this we get by having and possessing things because, to a large degree, we are what we have and possess” (Tuan, 1980: 472).
The concept of the self seeking support from the products one owns would certainly fit with the Mods. They were adolescent people that were “completely and utterly clothes obsessed” (Barnes, 1991: 8), and the idea that with every piece of clothing they bought they were one step further in defining themselves, would serve well as a credible reason as to why they were so passionate about them.
But what started this obsession with clothes? The Mods' initial inspiration came from looking at Italian fashion magazines and watching French films, but then the look began to develop through the process of purchasing made-to-fit suits, which became the Mod uniform that allowed them to identify each other.
This is an example of how, through the adoption of a pre-established “look”, it can be reworked, and given a completely new set of meanings, to reflect the new group inheriting the style. The Mods were not a group of young Europeans, they were the working-class, urban teenagers of 1960s Britain, they should have had no business in buying tailormade suits but they made this identity theirs. “Consumers actively rework and transform symbolic meanings encoded in advertisements, brands, retail settings, or material goods to manifest their particular personal and social circumstances” (E.J Arnould & C.J Thompson, 2005: 871).
Subtle alterations and changes to details, chosen by the Mods themselves, began to shape the “Mod look”. The following account describes the many ways a fitted suit could be adjusted:
“Most suits were still bought made to measure. So each time one was made it was made slightly different to suit each individual. For instance, they had rounded jacket fronts. Two, three or four button jackets. Covered buttons. The box jacket could have small side vents, 1”, 2” or 3” long or a half belt at the back, or both. Cuffs could be open, with or without a link button or a butterfly cuff, which were very cut-away and rounded to look like a bolero” (R. Barnes, 1991: 8)
Consumer Consumption Theory helps back up this idea that the Mods chose suits because of the many possibilities for alterations. “External objects become viewed as part of the self when we are able to exercise power or control over them” (Russel, W., Belk, 1988: 140). The suit offered the Mods this all-important control, which enabled it to become an integral part of the Mod’s arsenal of self-expression.
The decline of the original mods
The catalyst in the growth of the Mod subculture was most definitely the way it was commercialised between the years 1962-65. This process saw an expansion in the diversity of products being associated with “Mod”. The relationship between the Mods and brands was becoming increasingly stronger, and this slowly began to redefine the meaning of what it meant to be a Mod. Self-acclaimed “Mod brands” such as Levi and Fred Perry became popular and more casual clothes began to replace suits.
Some argue that this commercialisation process is also what destroyed the movement, because the whole Mod ideology stemmed from the notion of being different to everyone else, and once “Mod” was commercialised it lost its exclusivity, its distinctiveness and as far as the original Mods were concerned, its credibility.
“The mod culture lost its vitality when it became commercialised, artificial and stylised to the point that new Mod clothing styles were being created from above by clothing companies and TV shows like Ready Steady Go!” (Hebdige D. 1993: 174).