In the same way that the ted style originated in the early 1950s in emulation of the rich dandies of post-war London who hankered after the imperial glory and certainties of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Britain, the mod style originated in the late 1950s in emulation of the growing intellectual middle-class crowd who hankered after Modern Jazz by black American originals and European (French and Italian) chic.
The mods of course are most connected to the infamous seaside resort ruckuses between them and the rockers in 1964 but it was a fashion that changed considerably between the late 1950s and the late 1960s. Indeed, the abbreviation mod derived from modernist didn’t become current until about 1962 CHK.
The mod style was initially characterised clotheswise by Italian bum-freezer jackets and winklepickers and in hair by a quiffless ungreased free-flowing hairstyle of which the example was Adam Faith.
Debbie Clarke from Bolton, aged 15 in 1957, has painted a vivid picture of the change from the classic mid-50s teds to the newer rock’n’roll fans:
In 1958, there was a huge Italian influence on fashion, although the only songs were Come Prima, and Volare! The boys began wearing suits with short, boxy jackets, tapered knife-edge trousers, waistcoats and winklepicker shoes, with white button-down shirts and red thin ties and a matching handkerchief, (usually a bit of red cloth on a white card, which slipped into the top left-hand pocket of the jacket.) … / The dancing changed with the music and the dress, and became more “sophisticated”, a bit more restrained, as it was hard to move with the tight skirts and suits, and the Twist evolved with the Italian look. The singers became more like the ones in the early 50s, with no wild childs, or very few, and although the hot Summer of 1959 loosened people up a little, there was nothing of any great note in that year, Bobby Darin, (Mack The Knife,) Marty Wilde, (Teenager in Love,) but some good black American stuff like Ben E. King, Santo and Johnny, and someone called Johnny Tillotson. The music from then on didn’t change, and although there were still some old die-hard teds in the dance halls, they were becoming a bit of a joke to the new Italian-suited younger ones of my years.The refreshing person of that year in the UK was Adam Faith, with “What Do You Want?” which caused a stir by his music style and his dress style. [EXPLAIN IMPORTANT page 21 Edwardian Teddy Boy]
Mods is a shortening of Moderns in reference to fans of Modern Jazz music.
The 1959 novel Absolute Beginners describes modernists as young modern jazz fans who dress in sharp modern Italian clothes. The novel may be one of the earliest examples of the term being written to describe young British style-conscious modern jazz fans.
Mary Anne Long argues that “first hand accounts and contemporary theorists point to the Jewish upper-working or middle-class of London’s East End and suburbs.” Simon Frith asserts that the mod subculture had its roots in the 1950s beatnik coffee bar culture, which catered to art school students in the radical Bohemian scene in London. Steve Sparks, who claims to be one of the original mods, agrees that before mod became commercialised, it was essentially an extension of the beatnik culture: “It comes from ‘modernist’, it was to do with modern jazz and to do with Sartre” and existentialism. Sparks argues that “Mod has been much misunderstood … as this working-class, scooter-riding precursor of skinheads.”
Mods in the 1960s became associated with working class clothes-conscious teenagers living in London and south England in the early to mid 1960
2003 May BBC South Yorkshire
Think Mod: think parkas, scooters and fighting on Brighton beach. Or maybe not: Cult author Jeff Noon tells Oonagh Jaquest why he’s bringing the real Modernists to the stage in Sheffield.
Basically in the late 50s in north London a group of working class or lower middle class men started to dress and act in a certain way. / Another name they had for themselves was The Individualists and they were very flamboyant – working class dandies would be a good way to describe them. / You can imagine in the late 50s it would be so dark and grim in Britain then, they would be just like a splash of technicolour. / They were very influenced by European culture, by French and Italian films – that whole style and coolness, the beautiful mask of films by Jean Paul Belmondo and Marcel Mastriani, people like that. / And also by modern jazz they used to listen to, Charlie Parker and bebop and Miles Davies. That’s where they got the name The Modernists from.
And I was just fascinated by this and I just thought “Oh right”. So a few years later this becomes a fashion on the streets and a massive story in the press about the riots in Brighton and so on. / And I just wanted to have a look at that – this idea of a group of people creating something that was incredibly personal to them and was about being totally in love with their way of life. / And how they would feel when that became just something you could buy in a shop.
Q: So is it the exclusivity of the youth movement that you’re looking at?
Yes, so it was really about the whole individual thing. They didn’t buy stuff, they changed their clothes themselves, y’know? / They’d put extra buttons on and lengthen the vents and they would change this stuff week by week. / And slowly over the years this hierarchy came into place, where you would get this local face, the kind of ‘King Mod’ who would be giving out instructions about how long the vent would have to be this week and so on. So orders are being sent down.
The liner notes of a Duke Ellington album entitled Live at the Blue Note 1952 said ‘The Blue Note [Chicago (1947-)] was a haven for the smart set, in fact, the real mecca for moderns.’ (was album released in 1959?)
The Duke is on the Air: FROM THE BLUE NOTE, Chicago 1952 (1974, Aircheck 4, Canada) [& re-issued as ‘From the Blue Note’ by French Musidisc 1976]
songs: Intro / Tulip or turnip / Ting-a-ling / Flamingo / Rockin’ in rhythm / Sophisticated lady / Take the A train / Flying home / All of me / Bakiff / The hawk talks / Do nothin’ till you hear from me / VIP’s boogie / Jam with Sam / Just a-settin’ and a-rockin’ / Mood indigo.
Live at the Blue Note 09.08.2959 (Roulette 28637)
even by 1950, bop had yet to hit Chicago in a big way
The Blue Note was the first truly integrated club downtown. There simply was no other establishment in the Loop that offered hospitality to both races;
CHK Richard Weight
MOD: From Bebop to Britpop, Britain’s Biggest Youth Movement. pp.127-28 for importance of ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ (9 August 1963-) as spreader of mod fashions
Rpb Nicholls’s testimony
I am not sure when the term “Mod” began to be applied; probably about the time Rod Stewart adopted the designation “Rod the Mod.” I remember a Jazznik guy in Studio 51 waylaying me in the men’s room, probably in August 1963 or shortly before, and bemoaning how these young guys with short hair (he described Mods but didn’t use the term), were showing up in numbers and spoiling the blues clubs and generally messing up the scene. Although I withheld my council I was secretly miffed because he didn’t identify me as one of those guys, but it underscores that at that time we were getting a distinct Mod identity.
I am just trying to be historically accurate and I have simply relied on my own memory. Although I heard the term “modernist” earlier, I don’t remember hearing “mod” before 1963. So your Dad adding his name to his 1962 memory would help clear that one up.
For sure there were “mods” in 1962, that’s when I became one. Even in 1961, I remember Covent Garden boys from the fruit market at the lunchtime dances at the Lyceum in Aldwych with mod hairstyles and clothes, but I never heard them called anything beyond stylish young men.