Sideburns and scooters: why the mod endures
WHEN HE triumphed in the Tour de France last month, Bradley Wiggins not only joined the select band who have won the famed yellow jersey, but secured his place among another group of famous figures.
The English cyclist found himself bracketed alongside such diverse individuals as the star of the forthcoming movie version of The Hobbit; the last British tennis player to win Wimbledon; a fashion model whose career has spanned decades; and a long-serving survivor of the punk explosion. With his distinctive sideburns, sharp taste in tailoring and penchant for scooters, Wiggins joined the likes of Martin Freeman, Fred Perry, Twiggy and Paul Weller as a mod icon.
More than 50 years after a new breed of crisply attired, musically discerning youths began frequenting the jazz clubs and coffee bars of London, the mod movement still wields a lasting fascination in the popular imagination, a point underlined by the widespread press coverage of Wiggins’s sartorial preferences. For what initially appeared to be a passing fad, it has displayed a remarkable staying power.
Mod remains an influential strand in popular culture, regularly reappearing to insinuate itself with new waves of music and fashion. And, for some, it never went away.
Mods may forever be associated in the public mind with a handful of cliches – parkas, scooters, rivalry with rockers – but beneath the media shorthand lies a disparate scene with a capacity for reinvention that has attracted successive generations of devotees.
As suggested by even the most cursory list of the movement’s stylistic idols – Freeman, actor and lifelong mod; Perry, who lent his name to the uber-mod polo shirt; Twiggy, the face of Swinging-Sixties London; and Weller, former frontman with The Jam, long dubbed “the Modfather” – it is a subculture that defies easy categorisation.
From the beginning, there has been significant, if often overlooked, Irish input into mod’s development. Despite the use of Union Jack imagery and the default soundtrack of vintage English acts such as The Who, The Small Faces and The Jam, mod is much more than the nostalgic Anglocentric throwback of popular stereotype.
“I don’t think it’s a retro movement,” saysDublin-based DJ and mod fanzine publisher Joe Moran. “Mod has been always the search for something different, be it fashion, music or even the scooters.
“Being a DJ, I’m always looking for new tunes that no one else has, but it could be a different cut to a suit, or a good-looking bike. Certainly, there’s a lot of looking back at music and style, but now you see young kids coming in and adapting the mod ideal to the time they’re living in. And I think that spirit feeds into its endurance.”
Just what constitutes the “mod ideal” is an elusive matter. The late Pete Meaden, the first manager of The Who and the nearest thing to mod’s patron saint, famously defined it as “clean living under difficult circumstances”.
For dedicated followers such as Moran, it is “a way of life, about having a pride in how you present yourself in the world”.
For the less committed, who may not even call themselves mods any more, it can just come down to a lingering preference for button-down shirts or a yen for 1960s music. (Full disclosure: this writer, a teenage mod in the 1980s, falls into the latter category.) This broad spectrum makes mod a difficult subculture to pigeonhole – there are plenty of Who-loathing purists who wouldn’t be seen dead in a parka – but equally it has enabled it to spread far beyond the time and place it began.