Mod is a subculture that began in London in 1958 and spread throughout Great Britain and elsewhere, eventually influencing fashions and trends in other countries, and continues today on a smaller scale. Focused on music and fashion, the subculture has its roots in a small group of stylish London-based young men in the late 1950s who were termed modernists because they listened to modern jazz.
Significant elements of the mod subculture include fashion (often tailor-made suits); music (including soul, ska, and R&B); and motor scooters (usually Lambretta or Vespa). The original mod scene was associated with amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs.
During the early to mid 1960s, as mod grew and spread throughout England, certain elements of the mod scene became engaged in well-publicized clashes with members of rival subculture, rockers. The mods and rockers conflict led sociologist Stanley Cohen to use the term “moral panic” in his study about the two youth subcultures, which examined media coverage of the mod and rocker riots in the 1960s.
By 1965, conflicts between mods and rockers began to subside and mods increasingly gravitated towards pop art and psychedelia. London became synonymous with fashion, music, and pop culture in these years, a period often referred to as “Swinging London.” During this time, mod fashions spread to other countries and became popular in the United States and elsewhere—with mod now viewed less as an isolated subculture, but emblematic of the larger youth culture of the era.
Early mods watched French and Italian art films and read Italian magazines to look for style ideas. They usually held semi-skilled manual jobs or low grade white-collar positions such as a clerk, messenger or Office boy. According to Hebdige, Mods created a parody of the consumer society that they lived in.
Many mods drove motor scooters, usually Vespas or Lambrettas. Scooters were a practical and affordable form oftransportation for 1960s teens, and in the early 1970s, public transport stopped relatively early in the night. For teens with low-paying jobs, scooters were cheaper and easier to park than cars, and they could be bought through newly-available hire purchase plans.
Vespa with characteristic collection of mirrors
Mods also treated scooters as a fashion accessory. Italian scooters were preferred due to their clean-lined, curving shapes and gleaming chrome, with sale driven by close associations between dealerships and clubs, such as the Ace of Herts.
For young mods, Italian scooters were the “embodiment of continental style and a way to escape the working-class row houses of their upbringing”. Mods customised their scooters by painting them in “two-tone and candyflake and overaccessorized [them] with luggage racks, crash bars, and scores of mirrors and fog lights”. Some mods added four, ten, or as many as 30 mirrors to their scooters. They often put their names on the small windscreen. They sometimes took their engine side panels and front bumpers to electroplating shops to get them covered in highly reflective chrome.