Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion - Quadrophenia


Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion

At the basis of youth subcultural phenomena we can identify a general trend: protest. At the origin of youthful anger and the violent generational clash lies the contestation of the bourgeois capitalist system.
In particular, the post-war generation accused society of flattening man, de-qualifying the intellectual and commodifying everything, even art and thought.

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion Vespa

Mods Vespa Headlights

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion

Modernists and Music

Mods derives from modernists, or fans of modern jazz, who in the early fifties had developed a style in dressing sober, rarely gaudy and elegant down to the last detail.

The mod phenomenon was born immediately as an elitist style: only those who had the constancy and the desire to maintain an impeccable style were accepted in the restricted underground world of mods. It was not a question of who had more money, but of who most possessed qualities such as originality, taste and inventiveness.
The mod phenomenon was mainly a matter of style.

Exponents of the working class had nothing to envy to their upper class fees and respect for the other mods was acquired independently of their bank account.

When the media discovered this underground phenomenon in 1964, it lost many of its core characteristics. The mods became a national phenomenon with television programs (Ready, Steady, Go!), Mod musical groups (Who, Small Faces, Action) and above all for the clashes in seaside resorts against rockers. With the mods becoming a “media” phenomenon, the original inspirers of the style stopped calling themselves “mods” and acquired the word “stylists”.

But a new generation of young people from the English suburbs formed neighborhood gangs and called themselves “hard mods”. Their look was much more spartan than the original mods and much more casual and street (apart from the evenings where efforts were made to maintain high standards of elegance and style).

The mod phenomenon had a renaissance in the late seventies, when a revival resulting from the release of the film Quadrophenia and from punk bands that had been influenced by the mod experience (Jam, Secret Affair, Purple Hearts) gave way to a mass phenomenon that lasted the span of two seasons.

The Mods are contrasted by the Rockers, whose style is similar to that of the American Rock and Roll followers of the fifties, dressed in leather jackets and riding large motorcycles.

Rockers and Ton-Up Boys

The Rocker culture, developed from the Ton Up Boys of the 1950s, from which they assimilated the rockabilly way of dressing and rock’n’roll music, was born due to the greater availability of money of the English working class after the Second World War . In those years, films, music and lifestyles immediately made their own by young English people came from the USA. Their idols: Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen.

Rockers preferred motorcycles that they often modified to make them more performing and therefore more suitable for clandestine racing.

The Ton-Up Boys owe their name to the way of saying “doing the ton”, which indicated in jargon the fact of racing motorbikes over 100 miles per hour (the ton) an incredible speed for those years.
Generally a competition started from one bar and ended in another bar.

Certainly the development of the road network on the main arteries of the nation had its weight, accompanied by the birth of the first commercial businesses for truck drivers, the so-called “cafes”. Alongside all this, we cannot forget the progress of the British motor industry, which perhaps reached its peak in those years.

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion Ton-Up Boys

Ton-Up Boys

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion

Cafe Racers

These modified bikes take the name of “cafe racer”, which has now become a kind of motorcycle in itself, a classic that does not seem able to fade.
The Ton-Up Boys removed every piece not strictly necessary from their bikes in order to reduce weight and increase aerodynamics: this is the reason for the single seat, the lowered handlebars or the tapered exhausts.

At the famous Ace Cafe you could listen to rock ‘n roll in the jukebox, since the radios still didn’t pass such a “subversive” kind of music. Within a few years, several clubs were born where rockers met to discuss and work on their bikes as well as to organize raids around the city. One of the most iconic and influential clubs that motorcycling has delivered to history is the Fifty Nine Club.

Simply called “The 9“, it was founded in 1958 by the curate John Oates in Hackney Wick, a district of London’s East End. After the war, it was one of the most disadvantaged areas in the whole of the United Kingdom, where poverty reigned and most of the children lived thanks to small thefts.

Anglican priest Oates decided to open a youth club to keep them out of trouble. In 1962 the section dedicated to motorcycles was opened, precisely because most of the members of the club were passionate biker.

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion Ton-Up Boys

A fact that caused a sensation precisely because rocker culture was not well viewed by society, which considered motorcyclists to be vandals and slackers, if not outlaws.

The club was run by Reverend Bill Shergold until 2009, so much so that around London he was known as “The Vic’s Caff” (“the priest’s bar”).
The Rockers were not well regarded because they were considered dangerous even though they despised the use of drugs. For their love of motorcycles, they were considered the antithesis of Mods, who loved Italian scooters instead. Soon, the rivalry between the Rockers and the Mods, turned into a real feud, leading to violent clashes.
The clashes between the two movements were famous, on the beaches of Brighton, Bournemouth, Margate where they fought with punches and kicks, in some cases it came to the use of knives. On these occasions the police made many arrests.


The Mods were inspired by the Ivy League look, or the way of dressing of American University students: bottom-down shirts, three-button jackets with tight lapels, pants without pences, fine ties, moccasins or brogues.

The mods were influenced by everything that came again from the European continent (especially from Italy and France, in that period at the forefront of fashion): polo shirts, sweaters, shoes, scooters, haircuts were all means to create the so-called “total look”, or rather an image on the whole elegant, completely distinct from the way of dressing of the approved mass.

The attempt to differentiate themselves from others was in constant evolution. Following the paradigm “Adopt, Adapt, Improve” the mods were inspired by the different inputs that the booming consumer society of the period offered and made them their own by reinterpreting them in a personal way. The items of clothing changed often, while still maintaining a minimalist perspective: functional clothing for use (for example, the parka used exclusively to protect against bad weather when traveling by scooter and not very bright colors. What was “in” one day, it could have been “Out” the following week.

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion - Parka

Mods Parka

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion

The mod philosophy was just that: take the best that the company offered, not passively follow a fashion but aim at the continuous search for an individual aesthetic and behavioral perfection.

Rockers Clothing and Fashion

Starting in the 1960s, the Rockers also adopted their own style in dressing. They wore leather jackets often decorated with rhinestones, patches and brooches and decorated them with aggressive designs, a leather cap (called kagney), leather pants or Levi’s jeans, white socks rolled over the motorcycle boots or, alternatively, shoes of pointed skin. To these, while driving on a motorcycle, they added the helmet, open on the front, aviator goggles, a white high-necked submariner sweater and a usually white scarf,
Rockers wore slicked hair and long sideburns or mustaches, while mods had a more neat look.

Over time these differences led the more masculine-looking rockers to consider the mods of effeminate and snobbish drug addicts, while the latter considered the rockers to be ignorant and peasants, and to consider them “aimless rebels”, that is people who they thought they were different but whose “rebellion” was actually only a fashion.
Being a rocker meant freedom of expression, self-affirmation and rebellion against the constraints of mass society: dreams of freedom riding a motorcycle.

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion - Parka

Ringo Starr

Mods and Rockers Styles and Fashion

Music and Cinema

Music was a fundamental aspect for every mod and only those who had the desire and the taste to research the darkest music were worthy of being part of this sect.
The Mods attended a circuit of clubs where they listened to a certain type of music not yet commercial: jazz, soul, R&B and Jamaican ska unknown to most.

Rockers mainly listened to rock and roll sung by white artists of the 50s and 60s such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, while mods listened to British jazz and rock from bands such as The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Beatles and other genres such as soul and ska, mainly the work of African-American musicians.

The conflict between the two sides inspired Stanley Kubrick’s cult film, A Clockwork Orange (1971), while Quadrophenia (1979) tells the story of the tormented mod Jimmy Cooper, with a dual personality. What Mod and Rockers were: the two personalities of British youth during the 1960s, who left a lasting impression in the following years
In the Beatles film All for One, a journalist asks Ringo Starr if he was a mod or a rocker: the drummer answers “I’m a mocker” to this question.

These two subcultures gave birth to successive styles continuously reworked, from rock to grunge, from rockabilly to skinheads, from punk to Britpop of the 90s.
Although for many the Brit Pop was not classic enough to be considered truly mod, its icons, Oasis and Blur, for their bold attitude and their style, seemed decidedly mod, with the parka and long sideburns.

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