Influential Icons of Mod Culture

28 Sep 2019

Since it first bubbled up in the 1950s as a British youth phenomenon, mod culture has remained a strong presence throughout Britain. It brings to mind sharp aesthetics, classic parkas and sleek scooters. But its origins are far more nuanced. To explore how this look came to dominate music and fashion, we’ve taken a closer look at five influential mod icons.

Miles Davis

Image Credit: Columbia Records and Anthony Barboza

In the earliest days of mod culture (circa 1958), the music being played was not British rhythm and blues – it was American jazz. The term mod derived from modernist, in reference to the sophisticated smoother modern jazz that was sweeping through youth culture. And with this fresh sounding music, came the neat and sharp fashion trends of jazz stars like Miles Davis. The 1958 album artwork for Milestones featured Davis in a green button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. It was the dawn of a new age: clean-cut yet relaxed elegance. According to the 2008 BBC documentary ‘British Style Genius’, every young man in London was dressing the same within weeks.

The Who

Photo Credit: The Visualeyes Archive/Redferns

From the mid-60s onwards, The Who became the gatekeepers of mod sensibilities, encapsulating both the mindset and image of this youth movement. Style wise, much of their early fashion influence came from Keith Moon and Pete Townshend. Moon was an experimenter, matching denim with desert boots and popularising the target logo t-shirts and contrast stripe knitwear that would become synonymous with the band. Whereas Townshend rocked ex army jackets and redefined the union jack for a post-war generation that were embracing a more liberal national identity. In the late 70s, the band would also be heavily responsible for the first great revival of mod culture thanks to the success of Quadrophenia.

The Kinks

Image Credit: Barrie Wentzell

Despite lampooning the British fashion scene in 1965 with their hit song, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” – which mocked swinging London and its evangelism for fine clothes – The Kinks had their own sartorial legacy. Guitarist Dave Davies might have stood in his brother’s shadow musically (Ray Davies), but he stood out on stage. His advanced taste for mixing mod and peacock style trends – think bright floral shirts and sharp formal coats – was part of what gave The Kinks such a strong visual identity, and garnered them a huge mod following.

Small Faces

Image Credit: Tony Gale

Some of the biggest influences on UK mod culture, like the aforementioned Miles Davis, weren’t necessary mods themselves but just valuable reference points for its followers. Small Faces on the other hand, were mod to their bones. During the 60s, the London band released some of the greatest hits of the genre (think: “Itchycoo Park” and “Tin Soldier”), and their taste for flamboyant shirts and three button suits with bold patterns made them Carnaby Street heroes. During their height, they even collaborated with the mod fashion overlord John Stephen, wearing his clothes during shows.

The Jam

Image Credit: Erica Echenberg/Redferns and Mirrorpix

In the late 70s, interest in mod culture was revived thanks largely to the release of Quadrophenia and a rising new band from Surrey called The Jam. The Jam didn’t just rekindle early mod sensibilities, they combined them with a fierce punk energy. Their fashion sense was smart but less serious: unbuttoning their shirts, loosening their ties and opening up a whole new generation to the beauty of a good harrington jacket.