Monday, August 22, 2011

My First 'Mod' Suit

We all had to start somewhere.

Friends, I know what you're thinking, but no, no, no,  I wasn't born with a pair of cufflinks in my mouth. In fact, it was actually pretty late in the game (in my eyes) before I even got my first suit. And no, this doesn't count:
Don't worry kid, you'll be diggin' it in about 12 years.
My first steps down the ol' Mod trail were difficult as I did not have the benefit of a sibling guiding my path, a group of friends already way into this, or knowledge of any fanzines dedicate to the culture. All I had was a vague, basic description of Mod style that my dad shared with me: thin ties, parkas to protect their suits, and scooters

Out of these three things, what stuck with me most was the thin ties. For me, that became the defining factor of what separated a Mod from the regular guy on the street in the late 1980s... a time of wide, obnoxious, Ralph Lauren ties. So, for the next couple of years, that was what I noticed in the photos I hunted down. And early on, the main photos I had to go on were from a couple of Jam records, a picture of The Who, one Specials LP, and one Madness LP. Yes, these were all a part of my first fashion inspiration.

At this time in my life, around the age of 15, my dad had just turned me on to the idea of shopping at thrift stores for clothes. Prior to this, my wardrobe had just shifted from Bugle Boy sweaters and pants to Smiths t-shirts and, well, Bugle Boy pants. See, I was never one of these guys who came to school one day sharing a love of '80s alternative music and the next day transformed, overnight, into Mod guy(!). I saw people at school pull similar transformations, like switching overnight from Depeche Mode t-shirts to flight jackets covered in ska pins or showing up on a Monday in new, pre-Hot Topic goth wear after spending the last several months in Esprit labels. No, an immediate shift in style like that and I risked being labeled, *gulp*, a poseur
No, wouldn't want anyone to think I was a poseur or anything.
My switch from new-wave-KROQ kid to Who-patch-covered-parka kid was a long, deliberate process. I felt I had to first get the music down before jumping into the clothing. Plus, other than thin ties and suits, I still didn't know much about the clothing. I had yet to see Quadrophenia or read the Richard Barnes Mods book. But, those Jam, Specials, and Madness albums gave me a clue. (Note, I didn't mention my Who LP... Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy was not the path I was leaning toward.)

So, one day, I went on a thrift store trip with my dad, grandma, and aunt. I went straight for the suit section and started hunting for my first Mod suit. And boy, did I find it! A two-piece, B&W, houndstooth number... just like the one I could swear Paul Weller or the Specials would wear! I ran to my dad, "Look, a Mod suit!" Yes, it was slightly large on me and, yes, I'd either have to get it tailored to fit or else grow another inch, but still, this suit was totally Mod! All that was missing was the thin tie. 

We got back and I hung the suit up so I could study it. I opened up my Jam LP and tried to compare the two looks I saw.

Okay, so something wasn't quite right... I thought it was the shoulders maybe. Paul Weller's suit shoulders weren't as big as the shoulders on my suit. That had to be it. (As you can tell, at this stage in my life, my Mod attention-to-detail Spider-sense still wasn't quite yet honed.) My dad just looked at the suit and made a face... he knew something I didn't. 

Later that day, his friend came over for a visit. My dad pointed out my suit to him and said, "Hey, the kid thinks this is a Mod suit." His friend looked it up and down and said, "Naw, man, the lapels are too wide." I looked again... that was it! He was right! The lapels on my jacket were HUGE compared to Paul's!
Yup, imagine this in black and white.
I never wore this suit. After experiencing my first failed attempt at a Mod suit, I put this in the back of my grandmother's closet and didn't think about it again until fairly recently. But I learned something important that day... it wasn't just thin ties that made, what I considered then, a Mod look. It was also thin lapels. 

About a year later, my buddies and I were off to our first actual Mod show. Unfortunately, I still didn't have a suit yet that fit me. One of my friends, kind as he was, brought over a jacket to lend me from his older brother's closet. I took a look and thought, yeah, the lapels seemed to be a little thinner. But I wondered... what could I do to make them even thinner? Oh my god, I got it! I asked another friend to add a THIRD button to the jacket which would raise the cut and thin the lapels out perfectly. So, my friend sewed the button in... as in sewed the button straight through both sides of the jacket without a button hole so that I had to pull it over my head to wear it! But it didn't matter.... this, my friends, actually looked like something Paul Weller would wear! I was ready for my first Mod show.

And it started a love of 3-button suit jackets from that day forward.


  1. Great post! It's eerie how similar our Mod "paths" are...

  2. I like! We were quite similar teens during a similar time actually! Even though I never really claimed to be a full blown mod.

  3. When I was in high school (a loooooong time ago), anyone who was weird was a "mod." It was the umbrella term, and oh boy, a fate of social death. It used to make me so mad because I knew what a mod was -- I'd seen Quadrophenia, read BAM Magazine, and read my dad's Time Life book on the 60's! AND my older sister taught me how to go go dance to Fontella Bass, so I was INTO IT. New Wave and mod were, like, toootally different -- DUH, you dumb jocks!

    There was no internet to buy the clothes, or even to reference what we were trying to do (if one of us got a hold of a "Twist" or "Whaaaam," it was passed around with reverence, until one of the punk kids would intercept it and deface it), so we scoured thrift shops and pieced together what we could. Mary Quant and Paul Weller would have been horrified, but we were pretty pleased with ourselves. Of course, we were no match for the "cool" kids in San Francisco, but in the suburbs with our clove cigarettes and freak badges of honor from the jocks, we were okay. Total poseurs, but the nice thing was that all the new wave/mod/punk/death rock/ etc. kids stuck together and that made us feel safe.

    But even though I knew about mod and desperately wanted to be one, I didn't know how to get those clothes, really. And like now, I was too apathetic to try THAT hard. I wore psychedelic go go dresses (aka old lady floral shifts), men's golf sweaters with tee shirts or oxfords, pointy flats and go go boots, oversize turtlenecks and big hoop earrings... And buttons. Ska buttons. And white tights. Sigh. I tried and was such a DORK. I had a shop owner (New Haste Street in Berkeley) who liked me and thought I was such a geek and made me his pet -- he picked out clothes for me and I bought what I could afford, which wasn't much, even if I went without lunch to pay for stuff. But he made me feel like I had the potential to be cool, and that meant a lot to me.

    But my "big" purchase was a B&W houndstooth coat at Aardvark's on Telegraph. It was $12, and boy, I didn't eat lunch for 3 weeks to get it. I LOVED it. However, my parents didn't and my mom threw it away, and I fished it out of the garbage, put it on, and went to see The Clash. What a rebel! My mom realized that there were bigger battles than the coat, and she fixed the offensive rip and had it dry cleaned, and I wore it happily, festooned with Madness and Bodysnatchers pins. I still have it and wear it to this day.

    I was never a successful mod (but I'll admit, Liz Pepin told me once that she liked the shoes I was wearing at a New Breed All Ages show, and I thought I was BAD ASS), but it's always been my #1 love, and what I've always gravitated toward. I'm just lucky you guys all accept me (kinda) and hang out with me, even if I embarrass you by wearing a Jam tee shirt and a skirt and go go boots to parties in San Diego. Thanks for hanging out with a such a dunker like me, Mod Male!

    (Sorry this got so long... But your blog gets me all stoked!)

  4. When I was first told what Mods were it was basically people who dressed A) like old men B) covered in tons of different patterns (plaids, hounds tooth, shepherds check, strips, etc. C) dressed like golfers D) wore suits. So any form of all of the above to me meant Mod. I assumed PIL era Johnny Rotten was a Mod cause of how he dressed.

  5. Sparkleneely, you just dropped a WHLOE BAG OF COOL... I am not sure I can recover! That was worthy of The New yorker, if only the general public had any idea what you were on about...

    AND Carlitos, I can't quite bring myself to admit how lame I used to look in 9th grade, but I will say that Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy WAS my first Who album and I never looked back! And I love your surfer hair! Hee hee xoxo

  6. i use to wear houndstooth pants (with pleats), oversized button downs, ugly bass loafers (80s kind), and an oversized harrington. oh and a wallet chain to complete the outfit. i thought i was the business at my school. i am amazed how many people so far have mentioned houndstooth as part of their first ensemble.

    joining a subculture before the internet was tough. no google image, no nothing. if you are lucky you have older people or zines to get info from. but for most people, it is all about photos from record albums. i grew up in the suburbs so that was really tough.

    in the long run, being a mod was great when i transitioned over to the "bovver brigade". in that scene i was more clued up on the clothes and culture, in contrast to all those kids who came from the hardcore scene. however, that is an entirely different story.

  7. BRILLIANT stuff as always Carlos. Truth be told I did not acquire my first mod suit until 1992, that means...yep I was a mod for 12 years without a suit. It was light brown wool with orange and blue pinstripes, and when I grew to large I passed it onto my friend Joe.

  8. BTW you have one hip Dad. Actually I recall shortly after meeting you I was at another SF event and asked where you were and was told "Him and his dad went to see Bob Dylan"!! Your post brought back a bolt of nostalgia because it made me recall how in 1980 I was firmly convinced that "mod" was all about skinny ties and odd sunglasses. Having lots of thirfty relatives I scored major coups on the former.

  9. Karen, I've got a 98th thing for you to do: copy and paste that awesome post into your blog too... it's a great story!

    And yeah, Paul, at first, I totally thought 'Mod' was the new term for 'New Wave' because it wasn't really 'new' anymore!

    Carrie, um, that's SKATER hair. (No, I didn't have a skateboard.)

    Eugene, bring back the wallet chain! (And then try dancing.)

    Bill, I think I remember Sean telling me about being in town that time. It's funny how so many of us mixed up elements of New Wave with what we thought was 'Mod'. It was confusing at first... I think I even once thought, "wait does this make Blondie Mod?"

  10. All I could find in Olympia was an array of psychedelic sun dresses (which I still wear today, actually) but no problem finding parkas!

  11. Daring and wonderful post, Carlos! Adorable pic too!

    After seeing Quadrophenia playing at Grossmont Center in La Mesa on it's initial run, I raided my Dad's closet. I found: a green 60s 2-button suit (at least with narrow lapels), a narrow striped tie, and some vintage white 60s tennis shoes. With one of my white high-polyester count dress shirts that I wore waiting tables at Farrell's I was all set. Again, it was more new wave than mod - what could be more new wave than a suit and skinny tie with sneakers? Shortly afterwards I discovered the wonders of thrift store shopping and added a London Fog 60s rain coat to my "mod" outfit (and some badges to pin on it of course!). I first wore the outfit to a punk show at the North Park Lions Club in San Diego, and got some laughs by the harder punks, but most people were cool. It was still the days when punk shows were a mix of punks, new wavers, and people still wearing long hair and bell bottoms (that totally changed by the end of 1980).

    During the course of the first half of 1980 my clothes and hair changed a lot, once I found other sources of mod culture like the Rolling Stone article in April of UK mods (, the Mods Mayday, Secret Affair, Purple Hearts, and Chords LPs, and of course the Mods Book, all stocked at the Off The Record and Blue Meanie stores. And then I found my beloved parka in an army surplus store in El Cajon!

    Karen: loved your comment as well!

  12. Oh yeah, my sister bought Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy in the early 70s and I played it to death! I thought the kids in the photo were actually the band members when they were kids, ha!

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