Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mod Gone Wrong: Mod Growing Pains

We all have to start somewhere. After all, no one is born with a paisley tie, french-cuff shirt, slim-fitting jacket, well-creased trousers, argyle socks, and almond-toed shoes. And boy, let me tell you, I went through some doozies on the way to getting my act together!

So, today, I turn the Mod Gone Wrong focus on myself as I go through my Top 5 Mod Growing Pains (in no particular order):

1. New Wave Hair
When I was in high school, I never ever wanted to be an 'over-nighter'... y'know, those kids who showed up to school on a Friday in a Depeche Mode t-shirt and returned on a Monday in a shaved head and flight-jacket covered in ska pins.  To us, people like that were poseurs, the worst thing you could possibly be called in high school!

So, although I was already learning everything I could about Mod life throughout high school, I knew I couldn't just show up, cold turkey, in a parka with Mod badges after all those days in Smiths t-shirts. People would think I was crazy! No, I wanted my transition from new-waver to Mod to be very gradual. I wanted it to happen step by slow step, starting off with a Jam t-shirt here, a Specials pin there, until eventually, I had my look down complete... over time. Unfortunately, as a result, photos like this exist:

So, in my attempt to avoid poseur-ism, I most likely gave many people the idea that I was a poseur, what with walking around with new-wave/skater hair and a ska t-shirt. Still, even by this age (15-16), I knew what the what was with The Who, The Jam, and 2-Tone! I just wasn't ready to express it fully quite yet. (By the way, this guy knows what those days were like!)

2. Ill-Tapered Sta-Prest
I'll never forget my first experience with a tailor, who wasn't my mom. Early on, in my first year of college, I found a couple of vintage sta-prest at a local Goodwill: a navy pair and a white pair. Oh boy, was I excited! Only problem was that I thought they were too wide. (Looking back, they were probably the width I wear my pants these days!)

Luckily, near my dorm, I found a cool storefront with a sign that said 'Jim the Tailor'. I knew Jim would know what to do. So, I took my two pairs of pants and asked him if he could taper them to about 6.5 inches wide... yes, 6.5 inches! (If that sounds impossible, then maybe it was 7 inches... either way, too tapered for my tastes nowadays!) After waiting about 2 weeks, I went back to pick the pants up. Jim told me he was running behind and asked if I'd come back in another week. So, I did. Jim said they still weren't ready. So, I waited another week. Was this how long tailoring took? I didn't know and had no real experience with this.

Finally, after that other week, I went back and this time Jim asked me to come back in another 2 days. Now, I was getting irritable. But I waited 2 days, came back and the pants were finally ready! I brought them back to my dorm and tried them on, ready to strut out onto the avenue in my new Mod trousers. But something wasn't right with either pair... not only were they tapered from the knee down, but, well, he only took them in on one side and ironed in a new crease to erase the old one! Don't know what I'm talking about? Here, allow me to illustrate:

The dotted line represents the original sta-prest crease. He tapered the pants in from one side only so that I had to walk around with mixed-up creases on each pant leg! Yes, I still wore them, and my Berkeley friends were nice enough to ignore the travesty. This was my first tailoring experience and a hard lesson learned.

3. Too Big Bowling Shoes
Early on, I was dying to get a pair of bowling shoes, just like I had seen The Jam wearing. I had no luck, though, whenever I went thrift-shopping. But during my first year of college, a friend handed me down a couple of his old pairs. I felt like I had just conquered another Mod hurdle: I finally had bowling shoes!

Unfortunately, they were about 2 sizes too big! Still, I wore them, flappity-floopin' throughout my school day. What made them look even more ridiculous was the fact that I wore them with my high-watered, too-tapered, ill-creased sta-prest! But really, it wasn't like I had Ebay back then to find a pair of bowling shoes. And it wasn't like there were Mod companies then making bowling shoes, not for bowling, but for Mod purposes only. So, I walked around, looking like a clown and wearing them out to the point that the soles started to come undone.

My friends, this is how I started.

4. DIY Tab-Collars
Tab-collar shirts were just as hard to find back then as they are today. They were my most sought-after target (no pun intended). With no luck finding a real tab-collar shirt, I picked up on the old idea of taking an item of clothing and, if it wasn't 'Mod' enough, making it 'Mod' yourself. DIY tailoring, if you will. For instance, I was able to make my own shirts with button-down collars just by sewing buttons over the collars and onto the shirt. Sure, the buttons couldn't function, but they looked cool!

After reaching some success with my DIY button-down collars, I felt I was on a roll, so I decided to move on to making my own tab-collar shirts. Friends, I don't mind sharing my secret if you're looking to do this at home, but I wouldn't suggest it.
  • Step 1: Find a shirt with a plain collar.
  • Step 2: Cut a couple of small rectangular 'tabs' from the bottom of the shirt.
  • Step 3: Sew a small button onto one tab and cut a small hole into the other tab.
  • Step 4: Sew each tab onto the inside of each side of your collar. Voila! Home-made tab-collar shirt!
I only actually succeeded doing this with one shirt, one with a light-brown check pattern. Luckily, it wasn't vintage. Oh sure, for a while, I was actually able to button the 'tabs' together, but after about 2 wears, the tabs began fraying! Tab-collar shirts don't look cool when fraying tabs start sticking out from under your tie.

5. Crew-Cut Hair
In my senior year of high school, I was reading about some of the Mod hairstyles and the one that stuck out in my head was a 'French Crew.' I really had no idea what that meant at the time, though. But after studying haircuts I had seen in Modzines and certain LP covers, I noticed that many of the Mods had really short hair, but long enough to at least comb a little. For instance, in the shot of The Chords, take a look at the guy on the far right:

That was the hairstyle I was after, what I thought was a 'French Crew.' So, I went to a local hair stylist, without a picture, and asked for a 'crew' cut. The barber looked at me and said, "Are you sure?" Of course, I was sure! I was walking in with 'normal, short hair, and walking out with 'Mod' hair. Then he asked what 'clipper' number he should use: 1, 2, 3, or 4? Aw heck, I didn't know... 4 sounded good since he said that would leave my hair slightly longer.

Next thing I knew, he was clipping off all of my hair! When he was done, hills of hair were at my feet and I was left looking like a skinhead, the one thing I was not and never have been. What's worse is that this was at a stage in my life when I was still wearing a burgundy flight jacket with ska patches and pins.

For a portion of my senior year, I was pretty much walking around as a rude-boy/skinhead thanks to this mess up. Gradually, it grew out, but I learned something else about my hair. It was so straight that as it slowly grew longer, I began to look more and more like a monchichi, something a female classmate liked to mention whenever I was around.

Eventually, my hair returned to normal, but for that brief period, I was mistaken too often for a skinhead... not a good thing when most people had different ideas of what a skinhead was. Heck, I remember getting hassled one evening by a bunch of guys calling me White Power. Y'know, me, the Mexican kid walking back from the local library, after a long night of studying, with my two Asian classmates.

So, there you have it... my Top 5 Mod Growing Pains. Oh, there are probably more, but for now it just goes to show that we all have a hard road to travel before reaching that Mod goal.

Your turn: What were some of your early mess-ups?


  1. LoL. The "New Wave hair" bit matched my initiation into the scene perfectly in '85. I'd gone from a total trendy Billy Idol fan to a trenchcoat-wearing rudie in a matter of days; luckily though, it seemed that I was the only one in school who even knew (or cared) what Ska was, so I was able to make the transition smoothly (thanks to my cousin and his crew for breaking me in).

    You can see the rendition of my Nu-Wave haircut in one of the panels of my comic here. Yes, I too had that total "flop" style going on, lol. I had my dad cutting my hair, so I couldn't even begin to tell him what kind of hair cut I needed, so I just settled with a flat-top looking thing.

    Yup, I think that's the one thing that totally evaded me in my short career as a mod (I later became a skinhead)—the true "mod" haircut. Looking at The Jam and all those other mod gods, I always wondered how the hell I could get my hair that way too: short, but at this perfect mysterious length where it wouldn't stand up and be spikey. I guess it was easier when one had wispy, light and thin hair. With my filipino hair that was black, thick like cord and straight as an arrow, it was next to impossible to gauge that length or make it look anywhere near what I envisioned to be "mod." Boy was I happy when I finally turned skin and just cropped my hair with a #4 from that point on. Piece of cake! =)

    Cool post, man. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Fortunately I didn't make too many gaffes (albeit within the parameters of the scene as it then existed) but one of the things I distinctly remember about my time as a mod (1981 - 1983) was the complete dearth of plain-front slacks! Sure, they still made some straight-leg (Levi?) cords in plain front, but in those days, regarding most contemporary pants or dress slacks, they were hard to find; and even if you found a "vintage" suit at a thrift store that actually fit, they often were late 50s-era with pleated pants, and there seemed to be no way around it. Actually there was a way around it - DON'T WEAR THEM. Well, I did.

  3. @leftylimbo I DIG your comic! And I think you hit on good points! (By the way, I'm linking to your parka and badge page when I get around to writing on that subject.)

    And you know what I was going through with the clipped, straight, thicker hair... it sticks up like needles when growing out! Eventually, after it grew out and about a year later, I made use of our hair type and went Steve Marriot backcomb style!

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comic link!

  4. @Mike Page, Remember, pleated pants haunted clothing racks well into the early '90s, I believe.

    Luckily, I had stopped wearing them as soon as I started getting into the Mod thing... not that I knew any better, because I didn't. I just HATED how pleated pants made my short look! I had gone through a Bugle Boys acid-wash, pleated pants phase a couple of years earlier, because those were the main types of pants available.

    I think my main pants of choice after those horrible days were Dickies... with the big ol' side pockets!

    To this day, I still can't do pleated.