One of the defining subcultures of the 20th century, the mod movement had a soundtrack and look that provided style-conscious British youth with a blueprint for living. It's the youth culture that has outlived every other to stay as relevant today as it was in the swinging sixties.
Words by Kirsty Lee
Mary Quant's Swinging Sixties London Look Stills Holds Sway
While runway designers like Courrèges may have pioneered the mod look, Mary Quant gave the style mass appeal. A half century ago, Quant was the most renowned fashion innovator in the world, promulgating her sixties mod aesthetic to millions of eager young women all over the globe. Just a few short years before, these ladies had been laced into corsets and forced to wear layers of fabric on the hottest days of the summer. Now they gleefully cast off their sheer stockings, their garter belts, their bullet bras and jumped into Mary's minis, baby dolls, bloomers, see through raincoats, removable plastic collars and cardigans long enough - but just barely! - to double as dresses.
The skirt came from mini beginnings, If Mary Quant's mother hadn't sent her to ballet classes, the mini skirt we know and love might never have been invented. She peeked through and saw a tap dancer who was "the vision of everything I wanted to be, she was wearing a short pleated skirt about 10inches long, with a skinny black sweater, black tights and a bob haircut. From that day on I was struck with this lovely vision of legs and ankles".
Quant was the same age as her clients - a rarity in those days and opened her first boutique, Bazaar, on King's Road, managed by her husband Alexander Plunket Greene. (She met him at Goldsmiths College Christmas costume ball- he was dressed as Oscar Wilde; she was on a float in mesh tights and strategically placed balloons). But this and practically everything else about life in Britain, Europe and spanning globally was about to change forever! A larger cultural rebellion was busting out of the UK, an upheaval in music, fashion art and sexual politics.
In the post war period exclusive dress makers and their wealthy clients set the standards, just as they had done before - they looked to Paris and around the West end in London for their muses. Quant was a pioneer, being one of the first to bring affordable fashion to the high street, the trend secrets were no longer kept to couture houses. No one understood these profound changes better than Quant. "Snobbery has gone out of fashion, and in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to but the same dress. Of the year that Quant won the Dress of the Year Award for her gray wool "Rex Harrison" pinafore frock, the poet Philip Larkin famously wrote, "Sexual intercourse began, In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me). Between the end of the Chatterley ban, And the Beatles' first LP."
The most stylish fashion Mod icons of the 60s included an impressive roster. As one of the world's first supermodels, Jean Shrimpton spearheaded the new wave of cover girls spawned from the swinging London movement. She propelled the mini skirt even further into icon status, being photographed by David Bailey on countless magazine covers. Peggy Moffit had one of the most distinct looks in the business thanks to her razor sharp, asymmetrical haircut by Vidal Sassoon and Kabuki inspired make-up. She made international headlines as Rudi Gerenreich's muse going topless in a monokini bathing suit. Helen of Troy might have had the face that launched a thousand ships, but Twiggy's set the Youthquake of the sixties in motion. Doll like, with painted on eyelashes, constellation of freckles, boy short hair, and a frame as slender as a stick, Twiggy-née Lesley Hornby-introduced the fashion world to a fresh new look entirely.
The Mod Men
When was the last time you saw a punk? Maybe a last holdout seen swaying in Camden. Skinheads? Safe to say racism went out of fashion. New romantics?.....Forget about it. Nu-ravers? They forget about it. What about a teddy boy? Probably stumbling out of a pub, drunk at 4pm, sideburns smelling of ash. He probably doesn't even realise he's dressed as a teddy boy; he hasn't had a wardrobe refresh since 1952.
And yet the mods, they remain, they thrive and stay stylish, because they always were.
One of the most significant elements of the mod fashion was their suits. Any self-respecting, self-acclaimed mod owned a slim fit tailored made suit. After the War ended many teenagers had some disposable income. They used this for their expression; the Italian made suits were extremely popular and accompanied the Italian made scooters. The sleek sharp lines and expensive look was something they looked for in their suits. The smooth, sophisticated look compelled of narrow lapels, thin ties, button down collar shirts, wool jumpers, Chelsea boots or desert boots.
The Harrington jacket first became popular on the TV show Pyston Place. The character Rodney Harrington played by Ryan O'Neal would regularly wear the jacket on screen and thus the name Harrington stuck for the jacket. In the late 50's and early 60s some of the most influential men were seen to be wearing the Harrington jacket. Icons such as Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Frank Sinatra donned the Harrington. The jacket quickly became an iconic piece of rebellion and counter culture. Even with all its celebrity endorsement the mods have always been the most recognisable group that have been connected with the Harrington jacket.