Time and time again the wider story of mods revolutionary, era shifting idea of style as a mindset to transcend previous accepted notions of class, gender and cultural starting points has focused so heavily on the idea of the mod male you could be forgiven it was strictly a mans, mans world.
The often mentioned idea of the male ‘peacock’ has become synonymous with that early era. An overused, easy phrase to recall a time when working class males strode confidently into a new decade, cultivating an obsession with fashion and appearance that mocked decade held notions of masculinity and conformist ideas on appearance. Yet for the story of a movement borne out of a new decade, one that for the first time afforded youth the opportunity to claim its own space, to be viewed from a purely male perspective reads like a nonsense, something that somehow misses the point. It’s a point that the book ‘Ready Steady Girls’ with its subtitle – the other half of the mod equation – looks to (begin) to readdress.
It’s a finely designed and bound volume that collates reminisces, personal stories and recollections on mod from a uniquely female perspective across the years – from mods inception in the early sixties, through the mod revival at the cusp of the eighties, right up to the current day.
For all the previous focus on mod males the actual shift in attitudes and possibilities the original mod era suggested may actually be viewed as being more radical from a female perspective. Whilst the mod male may have braved catcalls and wolf whistles for donning a pink shirt or a low cut, tight fitting trouser the cultural shifts for their female counterparts stepping forward into a new decade were surely set against a wider, decade solid range set of society and parental held conventions. Echoing and confirming this is a recollection from Helen Baxter ‘It was a liberating time for women. My father, like many young girls fathers was very strict. I remember that I brought one girl home after art school and she wore a shorter skirt than most dared to wear at that time. My father told me never to bring her back again’.
Elsewhere ‘tradition’, courtesy of previously learned skills on a sewing machine served the ‘other side of the mod equation’ well and enabled legions of mod girls to embrace one of the key ideas of mod, the presentation of a unique, personal look, a look unavailable to others due to it being a personal creation. Much is made of the idea of increased earnings for young people in Britain during the sixties and whilst their male counterparts were taking their newfound coinage to tailors and the emerging menswear boutique scene (albeit with personal and scene inspired ideas) the earning power of women remained lower. Echoed throughout numerous pieces in the book is this idea of these self created outfits, whilst financial reasons were clearly a factor, this ability to design and actually create, completely original, personal looks may be one area mods female participants caught a steal on there male counterparts.
It’s an idea that is again revealed by early eighties revivalists – the scouring of charity shops and the hidden back rooms of previously forgotten clothes shops and their piles of ‘dead stock’, the ability to adapt and hone original clothing finds somehow feels paramount to the chasing down of a pure mod look/ideal.
In terms of those introduced to mod and forging forwards in the early eighties revival Sandra Hutchinsons recollections of how the idea of mod appeared in, and subsequently shone a light into her world wholly deserve the chapter afforded them. The tale of her own, beautiful, discovery of mod reminded me of Sharon Woodwards ‘Thank You Skinhead Girl’ film project and how much these things can mean to teenagers on a simultaneous search for an identity and sense of belonging, a space to develop and be enveloped by something that ever so quickly and quietly becomes an all encompassing obsession. Something that never leaves you. Sandra’s chapter reinforces that feeling and will resonate with many who, years later, recognise, however small, influences in styles of dress or ways of thinking that first emerged during there teenage years and endure to this day.
From the current era an image that I keep coming back to is one of Katy Town and the idea of a correctness of revivalism. Here is a look that encapsulates and recognises the assured, youthful simplicity of the original era. There’s a bravery and directness to it that somehow still defies convention, the boy-ish look of the original mod girl style reaffirmed as an opposition to accepted notions of feminine style.
Great book, now sold out of its original, limited print run, if you missed it you missed out – hunt down a copy or keep an ear to the ground for any news on a reprint.