In our area most of the boys wanted to wear "skinhead" fashions out of school and I was no exception. Skinheads started to appear in the late 1960s--it is claimed in the East End of London. They were a working class reaction to the (mainly middle-class) "hippy"/"flower power"/"let it all hang out" fashions of the time. They were not entirely new as they reprised many of the ideas of the "Mods" of the early 60s--themselves a reaction to the "Rockers". By the time I became aware of the skinhead fashion (the early 70's) younger boys still at school wanted to copy their older brothers in this fashion. At first this was difficult as jeans and other skinhead fashions were not allowed at school. Very few schools (or parents) would tolerate these fashions initially for the younger boys. However as the older boys developed their style the younger boys could start to ape them. There were quite a variety of garments associated with skinhead fashions. The basic classic skinhead style was to wear Levi "straight" (i.e. parallel leg ), jeans with braces, a white t-shirt, heavy working men's boots and, of course, their distinctive very short hair - knows as "crops". Gradually the classic skinhead look evolved into more fashionable clothes. I think the older boys adopted new clothes because they couldn't get into discos and such in boots and jeans, and most still had a "no tie, no entry" policy! Gradually this evolved and the older boys started to wear expensive clothes when going out in the evening.
The popularity of skinhead fashions varied quite a bit depending on where you lived. In our area most of the boys wanted to wear "skinhead" fashions out of school and I was no exception.
These fashions spilled over into the schools and those who followed them could not be faulted as the smart parallel levi "staprest" trousers, button down Ben Sherman shirts and highly polished black shoes fulfilled the dress dress requirements.
Skinheads started to appear in the late 1960s--it is claimed in the East End of London. They were a working class reaction to the (mainly middle-class) "hippy"/"flower power"/"let it all hang out" fashions of the time.
The skinheads were not entirely new as they reprised many of the ideas of the "Mods" of the early 60s--themselves a reaction to the "Rockers". They were bikers and punch ups began to occur on bank holidays at coastal resorts. The Mods would travel to on their scooters, the rockers on motorbikes. For instance skinheads would listen to Reggae music like the mods had followed ska and bluebeat. The main difference was that Mods would be a fashion for older teenagers - those who had left school and were working.
By the time I became aware of the skinhead fashion (the early 70's) younger boys still at school wanted to copy their older brothers in this fashion. At first this was difficult as jeans and other skinhead fashions were not allowed at school. Very few schools (or parents) would tolerate these fashions initially for the younger boys. However as the older boys developed their style - i.e. wearing smarter sta-pressed trousers, Ben Sherman shirts and patterned brogue shoes when "off duty" - i.e. not dressed up in jeans and boots for a
fight with rival football supporters or hairies - the younger boys could start to ape them. The younger boys "trying" to copy older skins.They're obviously not allowed to have real crops,and those turnups on their jeans would be far to long for London. Most images are of post 60s/70s skins - and is not the same thing at all as the original fashions.
There were quite a variety of garments associated with skinhead fashions. The basic classic skinhead style was to wear Levi "straight" (i.e. parallel leg ), jeans with braces, a white t-shirt, heavy working men's boots and, of course, their distinctive very short hair - knows as "crops". Gradually the classic skinhead look evolved into more fashionable clothes. I think the older boys adopted new clothes because they couldn't get into discos and such in boots and jeans, and most still had a "no tie, no entry" policy! Gradually this evolved and the older boys started to wear expensive clothes when going out in the evening.
The most important skinhead shirt was a simple white t-shirt. As the skinhead look became more established, Ben Sherman shirts (which had button-down collars) became popular.
tThe preferred trousers were Levi "straight" (i.e. parallel leg ), jeans with braces (suspendrs). On the football terraces jeans HAD to be Levi's (the most expensive). Boys who wore a cheaper brand of jeans were looked down on. This is how younger boys started to persause their parents to buy them these clothes for school.As the styl evolved sta-prest trousers became popular.
A reader writes, "One question occurs to me. When did the fashion of the very thin braces (or suspenders) worn with tight jeans come into style? And where do the pencil-thin braces originate from? Most of the earlier men's or boy's braces were much wider, I believe, and they had buttons and leather keepers for attachment to the trousers rather than the metal clips that the skinheads always wore. Maybe Bill would know about the history of this style. I think the style is shown in the Kubrick film 'Clockwork Orange'." Bill tells us, " When skinheads first came out they did not wear braces but did roll their levis up to display their "bovver boots". There was even a "rule" for this. The jeans should only have a half-inch turnup--wider turn-ups were out (more middle class jean-wearers had wide
turn-ups on their jeans worn with "winklepickers"). When skins started wearing sta-prest trousers with Doc Martin boots they started wearing braces to hitch up these looser trousers to still show off the boots and carried on clipping them on to their jeans--not for the
purpose they were intended for but it was now the fashion. From when I remember the braces were always clip-on as trousers had no brace-buttons. As boots got higher (Doc Martin Highs came half way up the shin - 22 eyelets) some skins would have their sta-prest trousers permanantly shortened to about 6 inches above the ankle. (Probably by their mums! - I did my own, so there were useful skills to be learnt as a skin). When these shortened trousers were worn with shoes it left a gap and that's when the fashion for brightly coloured Ben Sherman socks came in (this was really a rip-off of an old Teddy Boy fashion of the 50s - wearing brightly coloured socks). Again half-inch braces were the rule from when I remember . Anyone who borrowed their Dad's wider ones were well ou, Boys used to wear brightly coloured braces to school as they couldn't be seen under the blazers. If they were spotted
they would be consficated. No real calamity as they weren't worn to actually keep the trousers up, but for show. Some boys would wear keep them in their pockets or bags and clip them on after school when the school started looking out for them and consficating them. You never got them back. Hairies would try to pull them and let them snap back on your shoulder so I suppose they did cause trouble. The police at football matches also used to consficate skinheads braces (as offensive weapons!) and the laces out of their
boots. So loads of pairs were lost - and they stopped being worn openly - just clipped on when it was safe - like you'd put on or take off a tie. They were not sold in chain stores as far as I can remember. I used to buy mine in a small menswear shop - again the
more expensive ones were required (the clips gave out on the cheaper ones anyway) and they should always be plain coloured never patterned. Again some areas would have thier "gang" ( or "crew" as we called them) code - i.e. one area would wear red braces another next to it green so they could be terratorial. I had about 4 pairs at any one time! don't think "Clockwork Orange" set the fashion,though it may have - I was too young to see the film - then it was banned, or withdrawn. It would be interesting to know if braces are mentioned in the book. I do know that the "Gang" in that film wore bowler hats and white boiler suits and that never caught on - not in London anyway and I don't think the film was shown outside the capital until recently. Maybe it was the skins who influenced the film costume regarding braces rather than the other way round. The other thing was that the Hairies. like the Rockers before them, wore thick leather belts so skins had to find something totally different to that - and braces did the job. I still remember our resentment that these belts (which really could be offensive weapons) were never confiscated at school but our braces were.
The preferred skinhead footwear was heavy working men's boots. LKter expensive leather brogues were aopted by skinheads. Brown Doctor Martin bootsbecame the prefrred footwear. They were not as heavy as the old work-boots first worn and more comfortable as they had cushioned ("Airwear") soles. These boots had to be highly polished.
The skinheads were best known of course for their distinctive very short hair knows as "crops". A friend of mine claims that the term "skinhead" was first used as a derogatory term by the "hairies", but I always remember the skins being proud of the name. The close cropped hair cuts were esecially interesting. Schools and many parents had been figting the long hair styles that had been become popular. All of a sudden boys started to show up in ultra short hair--and schools were unsure how to deal with it. One thing I've remembered - the haircuts "crops" were numbered. A number one crop was almost shaven headed, 2 - eigthh inch long, 3 - quarter inch - anything longer ans you were no longer a skin. We could not get away with a number one or two at school and even a 3 was frowned on. You'd mock a boy with skinhead gear but not a real crop by saying he had a number 32 or something
- even though he still had very short hair by "normal" standards. The older skins would have a no. 1 with a razor-cut left side "parting" in it - and some also started wearing small earrings or studs, again a source of hassle with the youhger boys and the school.
The skinheads became associated with the football terraces. [HBC: Here there ius no good American translation, but the term would be similar to american baseball bleachers.] I suppose their main legacy is the English football hooligan - who is still with us to some degree.
The skinhead fashion posed a bit of a problem for school authorities. They of course objected to the nilistoic social outlook of the skinheads. The actual fashion was a different matter. After all - how could the schools who for a decade or more been insisting that boys "got their hair cut" object to these ultra short hairstyles, neat trousers, smart shirts and polished shoes? All it took was for the manufacturers to realise that all they had to do was to bring out these clothes in colours suitable for school and they cuold make a killing. So you saw white Ben Sherman shirts, black sta-prest trousers and black "Doc Martin" boots. These fashions crept down gradually to the younger teenagers - and even some primary school boys would have cropped hair as the decade advanced. However because of it's association with football violence many parents would not allow these fashions, and schools would ban the wearing of boots - and some boys were even sent home for having too SHORT hair - and banned from returning until it had grown. Boys would then have their hair as short as they could get away with and Doctor Martins brought out a shoe in black. Out of school it was better to have none of this "correct" gear than only some of it.
If you wore the correct jeans (Levis) and boots but with a shirt other than a "Ben" you were open to ridicule, same if you had the shirt and boots but Wrangler (for instance) jeans. Ben Sherman socks also had to be worn. This attitude also spilled into the schools - and this is where most problems were caused. The high street stores started stocking imitations of these clothes in school colours and a lot cheaper. Most parents of course went for these - arguing that they were buying fashionable clothes--which even so were more expensive than the standard shirts, trousers and socks. But however good the imitations you could tell that they weren't the real thing and boys would get a load of stick offf their mates.
About 1973 skinheads started to grow their hair and wear the generally wild clothes that were coming out -
massively flared "loon" trousers, variously patterned round-collar shirts, "tank-top" pullovers and "stack-heeled" shoes. The difference seemed to be that ex-skins still had certain codes, depending on which area of London you came from. I still followed all this but I was really wearing them only in the shop and what I could get away with at school. I didn't even go to football matches as I worked Saturday. I even wanted to work there in the evenings after school, but my mum put a stop to that idea by telling the shop manager
that she would report him for employing me for too money hours - there was a legal limit - so I just used to hang around there anyway in a back room and knock off the minimum ammount of homework that I could get away with, in between chatting to the staff.
A trend set by older teenagers who'd left school and was taken up by us was that "skinheads" suddenly made an abrubt change in their image. Growing their hair long, wearing flares and generally pinching all the ideas off of the once despised "hairies". For a period suede "desert boots" came into fashion (quite a climbdown from the once fearsome Doc Martin bovver-boots). I was flush with cash from my three paper rounds and weekend job in a newsagents. (Don't ask me about schoolwork by the way, I left one of the most accademically pushy schools in the country without an exam pass to my name.) I bought two pairs--one of which I tried to dye black for schoolwear. They turned out a sort of mottled purple and were admired by many - who asked me where I'd bought them. Talking about suede, and T.V. influences, two-colour suede jackets with wide shoulders called "Budgie" jackets (after some T.V. character of that nickname). Was he played by Adam Faith? I'm not sure, but the jackets became popular - not for school - they would never go on over a blazer being cut narrowly around the ribcage. I split mine on the second or third wearng at a football match.
There was a lot of publicity about skinheads, including newpaper and magazine articles. There were even books. Not really well done books. I remember several books coming out at the time in the 70s as being popular. They were an effort to try and cash in on skinheads notoriety--trying to make money by sensationalising a fashion. I recall them because they got it all wrong and we'd laugh at them. They were just Often the illustrations used showed boys who would be considered real skins round my way in the early 70s. Iremember a book that attempted to describe skinheads. The images did not illustrate the shortened sta-prest trousers I wrote about nor (button-down) Ben Sherman shirt. Often the boys illustrated didn't have real crops. I have also seen collections of photos of skins. One I remenber showed how younger boys would wear as much of skinhead gear as they were allowed/could afford. They might have black Docs, which they would probably wear to school, showing that Doc. Martins were making boots in boys sizes.
An American reader writes, "I found Bill London's observations about skinhead style fascinating because I remember seeing boys dressed like this when I was on sabbatical
leave from my own university doing research in London during the 60s and 70s."
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