I am a Skinhead, there it’s out there, I’ve said it!
When reading that statement, most people will have an immediate knee-jerk reaction and images of bald thugs, in big boots, making racist comments and making nazi salutes will spring to mind. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Skinhead culture emerged as a result of two shifts in British culture and society in the early/mid 1960s. Firstly, the Mod scene which had been so popular amongst British youth had begun to split into different factions. While the middle class Mods were able to carry on pursuing the latest Carnaby Street clothes and fashionable haircuts, this was out of reach to most working class Mods. In a scene so heavily based on consumerism, this undermined the working class Mods’ status and ability to take part in the scene. This led to the emergence of “hard Mods”, who marked themselves off from their peers with shaved hair, tight jeans, braces (suspenders), and work boots. This style, based on the typical style of British working men at the time, served to separate them from the old Mods and the middle class hippies of their generation. It served as “a conscious attempt by working class youth to dramatise and resolve their marginal status in a class-based society.”
At the same time, there was an influx of Jamaican immigration to London. They brought with them Jamaican rude boy culture, reggae and ska. Many of them went to work in London’s docks and lived in the working class communities of London’s East End. As a result of living so close to one another, the ‘native’ hard Mods mingled with the Jamaican rude boys, swapping mannerisms, slang words and dancing together in West Indian dancehalls to all the latest ska, reggae and soul records.
Out of this, the Skinheads were born, a multi-racial, working class youth subculture with a clearly defined hostility to the police, government and bosses as well as being an expression of the discontent that many young people felt at the time. This culture would only flourish for a short while, peaking in 1969 and fizzling out in the early 1970s amidst internal violence and media hysteria.
Skinhead culture became so popular by 1969 that even the rock band Slade temporarily adopted the look as a marketing strategy. The subculture gained wider notice because of a series of violent and sexually explicit novels by Richard Allen, notably Skinhead and Skinhead Escapes. Due to largescale British migration to Perth, Western Australia, many British youths in that city joined skinhead/sharpies gangs in the late 1960s and developed their own Australian style.
By the early 1970s, the skinhead subculture started to fade from popular culture, and some of the original skins dropped into new categories, such as the suedeheads (defined by the ability to manipulate one’s hair with a comb), smoothies (often with shoulder-length hairstyles), and bootboys (with mod-length hair; associated with gangs and football hooliganism). Some fashion trends returned to the mod roots, with brogues, loafers, suits, and the slacks-and-sweater look making a comeback.
In the late 1970s, the skinhead subculture was revived to a notable extent after the introduction of punk rock. Most of these revivalist skinheads reacted to the commercialism of punk by adopting a look that was in line with the original 1969 skinhead style. This revival included Gary Hodges and Hoxton Tom McCourt (both later of the band the 4-Skins) and Suggs, later of the band Madness. From 1979 onwards, punk-influenced skinheads with shorter hair, higher boots and less emphasis on traditional styles grew in numbers and grabbed media attention, mostly due to football hooliganism. There still remained, however, skinheads who preferred the original mod-inspired styles.
Eventually different interpretations of the skinhead subculture expanded beyond Britain and continental Europe. In the United States, certain segments of the hardcore punk scene embraced skinhead styles and developed their own version of the subculture. In the 1970s, many British youths emigrated to Perth in Australia and in that city joined skinhead/Sharpies gangs , creating their own Australian style.
It cannot be denied that there are those who dress as skinheads, that have extreme right wing/nazi views. However in the world of Skinheads, the True Skinheads that adhere to the original roots of the sub-culture (known as the Spirit of ’69), do not even recognise these individuals as skinheads. They are called boneheads and vilified for their political stance.
In short, next time you are walking down the street and see a Skinhead approaching, come over and say hello – we don’t bite – MUCH!!