Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Mod Shopping Guide to Philadelphia

I consider Philly one of the top cities to visit in the United States. I was first acquainted with The City of Brotherly Love years back when my parents moved for work into a small flat near Rittenhouse Square. On a couple of occasions I got to extensively explore the city but my wife had never been. So a quick road trip was in order.

Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed.

Aside from the incredible architecture, abundant historical significant sites, rich musical heritage, museums and tasty Philly cheese steaks, there's plenty of Mod shopping to be done. This guide should help you spend that vacation money in no time. Make sure to keep a few bills aside for some records! I'll tell you where to find some in the next post.

Philadelphia City Hall

You may want to start your spending spree on South Street.

South Street has a young, hip, urban, trendy, artsy vibe to it with its many shops, art galleries, cafes, restaurants and clubs. Most shops aren't worth a second glance, unless you're looking for some bling or a pair of neon trainers. Hopefully these addresses will narrow your browsing time.

Ants in your pants?

I wasn't in town to have my hair cut neat but if I were, I would probably start with the Modish Hair Salon.

A must stop on your stroll down South Street is Greene Street Consignment.

Consignment shops seem to have picked up in popularity lately. I may not be aware of any in my own town but the concept seems to have taken root in many major North American cities. It makes sense. It's socially responsible and promotes green living. Whether you adhere to those principles or not, chances are you'll find a few nice pieces in the place. My wife sure did! You can find a cool retro dress for the price of a couple of Latte Ventis at the Starbucks down the road.

Your next destination should be Retrospect. As they advertise on their website, it's "vintage through and through"and "is the cure for the chain-store shopping blues". Couldn't agree more. If you're looking for a vintage couch or a simple silk scarf, then search no more.

It certainly chased the blues away as soon as I put my hands on a stunning green glen check 60s jacket. My mood quickly changed from blues free to utter excitement when I saw the price tag of 18$.

At that silly price, I managed to score a few extra slim ties. Hard to say no at 5$ a pop.

Looking for a hard to find short brimmed trilby or a classic driver's cap? Then you should head over to the Hat Shop, 524 South St. I think the name of the place is pretty self-explanatory.

A good fifteen minute walk from South Street is Metro Mens Clothing in the rapidly developing neighbourhood along Passyunk Avenue. If you don't like taking the vintage route, this place will meet all your Mod clothing needs.

You'll find all the Mod friendly brands like Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Original Penguin all under one roof. According to the very friendly owner, his shop has the exclusivity for all the Fred Perry products in Philly. True or not, the impeccable customer service is worth the detour. Just a couple days before, I had received an email announcing the new Fred Perry Northern Soul - Twisted Wheel collection and he already had it in stock.

Of course, I kept the best for last. A street away from our hotel, in the Old City, is the exquisite Briar Vintage. A bit more expensive then your average second hand shop, the selection is carefully hand picked. You'll only find the finest examples of vintage clothing from the 20s to the 60s. 

The only reason why I didn't leave with half of the inventory is because I didn't find anything that fit well. But it wasn't from a lack of trying!

So I had to settle for a couple of pocket squares and a few ties. Don't hesitate to strike a conversation with the manager David, a very swell gentleman. He knows a thing or two about clothes and if you're as passionate about the subject as I am, the next thing you'll know half an hour will have passed.

What would I give to have a vintage tie clip display case like this.

While in the neighbourhood, might as well visit Sazz Vintage next door. You might just end up finding something you like.

All that shopping will certainly make you hungry. The perfect way to end an intense day of shop hopping is to walk a few blocks South to the National Mechanics Pub & Restaurant. The place, set in an old bank, offers a selection of 33 different beers and a menu of savoury pub grub. Believe me, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We Are The Mods... and The Rude Boys!

Last month I went to see two live acts that were my point of entry into the Mod world as a teenager. The Specials were one of the bands that made a big impact on my young psyche. I liked everything about them. Aside from their mix of infectious ska, pop and punk, I was attracted to their fashion sense. Damn they looked sharp!

The Specials in Montreal - July 2013 - photo by Tracey Lindeman

Most importantly, it was the messages conveyed through their songs that totally resonated with me. They advocated non-violence, unity amongst subcultures and most importantly spoke against racism. Plus, you could dance your heart out to that music! That was me.

If you have a racist friend 
Now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end 
Racist Friend - The Specials AKA, 1984

That led me to dig a little deeper into the origins of ska and rocksteady. I remember finding this LP in a little record shop on Queen Street in Toronto. In my uninitiated and uneducated little teenage brain of mine, I didn't even know that 80s ska had it's own roots firmly planted in Jamaican music. You have to understand that I was the only Mod in my French speaking high school, so I was basically self-thought in all matters of Mod music.

Intensified! Original Ska 1962 - 66

On that compilation album was a group called The Skatalites and a musician called Roland Alphonso. I really liked their sound and thought they were a notch above all the others. Last month I got to see The Skatalites live for the first time.

The Skatalites - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

Original Skatalites member Lester Sterling - photo by Tracey Lindeman

When I was a teenager, in the middle of forging my own identity and style, I often asked myself if I was more of a Rude Boy than a Mod. What are the differences between the two? On a dance floor, can you tell the two nocturnal birds apart? Am I too hung up on labels or should I be more like some of my friends “I’m not a Mod or a Rude Boy. I’m just me”? Does anybody care really about the semantics?

Me in the 80s. Many of us wish to forget the dreaded white socks era.
For a young lad, these seemed like crucial questions.

Historically, both movements have their roots in two completely different places. The Mod youth culture is a British phenomenon from the sixties. The mainly working class kids got their inspiration from many sources and touched a vast array of spheres: fashion, art, Soul music, design and scooters. The Rude Boys emerged from the same era but came from Jamaica. The sharply dressed young black men ruled the dance halls of Kingston and laid down the law. Their main interest: ska and rocksteady.

The two movements eventually mingled and intersected once the Jamaican Rude Boys and British Mods started sharing the same dance floor in England. This is where the line gets blurred. Mods and Rude Boys both share a very similar dress code. Nicely tailored suits, slim ties and well kept shoes or boots are part of their uniform. On the other hand, they each have their signature piece of clothing: the pork pie hat or tribly for the Rude Boy and the US army parka for the Mod.Yes, this might be over simplifying things and doesn't make light of many nuances but I'm sure you get the picture.

The inspiration seems to have come from the same role models. The African American jazz musicians from the fifties and the notorious American gangsters in their Italian suits, portrayed in the films, were often emulated. But back in the day, the distinction between the two groups was easily made. The Rude Boys were Jamaican immigrants and the Mods were young British men.

Then in 1979, there was Two-Tone. The British music label brought to the forefront a mixture of pop, punk and ska with attitude. Bands like The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selector popularized the myth of the Rude Boy. The image of Walt Jabsco with his black suit, slim tie, pork pie hat and shades adorned many Harrington jackets, bombers, suit lapels and parkas.

The Specials' Horace Panter & Terry Hall - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

All you punks and all you teds
National Front and Natti dreds
Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads
Keep on fighting 'till you're dead

Who am I to say?
Who am I to say?
Am I just a hypocrite?
Another piece of your bullshit
Am I the dog the bit, the hand of the man that feeds it? 
Do The Dog - The Specials, 1979

The black and white checkerboard pattern, symbol and trademark of 2-Tone, was introduced. It represented the unity between black and white cultures. It was a strong anti-racist statement. That philosophy really appealed to me. It started making its appearance on everything related to the Rude Boy: pins, shirts, patches, scarves and album covers.

The Specials' Horace Panter & Lynval Golding - July 2013, Montreal - photo by Tracey Lindeman

The James Jacket, a hooded light coat with a checkered pattern across the chest, was very popular in the 80s. I remember having the Carnaby Cavern version in red. When the ska compilation album Dance Craze came out in 1981, the tasseled loafer and houndstooth pant leg on the cover instantly became part of the official Rude Boy wear. I remember buying a pair of Dr. Marten loafers for my high school graduation in 1988. I wore them regularly until I gave them to a homeless fellow while on a trip to China in 2003. They still looked sharp.

The Mods of that period also liked ska. It was not uncommon to see a contingent of parkas at an English Beat concert amongst the Rude Boys, the Punks and the Skinheads. I guess the major difference between the scenes during that time is that the Mods were also into bands like The Jam, The Lambrettas, Secret Affair, The Chords and The Purple Hearts. I would also venture to say that the scooter was also more of a Mod thing. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe I am. The thing is, I never came across anybody who actually made the distinction.

So where do I fit into all that? Do I have an identity crisis? Not at all. I embrace all the good and positive parts of the different scenes. I’m reminded of what Ringo Starr said in the movie a Hard Day’s Night when a journalist asks him if he’s a Mod or a Rocker and he answers: “I’m a Mocker”. So, after all that consideration, I guess you could say I’m a Mod Boy or a Rude Mod.

* A special thank you to my talented friend and journalist Tracey Lindeman for providing all the concert photos. You can reach her through her website here.