And they've been a part of my wardrobe ever since
I was a terrible Mod. Like most teenagers in the south coast UK town where I lived, signing up for the Mod Revival in the autumn of 1978 meant sleuthing out the approximately right stuff—trim polo shirts, a 1960s suit, bad loafers—from charity shops for pennies. There was little in the way of rigor. With real fish-tailed US Army Surplus parkas already in short supply and with prices rocketing, I found an ex-German army version for £9 that was not at all right. But in Mod-dom, wearing the wrong shoes was an egregious error. The Clarks Desert Boots I got right. I bought them new. They were a dark brown and, if I remember, cost £19. I wore them into the ground that autumn.
Just about any fashion that mattered to British teens in those years came from music—from the fleeting and fast-paced turnover of tribes linked to bands or collectives of bands who were into a specific sound and a specific look. Getting dressed was an act of rebellion, even in comfortable shoes. And as any teen knows, nothing quite telegraphs your rebellious, independent streak like dressing the same as a whole bunch of other people.
Until fashion and culture magazines covering the styles of these music subcultures came along in 1980 to bring this confusing, constantly-mutating world sharply into focus, style cues came either from word of mouth, music shows, or music papers. My short Mod phase began at the end of August ’78, during the rise of new wave and post-punk. I liked punk music, but I wasn’t into wearing the look. The sharp, tailored look donned by new wave acts was more appealing to me.
School uniform, in those days, consisted of a gray two or three-piece worsted suit, white shirt, and striped chocolate and navy tie. Mod was also a uniform and, relative to other tribes, was fairly presentable. This made it easier to be an all-day, all-week Mod. I bought my genuine 1960s suit from Oxfam. Committed punks didn’t have it so easy. Leather jackets and bondage trousers were not thought beneficial to the school’s esprit de corps. After spiky hair was officially added to the school rules list of major no-no’s three boys arrived on a Monday morning with bright blue hairdos.
My Mod career would eventually end in November 1979, once the subculture had seeped into the mainstream. What’s the point of a rebellion if everyone is into it? But two things have remained with me ever since: A lasting love of style as a kind of uniform, and, of course, those chocolate suede Desert Boots.