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Skinhead Subculture History

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2419 words Published: 31st Jul 2018

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Here is a definition of what is a skinhead: It is a young man of a subculture characterized by close-cropped hair and heavy boots, often perceived as aggressive, violent, and racist.

Skinheads are not the “evil” fascist (Nazis) (as you’ve probably heard of many times on the news and so on). Indeed, one has to mention that they’re not all white or they don’t even all have their heads shaved, although the majority do.

Initially, the skinhead “style” emerged in 1966 from different elements which eventually gave one definite style by 1967. This continued, developed and matured until 1972, and then the real origins and reasons for the emergence of the cult get lost in outrage, acts of violence (and so far) to become for most people who grew up before the sixties and still nowadays, another unpleasant aspect of modern youth.

This presentation is intended to try to understand the several issues in this subject, how the movement came about, how we could describe the archetypal skinhead of 1967-1972 period, how this subculture seemed to represent the multiculturalism and also to show the drifts towards extremism, focusing on the fact that it was only mainly excesses.

The Skinheads, during this period, show such a pride and passion for their style that it seems as well very meaningful to tie this subculture to the notion “Britishness”.

To what extent the skinhead subculture is linked to British values and traditions?


To better apprehend where does it all comes from, it is impossible not to evoke the Mods movement.

In Britain, in the late 1960s there existed a youth sub-culture known as Mods (cf. Swinging London).

Mod (from modernist) is a subculture as well that originated in London, England in the 1950s and was at its height in the early-to-mid 1960s. The significant elements frequently associated to the subculture are fashion for example, music and motor scooters (Vespa). You’ve probably all already seen their well-known symbol, which was originally The Royal Air Force roundel (cf. picture).

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After 1964, mods split up. (a lot of) ‘hard mods’ or tough Mods (those who enjoyed most the fighting with Rockers in Brighton or Eastbourne) began to cut their hair close to the scalp (cuir chevelu), first as a fashion statement. But it was also due to the fact that it kept their hair out of their faces and on the other hand, made it impossible to grab during a fight. Moreover it was a way to be distinct from their enemies, the Rockers, who had long hairs and a quiff slicked back (=banane).

So they soon evolved into Skinheads. Carnaby Street was no longer the symbolic place of the Swinging London it used to be, known nowadays for its awfully high number of tourists…) and the fashion scene, and mods were simply swept away.

Skinheads could be really identified as a separate group in 1968 because of their distinctive dress and appearance, the type of music which they liked and the tough, aggressive behaviour they displayed. The emergence of the skinhead style represented a counter-revolution. This revolution took place amongst the working class youth of London and other cities.

The movement was non-political and gave off the impression of an aspiring white working class

The skinhead style is smart, clean and tough. It is a precise uniform which proclaims identity.

They rejected the finery and the slightly effeminate characteristics of the mods and the hippies for clothes that represented more their working class background. They needed clothes that would not get torn in a fight, which would stay neat. So, the famous ‘skinhead’ itself is typically closely-shaved head for men and a Mod-style short feather cut for girls.

The Ben Sherman trend prevailed from mod fashion with button-down, gingham (=vichy) shirts. The size of the check of the shirt (=carreaux) denoted your place in the gang – the larger the check the more authority you had in the group.

Sta-Prest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sta-Prest) slack (=pants, falzar) and (tough working jeans were the choice of trousers. As a matter of interest it is said that there are many skinheads who would sit in a bath of water with their shrink-to-fit Levi 501 jeans to get the extreme skinny-legged look.

Jeans were inevitably tucked into a pair of Dr Martens boots or industrial boots.

The look was completed with a pair of braces (=bretelles) a trilby or pork pie hat and even donkey jackets, army greens.

To give you a fuller description of their style, it is to be said that if daytime clothes were loose and hard wearing, clothes worn in the evening were well tailored and expensive. That is a feature which is less known. The aim was to outflash/impress/not to get unnoticed (everyone) at the dance hall.

Hard Mods as well as the skinheads often lived in the same economically depressed areas of South London as West Indian immigrants and began to emulate (=imitate, follow the example of) what is known as the “rude boy” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rude_boy) look of pork pie hats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_pie_hat) and short Levi jeans; which is in fact a way to describe the black youths of the time.

This leads us to emphasize some features (often forgotten/left out) that strongly prove the multiculturalism of the skinhead style.


In establishing their own style, the younger brothers of the mods adopted certain elements of the mod style, combined them with items from traditional working clothes, borrowed some influences from the West Indian blacks and became skinheads.

As we’ve just mentioned it, the other source of the skinhead style was the hip young West Indians of the inner city areas, such as Lambeth of Brixton (south of London).

Their cool, disdainful attitude to strangers and their style and exuberance in the dance hall made them respected and admired by their white contemporaries.

Indeed, the whites and the blacks mixed freely at dance halls and clubs, both indulging a common love of dancing and music.

About their haircut for their example, one has to mention that again, this feature was copied from the West Indians who used it as part of their own hairstyles.

Skinhead was not about colour, race, religion, national origin, or anything of the sort. It is a kind of brotherhood of individuals who share the same passions.

Regarding the music now, and that is almost the most important feature of this subculture as any youth cult needs its own type of music. Music serves to identify and unify members of the group, as well as to entertain. The mods had soul, the Motown sound and beat music. It was necessary for the early skins to obtain a separate musical identity.

They adopted the Jamaican music which the black communities in South East London had brought from their homeland and which was the popular music of the Rude Boys.

The bouncy, jumpy beat in reggae was chosen by the skins and later, some specific skinhead records were even published.

Because of the extrovert character of the West Indian blacks and of the music they played, there was no antagonism between skins and blacks. Indeed, many blacks were skinheads or formed their own crews, such as the Kilburn Blacks and the Kilburn Whites.

Another import from Jamaica was Rastafarianism (To make a long story short, mystical cult based on and concerning the downfall of the white colonial races).

As its popularity grew, the association of skins and blacks in a common form of music had come to an end.

So, at the beginning, skinheads were not racist and more than this, the subculture was strongly rooted in the British values accepting and even taking part in the integration of different cultures such as the Jamaican’s.


So how things turned bad?

The escapism from the Skinheads’ gritty (=rough) industrial reality then took a darker turn (to the football terraces where) as these kids were also a major part of football hooliganism, which is an unfortunate tradition that still exists in Britain today. Once again, a deeply rooted tradition in British society. The aggressive football hooliganism against rival teams became their new entertainment.

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Each week fans donned (=revêtir) the colours of their team and rooted and cheered. (until their faces turned blue.) They also consumed a tremendous amount of alcohol. The highlight of every match was the brawl (=rixe, bagarre). The fights often would pour out into the streets and would involve chains, boots, fists, and anything else they could get their hands on (couteaux, tessons de bouteilles).

What is weird is that they were these same thugs who we were talking about earlier. To relax after the fight (après la rencontre et les rixes), they would dress in the best threads (=fringues) that their blue-collar pay cheques could get them, and go and dance, party, and drink all night with the relatively large Jamaican immigrant population and the music they brought with them – ska.

Paradoxically, Ska and Reggae music often (influenced/associated by/to Rastafarian beliefs, support to the poor and unprivileged) was fashionable among this minor but violent subculture known as ‘skinheads’ who were known for their racism and violence.

Anyway, it is quite sad but football violence at the time was common and there was an increased policing of the fans. Also skins were extremely defensive of their own territory for example, and each gang, called a crew, had its own area which it defended.

Contrary to black communities, Asian immigrants had a different, closed way of life and did not blend with traditional working class or East End ways of living. There was a threat of settlement by immigrants and a demolition or removal to overspill/overpopulated area. Skinhead violence may be seen as one response to such changes in society.

“They looked like an army and, went into action like one.” That is one of the description of skinheads you could find.

Also, generally, short hair is associated in the public mind with convicts, prison camp inmates and the military (that is to say violence). It was exactly this mean look which the skins wished to cultivate.

This made them easy recruits for an ultra-right wing organisation, the National Front. They quickly earned a reputation for attacking blacks and Asians, as well as other minority groups such as hippies and gays. The sadly known Paki bashing appeared and was combined with queer bashing and even student bashing.

This led to skinheads being both hated and feared. As the media caught on to this aspect of the cult, it caused some skins to leave the movement and in parallel more violent people to joint it. Eventually, this was one of the reasons which led to its decline in 1971/1972. There was no point in being a skin if you simply got caught by the police wherever you went.

This also led to even more diversification among the skinhead ranks.

An example in culture is the movie This Is England by the English director Shane Meadows. Not many directors are brave enough to out themselves as a teen racist, but for three weeks, at the age of 12, Shane Meadows fell in with the wrong crowd. He witnessed a horrific beating, which to this day fills him with shame.

The event inspired this film, which documents the moment skinhead culture became ugly. It is a coming-of-age story set in a seaside town, in 1983, at the height of Thatcherism. Twelve-year-old Shaun Fields (the name is deliberately autobiographical) joins a gang of skinheads, but camaraderie gives way to tension as the National Front stir up (=remuer) racial hatred.

Meadows says/testimonies/witnesses he understands how gangs fill a vacuum for youngsters with little hope. ‘When you’re 13 and you’ve got long, straggly hair and people are taking the piss out of your trousers, and you see this charismatic group of guys in smart Ben Shermans walking down the street, you want to be like them.’


Skinheads created one of the most iconic youth movements ever to emerge in Britain.

The sub genre known as Skinhead is of purely British origin, it is deeply rooted in a British tradition, for example through football and also connecting the British Isle’s to Jamaica and that what is interesting.

But Skinheads’ crude political message of racism, hooliganism and street violence was much louder than its artistic one and, as a musical force, it quickly disappeared.

It quickly became defined by terror, menace and racism.

But beneath the shaved heads and steel-capped boots lay a more complex reality.

In the early 1980s, skinheads of all types began to appear throughout the rest of Europe and the United States. Around this same time, many leftist skins began to organise in an effort to throw out the boneheads (cf.2).

In 1986, a New York skinhead named Marcus, formed SHARP, which quickly spread throughout the rest of North America and Europe. The AFSA (cf.3) was formed specifically to expel boneheads from the scene.

Example: In Toronto, a group of anti-fascist skins formed by a man named David Cheater consists almost completely of Jews.

Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice.

Their term for the racist, fascist, Nazi, and other right-wing skinhead groups who were, in the eyes of the traditional skins, stealing their culture.

Anti-Fascist Skinhead Alliance.

I wanted to do them justice.

Also what interested me were the differences between the prejudices and what is the reality behind this.

A crew was predominantly a male group, like any other city gang, yet skinhead girls eventually became an accepted part of the scene. Moreover since only a policewoman can search a girl and there are fewer women police than men, girls became useful carriers of weapons or pills. The clothes of skinhead girls made them look superficially like the boys. “Can”t tell boys from girls” from reporters.


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