Kings of Vintage: Skinheads- thug fashion or style statement? With the racist and thuggish leanings that certain groups of skinheads became notorious for, it isn’t surprising that the skinhead look has faded away since its resurgence in the Eighties. And that’s a shame, because as George Walker finds out, the original skinheads had the utmost respect for black culture, not to mention a pretty fantastic wardrobe that infused traditional British attire with a good dose of punk and ska influences. Could this be the time when we’re ready to reclaim elements of skinhead style? You be the judge. Writing about skinhead fashion tends to be a bit difficult. On the one hand, this culture brought together both black and white working class youths who were disillusioned with the way Britain was being run. They had a new dress code, a strong look that channeled military like aggression (the shaved heads, the Dr Martens) and dapper mod styling (the skinny fit check shirts, the braces.) This makes it one of the most striking and interesting looks in men’s fashion history. On the other hand, the second wave of skinheads in the Eighties were full of angry young men who were easily swayed to extremist political groups like the National Front. The word skinhead became almost synonymous with the word racist. So, whilst the National Front recruited skinheads, other divisions in skinhead culture set up anti-racism groups to tackle the growing perception that all skinheads were racist. This unclear and confusing division within skinhead culture is most famously depicted in Shane Meadows’ film This is England. The story centres on a young boy who finds himself in a wayward and yet friendly group of skinhead ska music enthusiasts. When violent racist Combo gets back from jail, however, the group dynamic changes completely; their black friend Milky faces Combo’s posinous tongue and the group splits between those up for a good time, and those up for National Front marches. Meadows grew up during the second wave of the skinheads and had first-hand experience of the contradictions and divides in this sub-culture. When talking about the story in This is England Meadows said: “The skinheads, because of their aggression and outward appearance- they’re almost soldier like- were, I suppose, almost handpicked to become soldiers for the National Front. You don’t see the contradiction that you’re being indoctrinated into the National Front whilst listening to black music.” What This is England quite importantly showed was the way original skinhead culture was very much a multi-cultural phenomena. Ska music and reggae clubs were the cultural cornerstones that skinhead culture originally met on. This gave the skinheads a unique identity from generations before. And, if you’re going to be unique, of course you need a unique dress code. Dr Martens offered a punk-edged form of masculinity; drainpipe jeans gave a smart and lean look; braces played upon traditional British culture, giving it the V sign all along. Eventually the look spread to other parts of the globe, but skinhead culture was always firmly rooted in the UK. It may not be the most accessible of looks- not least because of the connotations that skinhead culture now has- but maybe it’s time to reclaim skinhead fashion in the spirit it initially had. As Dr Martens line vintage shops and mod culture has a renaissance, it might be that we’re finding our way back to the positive side of skinhead culture and style once again. If you’re convinced, read on for some smart skinhead shopping finds… Style Tip No.1: The Dr Martens Did you know DMs are the brainchild of a German military doctor from the Second World War who injured his ankle and ended up developing an air cushioned sole and further ankle support? Do you care? No, me neither. What’s really interesting about Dr Martens is their iconic status as the footwear for rebels, punks and- of course- skinheads. Has any other piece of clothing made such a statement? Probably not. The Dr Martens brand has stood the test of time and we’re glad, because this gorgeous deep cherry-red pair (pictured) give the perfect touch of skinhead rebellion to an everyday outfit for 75 of your English pounds. Wear with drainpipe jeans, and a smart shirt and crombie jacket for a modern edgy look. Style Tip No.2: Braces Braces are always a true vintage chap’s favourite, but if you’re going for the skinhead look, why not throw in a bit of colour. Match your braces to a colour in your check shirt to stand out from the crowd without a terrible colour clash. Style Tip No.3: The Check Shirt Those of you who have seen This is England will probably remember when the skinhead gang club together to buy 12-year-old Shaun his first Ben Sherman shirt. Admittedly I’ve never been that into the Ben Sherman brand (growing up in West Yorkshire many clubs and bars would ban those wearing Ben Sherman, fearing they might be trouble-makers), but the brand has had a real makeover over recent years. Ben Sherman has returned to being a smart brand all about the British heritage of fine tailoring and style. This checked shirt really gives that smart skinhead/ mod look. It’s also perfect for wearing with those braces and DMs. Outfit sorted! One Response Beaut Vintage Dresses July 16th, 2010 Great article George! “This is England” is one of the best films I have seen in the 5 years. It brought back all my childhood memories of growing up in the retro 80s. I grew up surrounded by my skinhead mates – and I had a semi mod look about me. It was a wonderful vintage time – protrayed in a wonderful movie. 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