Diary of a Mod Girl

As a child of the Sixties, my mother raised me on a diet of Elvis and The Beatles. My young mother certainly helped create an affiliation with Sixties culture due to the music I heard as a child. But it took me a while to learn what was truly “Mod chic” as I made some terrible mistakes in the beginning. In my earliest Mod days, from 1978 onwards, I honestly did not have a clue how to dress stylish as a Mod. It all started with the music and the feeling it gave me.

Funnily enough my love for Mod came from hearing the Sex Pistols “Whatcha Gonna Do About It?”  Still with the remnants of pink in my yellow blonde hair I loved this song and was surprised to see it was not The Pistols at all but a Sixties band called The Small Faces.   This discovery led me to a whole new world of music, starting of course with The Small Faces, early Beatles, The Who, The Yardbirds and lesser known bands such as The Ivy League. Suddenly I was getting into the whole sixties vibe, I wanted to emulate not just what my heroes were singing about but also what they were wearing.

Bearing in mind this was before the age of the Internet and there were very few books published on the subject relating to Mod. So we created our style from a mixture of Sixties films and magazines we could find. First I copied exactly what the blokes wore, even down to the Marriott hairstyle, (also known as the French cut at the time)a button down Ben Sherman, the skinny tie and completed with the ultimate army coat, the parka(and yes my mum has the pictures). I looked so much like a boy I remember suffering the ultimate humiliation of looking too young and being turned away from a pub by a rather vociferous landlord who pointed to me and said “and that young boy definitely ain’t coming in”

Being young meant my income was limited so I bought my parka at an army surplus shop in Bushey, paying regular instalments of the princely sum of £2 per week. I remember the day I finally made the last payment and was able to wear my coat home. I found myself even walking differently, a newly born Mod (how my mum laughed as I walked through the door). Then, like the other Mods of the era, I created the artwork of my favourite bands logo’s on the back and sleeves in amongst the patches and bullet holes with good old Tippex.

Several years later I realized the true benefit of the parka when I rode pillion on the back of dodgy looking Vespa 90 in the freezing cold. I remember also being obsessive about badges collecting as many Mod ones as I could possibly wear on my parka, making it almost impossible to zip it up. Even now when revisiting my treasured possessions in the loft the stale smell of my old parka creates a memory rush of feelings and absolute pride. Being a Mod meant everything to me.

Later on, an older girlfriend of mine (all of nineteen) introduced me to the joys of Kensington Market and various charity shops to buy our gear. I was well into the Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton look by 1980 and it was not hard to emulate their style and look if you knew where to go.

Most of my stuff came from vintage shops, Oxfam or the famous stall at the time called Sweet Charity. Mainly I would buy clothes if I liked the fabric regardless of the size and then I would tailor them at home to fit me. By then most of the commercial Mod clothing back in the late Seventies was made up of black and white monochrome checks made popular by the Two Tone Label, and no self respecting Mod wanted to be seen wearing that.

After a few years I learnt how to design my own look by purchasing larger sized dresses and using the extra fabric for collars. Extra buttons would be removed for other garments. Certainly it was unheard of to wear the same thing twice especially if you were seen at the clubs regularly. So every week I would travel to the Oxfam shops, stock up and then spend all evening sewing to create a new outfit. Sometimes on luckier trips, I would find something extra special. I once had a beautiful tonic skirt suit in duck egg blue which I loved and sadly lost after lending to a friend who promised to give it back and of course never did. Everything had to match from the footwear to the bag and even the earrings.

I just remember the excitement of deciding what to wear and matching the shoes and bags together. I also remember collecting Button earrings in every colour under the sun; I must have had bags of them. It was so important to co-ordinate everything, to pinpoint accuracy. Sometimes the outfits I wore did not go according to plan. I remember on one occasion wearing this really white mini dress and white lacy tights that went fluorescent under the lights and then realizing my mouth and teeth were shining out too, which was not a good look. Another wardrobe disaster was a stripy vintage dress I customized to fit me. The problem was I made the hem a little too short, so it had the irritating problem of rising up as I danced, so I spent the most of that evening sitting down.

My hair went through various transformations and remained as white blonde as I could manage. I favoured the short Twiggy styles and later began back combing the crown as high as I could get it with loads of hairspray to set it rock hard. Even now the smell of Elnett takes me back to those days. It was also important to have those short pointy bits at the side symmetrical and pointing forward so I would virtually plaster the hairspray onto my skin to make those pieces of hair stay in place.

At the time really white lipstick was really hard to get hold of. I can’t remember what brand it was, maybe Biba or Mary Quant but they discontinued the only one I could buy at the time so I resorted to using a spot cover stick at one stage. But to be honest most of us looked pretty awful wearing it as it showed up any dryness of the lips and didn’t stay on long either. I don’t think any of us used lip liner either so it was an art to apply. I remember Max Factor and Yardley did a creamy colour lipstick. So whilst all the girls at my school were wearing Black Tulip lipstick, l stood out as the only Mod girl with creamy coloured lips. But that was what being a Mod was/is all about, being different from the crowd.

But it had it set backs being singular because it was not unusual for me to get beaten up, even by blokes. I once found myself on the floor after school and at the mercy of a Rocker-Billy, who had been a mate.  I regularly got spat at and suffered verbal abuse from the Skinhead girls at the school.

I had always worn a lot of black eyeliner pencil and so when some cosmetic companies bought out a liquid eye liner that stayed on I was relieved. I must say I did try and master the false eyelashes but they always ended up falling in my beer.  Shoes went through several stages from stilettos in 1980 to kitten heels and then to flat pointed shoes and dolly shoes.

I worked in Dolcis on a Saturday, so I always stashed anything away that looked vaguely retro.  My 1980-1982 diaries are awash with detailed drawings of shoes, Kelly handbags and earrings I had bought that week. Once I discovered the joy of dancing  the flat dolly shoes became my choice of footwear along with stretch ski pants and vintage twin sets (usually from Marks & Spencer’s old designs) Mini dresses had the disadvantage of rising up and were not so good on the back of a scooter.  One memory I have is when my boyfriend Andy had removed the foot rest from the back of his scooter and I had one foot resting forward on his section so I didn’t burn my shoes. Trouble was on the second part of the journey I forgot and when we arrived at our local pub, I realized that one of my dolly shoes had melted onto the exhaust. So when I put my foot on the floor is was virtually on fire, much to his amusement.

Midway Tavern Mods
My favourite dance places were Jon Buck’s weekly events called Ready Steady Go. It was held in Hemel Hempstead every Thursday night, and it was a great place to dance and meet other Mods. The music was a mix of Northern Soul, Tamla Motown, and classic Sixties Soul with a touch of new Mod thrown in. New Mod in those days meant Secret Affair, The Chords, Purple Hearts, Squire and the occasional Jam track. The beer was so weak we never got drunk and danced off the rest. No wonder I was so skinny as I hardly ate anything and was always dancing or running about.   I was addicted to those clubs though, especially the ones further a field such as The Bush on a Saturday night. The MildMay was my favourite.

As I remember there would always be stacks of scooters outside for us to view. My proudest moment was arriving on the back of my boyfriend’s Lambretta dressed to the nines for our first time there. There would always be a queue outside and people would be literally “vetted” before they went in to make sure they looked the part. It was a nerve-wracking experience, there was no room for plastic Mods that’s for sure and no one wanted to be denied entry, the embarrassment would be too much too take. This made everyone try that little bit harder to look authentic.

Once inside it was like you stepped back in time. Everyone looked the part and there was amazing attention to detail. The DJ (cannot remember his name) looked like Brian Jones and I was surrounded by the coolest blokes with Marriot style and attitude. On the walls, they projected old films (sometimes a bit dubious if I recall) and swirly lights. One week in winter 1982 we all turned up and the place was deserted. I hadn’t noticed how shabby the place was in normal light. We were told that there would be no more Mod nights as there had been a fight the week before and someone had got stabbed or seriously injured. We were devastated as places like this were becoming less and less easier to find as the Mod revival was nearing its end.

I also have in my diary a recollection of another club in London called The Xclusive. It was held in a basement as I recall and was very expensive. My mates found the whole thing hilarious as when you got a cigarette out the bar staff would light it for you before you had a chance to get your matches out. Another venue in Woodside, Watford used to have the occasional Mod night. I remember winning a dance competition with my mate Ian Woods (Woodsy). Afterwards I was asked to show these very young aspiring Mod girls how to dance in the ladies loos.

The all-nighters always seem to end in disaster for me. One Mod do, which was at a barn,  was arranged by Jon Buck and was so grubby that as we all danced all the dust from the sawdust rose like smoke and no one could see a thing. It appeared to be smoke filled but we could taste the dust in our mouths. We all ended up with grimy faces and my shoes and tights were utterly ruined. On another occasion we all ended up sleeping in the aforementioned barn and since only one bloke had a torch the noise of rats as our bed guests was not welcome. Suffice to say none of us slept that night.

One Friday night before we had our own transport, I remember walking miles to get home with a bit of help from some dodgy pills-and then going to my Saturday job as soon as I got back. I distinctly remember being unable to stop walking even when we got back to our destination. Certainly it was not to be recommended as when my energy levels fell so did I.  I literally fell asleep at work that afternoon in amongst the shoes of the Dolcis stock room and had a job getting home. I slept for two days after that.

As for gigs, I saw most of the revival bands that we talk about today as The Chords, and The Purple Hearts were popular with our crew. Regretfully the only band I didn’t see, were The Lambrettas. According to my diaries we didn’t go in on this occasion because the venue was full of skinheads and that was best avoided.  My favourite revival band Secret Affair really stole my heart though. My first gig was somewhat belated as, although I had been a fan for many years, even during their New Hearts incarnation, my parents were quite restrictive as to where and when I went out. I looked a lot younger than I was so now I understand why they were so protective. In 1980 the band added the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion show during the My World tour. I was desperate to see them and finally got my wish.

Secret Affair
To date I still remember every detail of that show, I was utterly mesmerized by the band as I stayed at the front dancing throughout, singing along to every track. This was one of the rare times that Ian Page played Life’s A Movie too on a piano and there were according to my diary three encores. I stood so close to the speakers I was deafened for two days.  Outside the venue I still recall several Skinhead types were overwhelmed by the “We are the Mods” chant as we left to go home and we luckily outnumbered them on this occasion. I still have my T shirt emblazoned with the My World logo to this day, now signed by the band. It was many years later in 2002 after countless emails between us I finally met my heroes at their second gig at the Birmingham Academy (the first being Bristol) Ian remarked from the stage, “Well if I forget the words I will ask you” and we have been friends ever since. Consequently I created Secret Affair’s Official Site in 2003 and began their fan club again. The site remains an important contribution to Mod history with additional biographical information from fellow fan and journalist Chris Hunt.

There were of course other bands that influenced the scene at that time, notably Nine Below Zero who gained momentum throughout 1980-1982. The early days at The Marquee the crowd was small but by 1982 the following had grown from those into Rhythm and Blues to Mods and Rockers alike and all age groups. The highlight for me was the Hammersmith Odeon show around 1982, Alexis Korner was a guest guitarist. Everyone was dancing in the aisles, it was great to see people just enjoying the music . Nine Below Zero then opened my eyes to the original Blues artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and BB King.

When I got my Vespa 90 in 1982, I was at first too scared to drive the bloody thing. Back then you didn’t need to have lessons as long as you had a provisional license and an L plate. The first time I went out on it I nearly burned the engine out, as I was too scared to change the gears. On one occasion I remember stalling it at a set of traffic lights at the same time I was surrounded by a car-load of jeering Skin heads laughing at my feeble attempt to get it started again. This little skinny girl could hardly hold it steady let alone get it started.

The Isle of Wight scooter rally was a favourite one for me though and I have many fond memories of those trips. I remember one year my then boyfriend promising to get me a B & B and then spending all his money on booze. So instead I ended up sharing his sleeping bag in a freezing cold garage floor surrounded by other drunken Mods, while my more sensible girlfriends had got rooms themselves. I woke up stiff, cold and shivering as made my way to the shops to get some cigarettes surrounded by equally zombie looking Mod girls with panda eyes from ineffective make up removal.

Did the film Quadrophenia have an influence on us back then? Certainly many of us had been Mods for a time when the film was released and whilst it was a popular source of entertainment (I saw it 12 times) it became a two edged sword. For many it made Mod style less appealing since it attracted many that were less fanatical about getting the look right and saw it as a gimmick. Many of us saw it as the catalyst that sparked the early demise of the whole scene. As the films appeal began to wane so did its audience and people began to move on to other fashions, Rude Boys, Suedeheads, and New Romantics whilst only the truly dedicated Purists stayed loyal.  One fond memory of watching Quadrophenia resulted in being chased by a gang of Skinheads. My three male companions and I found ourselves hiding behind some dustbins in fear of our lives as 12 stocky Skins were chasing us on scooters. As the headlights scanned the wall behind us searching us out like floodlights in a war movie my mate Paul whispered in my ear quite seriously “Trace it’s just like Quadrophenia” to which we had to stifle the laughter at this ludicrous situation. Paul earned his nickname of J.L.Q that night.

As a Mod girl in the revival years it was a great time, the music others of my age listened to were alien to me. I did not compete with the fashions they followed and had my own style that I could create which was entirely mine. All my teenage thoughts and feelings may well be captured in diaries, photographs, cuttings and old music papers, but now I realize throughout the past 30 years there are so many more of those Mod memories still yet to make and great friends to share them together with.

Once a Mod, always a Mod!

This work is the copyright of Tracey Dawn Wilmott and originally appears in ZANI online magazine. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.

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