Saturday, April 11, 2009
A skinhead is a member of a subculture that originated among working class youths in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, and then spread to other parts of the world. Named for their close-cropped or shaven heads, the first skinheads were greatly influenced by West Indian (specifically Jamaican) rude boys and British mods, in terms of fashion, music and lifestyle. Originally, the skinhead subculture was primarily based on those elements, not politics or race. Since then, however, attitudes toward race and politics have become factors in which some skinheads align themselves. The political spectrum within the skinhead scene ranges from the far right to the far left, although many skinheads are apolitical. Fashion-wise, skinheads range from a clean-cut 1960s mod-influenced style to less-strict punk- and hardcore-influenced styles.Contents [hide]
2 Style and clothing
4 Racism, anti-racism and politics
6 Further reading
7 External links
Hoxton Tom McCourt, a revival skinhead pictured in 1977
In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom's entrenched class system limited most working class people's educational, housing, and economic opportunities. However, Britain's post-war economic boom led to an increase in disposable income among many young people. Some of those youths spent that income on new fashions popularised by American soul groups, British R&B bands, certain movie actors, and Carnaby Street clothing merchants.
These youths became known as the mods, a youth subculture noted for its consumerism—and devotion to fashion, music, and scooters. Mods of lesser means made do with practical styles that suited their lifestyle and employment circumstances: steel-toe boots, straight-leg jeans or Sta-Prest trousers, button-down shirts, and braces (called suspenders in the USA). When possible, these working-class mods spent their money on suits and other sharp outfits to wear at dancehalls, where they enjoyed soul, ska, bluebeat and rocksteady music.
Around 1965, a schism developed between the peacock mods (also known as smooth mods), who were less violent and always wore the latest expensive clothes, and the hard mods (also known as gang mods), who were identified by their shorter hair and more working-class image. Also known as lemonheads and peanuts, these hard mods became commonly known as skinheads by about 1968. Their shorter hair may have come about for practical reasons, since long hair can be a liability in industrial jobs and a disadvantage in streetfights. Skinheads may also have cut their hair short in defiance of the more bourgeois hippie culture popular at the time.
In addition to retaining many mod influences, early skinheads were very interested in Jamaican rude boy styles and culture, especially the music: ska, rocksteady, and early reggae (before the tempo slowed down and lyrics became focused on topics like black nationalism and the Rastafari movement). Skinhead culture became so popular by 1969 that even the rock band Slade temporarily adopted the look, as a marketing strategy. The subculture gained wider notice because of a series of violent and sexually explicit novels by Richard Allen, notably Skinhead and Skinhead Escapes.  Due to largescale British migration to Perth, Western Australia, many British youths in that city joined skinhead/sharpies gangs in the 1960s and formed their own Australian style.
By the 1970s, the skinhead subculture started to fade from popular culture, and some of the original skins dropped into new categories, such as the suedeheads (defined by the ability to manipulate one's hair with a comb), smoothies (often with shoulder-length hairstyles), and bootboys (with mod-length hair; associated with gangs and football hooliganism). Some fashion trends returned to mod roots, reintroducing brogues, loafers, suits, and the slacks-and-sweater look.
In 1977, the skinhead subculture was revived to a notable extent after the introduction of punk rock. Most of these revival skinheads were a reaction to the commercialism of punk and adopted a sharp, smart look in line with the original look of the 1969 skinheads and included Gary Hodges and Hoxton Tom McCourt (both later of the band the 4-Skins) and Suggs, later of the band Madness.
From 1979 onwards, skinheads with even shorter hair and less emphasis on traditional styles grew in numbers and grabbed media attention, mostly as a result of their involvement with football hooliganism. These skinheads wore punk-influenced styles, like higher boots than before (14-20 eyelets) and tighter jeans (sometimes splattered with bleach). However, there was still a group of skinheads who preferred the original mod-inspired styles. Eventually different interpretations of the skinhead subculture expanded beyond the UK and Europe. One major example is that in the United States, certain segments of the hardcore punk scene embraced skinhead style and developed their own version of the subculture.
In the early 1990s, skinhead subculture emerged in Russia. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, as of 2003, as many as 20,000 young people might have belonged to various skinhead groups. Non-governmental experts say the figure may be twice that. Many of them have been prominently involved in anti-immigrant and ethnic violence.
Style and clothing
In addition to short hair, skinheads are identified by their specific clothing styles. Skinhead fashions have evolved somewhat since the formation of the subculture in the 1960s, and certain clothing styles have been more prevalent in specific geographic locations and time periods. There are several different types of skinheads in terms of style. Some skinheads don't fit into any of these categories, and many display characteristics of more than one category. The usefulness of these terms is to explain the dominant skinhead styles. There are no reliable statistics documenting how many skinheads have belonged to each category.
Traditional skinheads, also known as trads or Trojan skinheads, identify with the original 1960s skinhead subculture in terms of music, style, culture, and working class pride. Oi! skinheads appeared after the development of punk rock in the 1970s. They often have shorter hair and more tattoos than 1960s skinheads, and wear items—such as higher boots, tighter jeans, T-shirts, and flight jackets—that differ from those of their traditionalist counterparts. Hardcore skinheads originated in the United States hardcore punk scene in the early 1980s (with bands such as Iron Cross, Agnostic Front, Cro-mags, Sheer Terror, Warzone, and Murphy's Law). They differ from traditional skinheads by their musical tastes and a style of dress that is less strict.
Some skinheads, particularly highly political ones, attach significance to the color of boot laces to indicate beliefs or affiliations. In a few cases, the color of braces, and (less commonly) flight jackets may also signify affiliations. The particular colors used have varied regionally, and have meant totally different things in different areas and time periods. In the early days of the skinhead subculture, some skinheads chose lace colours based on the football team they supported. Only skinheads from the same area and time period are likely to interpret the color significations accurately. The "braces and laces game" has largely fallen into disuse, particularly among traditionalist skinheads, who are more likely to choose their colours for fashion purposes than for expressing views.
The following list includes many of the clothing articles that have been worn by skinheads.
Men: Originally, between a 2 and 3 grade clip-guard (short, but not bald); beginning in the late 1970s, typically shaved closer, with no greater than a number 2 guard. Now some skinheads clip their hair with no guard, and some even shave it with a razor. This started with the introduction of the Oi! scene. Some skinheads sport sideburns of various styles, usually neatly trimmed.
Women: In the 1960s, many female skinheads had mod-style haircuts. During the 1980s skinhead revival, many female skinheads had feathercuts (known as a Chelsea in North America). A feathercut is short on the crown, with fringes at the front, back and sides. Some female skinheads have a shorter punk-style version of the hairstyle; almost entirely shaved, leaving only bangs and fringes at the front.
Long-sleeve or short-sleeve button-up shirts or polo shirts by brands such as Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Brutus or Jaytex; Lonsdale or Everlast shirts or sweatshirts; collarless grandad shirts; V-neck sweaters; sleeveless sweaters; cardigan sweaters; T-shirts (plain or with text and/or images related to the skinhead subculture). Some Oi! and hardcore-oriented skinheads wear plain white tank top undershirts, especially in North America.
Coats, jackets and suits:
Fitted blazers; MA-1 type flight jackets (popular brands: Alpha and Warrior), usually black or green; denim jackets (often blue); Harrington jackets; donkey jackets; monkey jackets; Crombie-style overcoats; short macs; sheepskin 3/4-length coats; parkas. Traditional skinheads sometimes wear suits, often made out of two-tone tonic fabric (shiny mohair-like material that changes colour in different light and angles), or in a Prince of Wales or houndstooth check pattern.
Women: Same as men, with addition of dress suits—composed of a ¾-length jacket and matching short skirt.
Sta-Prest flat-fronted slacks and other dress trousers; Jeans (normally Levi's, Lee or Wrangler), parallel leg, hemmed or with rolled cuffs (turn-ups); combat trousers (plain or camouflage). Jeans and slacks are worn deliberately short to show off boots, or to show off socks when wearing loafers or brogues. Jeans are usually blue, sometimes splattered with bleach to resemble camouflage trousers (popular among Oi! skinheads).
Women: Same jeans and trousers as men, or skirts and stockings. Some skingirls wear fishnet stockings and mini-skirts, a style introduced during the punk-influenced skinhead revival.
Skinhead style: Dr. Martens boots with Levi's jeans
Boots, originally army surplus boots or generic workboots, then Dr. Martens boots and shoes; brogues; loafers. During the 1960s, steel-toe boots were called bovver boots. Suedeheads sometimes wore coloured socks, such as in red, orange or green. In recent years, other brands of boots, such as Solovair, have become popular among skinheads, partly because Dr. Martens and Grinders are no longer made in England. Football-style athletic shoes, by brands such as Adidas, have become popular with some skinheads.
Women: Same as men, with the addition of monkey boots.
Trilby hats; pork pie hats; flat caps (Scally caps or driver caps),winter woolen hats (without a bobble). Less common have been bowler hats (mostly among suedeheads and those influenced by the film A Clockwork Orange).
Braces (known as suspenders in North America), various colours, usually no more than ¾ inch in width, clipped to trouser waistband. In some areas, braces much wider than that may identify a skinhead as either unfashionable or as a white power skinhead. Traditionally, braces are worn up in an X or Y shape at the back, but some Oi!-oriented skinheads wear their braces hanging down.
Silk handkerchiefs in the breast pocket of the Crombie-style overcoat or tonic suit jacket, in some cases fastened with an ornate stud. Later, pocket flashes became popular. These were pieces of silk in contrasting colours, mounted on a piece of cardboard and designed to look like an elaborately folded handkerchief. It was common to choose the colours based on one's favourite football club.
Badges and scarves:
Button badges or sewn-on fabric patches with text and/or images related to the skinhead subculture in general, bands, affiliations or beliefs. Woollen or printed rayon scarves in football club colours, worn knotted at the neck, wrist, or hanging from a belt loop at the waist.
Some suedeheads carried closed umbrellas with sharpened tips, or a handle with a pull-out blade. This led to the nickname brollie boys.
Tattoos have been popular among many skinheads since at least the 1970s revival. In 1980s Britain, some skinheads had tattoos on their faces or foreheads, although the practice has since fallen out of favour. Some skinheads get tattoos with images or text related to the skinhead subculture in general, bands, affiliations or their beliefs.
The skinhead subculture was originally associated with music genres such as soul, ska, rocksteady and early reggae. The link between skinheads and Jamaican music led to the development of the skinhead reggae genre; performed by artists such as Desmond Dekker, Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitken, Symarip and The Pioneers. In the early 1970s, some Suedeheads also listened to British glam rock bands such as The Sweet, Slade and Mott the Hoople. During this time, some reggae lyrics featured themes of black liberation and awareness, something that white skinheads could not relate to. This shift in reggae's lyrical themes created some tension between black and white skinheads, who otherwise got along fairly well.
The most popular music style for late-1970s skinheads was 2 Tone (also called Two Tone), which was a musical fusion of ska, rocksteady, reggae, pop and punk rock. The 2 Tone genre was named after a Coventry, England record label that featured bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter. The record label scored many top 20 hits, and eventually a number one.
Some late 1970s skinheads also liked certain punk rock bands, such as Sham 69 and Menace; and by the late 1970s, the Oi! subgenre was embraced by many skinheads and punks. Musically, Oi! combines elements of punk, football chants, pub rock and British glam rock. The Oi! scene was partly a response to a sense that many participants in the early punk scene were, in the words of The Business guitarist Steve Kent, "trendy university people using long words, trying to be artistic...and losing touch". Some forefathers of Oi! were Sham 69, Cock Sparrer, and Menace. The term Oi! as a musical genre is said to come from the band Cockney Rejects and journalist Garry Bushell, who championed the genre in Sounds magazine. Notable Oi! bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s include Angelic Upstarts, Blitz, The Business, Last Resort, The Burial, Combat 84 and The 4-Skins. Not exclusively a skinhead genre, many Oi! bands included skins, punks and people who fit into neither category (sometimes called herberts).
American Oi! began in the 1980s with bands such as The Press, Iron Cross, The Bruisers,Anti-Heros and Forced Reality. American skinheads created a link between their subculture and hardcore punk music, with bands such as Warzone, Agnostic Front, and Cro-Mags. The Oi! style has also spread to other parts of the world, and remains popular with many skinheads. Many later Oi! bands have combined influences from early American hardcore and 1970s British streetpunk.
Although many white power skinheads listened to Oi! music, they also developed a separate genre known as Rock Against Communism (RAC). The most notable RAC band was Skrewdriver, which started out as a non-political punk band but evolved into a neo-Nazi band after the first lineup broke up and a new lineup was formed. RAC started out musically similar to Oi! and punk rock, and has adopted some elements from heavy metal and other types of rock music.
There are a few National Socialist Black Metal bands with members who are white power skinheads, many of whom are Polish and are associated with the band Graveland. Varg Vikernes of the black metal band Burzum was a skinhead at one point during his incarceration. Revenge and Blasphemy are self-described non-racist black metal skinhead bands.
Racism, anti-racism and politics
Unidentified neo-Nazi skinhead
In the late 1960s, some skinheads (including black skinheads) had engaged in violence against random Pakistanis and other South Asian immigrants (an act known as Paki bashing in common slang). Although these early skinheads were not part of an organized racist movement, by the early 1970s there were skinheads who aligned themselves with the white nationalist National Front. However, there had also been anti-racist and leftist skinheads from the beginning, especially in areas such as Scotland and northern England.
As the 1970s progressed, the racially-motivated skinhead violence in the UK became more partisan, and groups such as the National Front and the British Movement saw a rise in skinheads among their ranks. Although many skinheads rejected political labels being applied to their subculture, some working class skinheads blamed non-white immigrants for economic and social problems, and agreed with far right organizations' positions against blacks and Asians. By the late 1970s, some openly neo-Nazi groups were largely composed of skinheads, and by this point, the mass media, and subsequently the general public, had largely come to view skinheads exclusively as a subculture promoting white power. Two groups associated with white power skinheads are Hammerskins and Blood and Honour. The mainstream media started using the term skinhead in reports of racist violence (regardless of whether the perpetrator was actually a skinhead), and has played a large role in skewing public perceptions about the subculture.
Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) logo
However, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, many skinheads, suedeheads, ex-skinheads and football casuals in the UK rejected the dogma of both the left and right. This anti-extremist attitude was musically typified by Oi! bands such as Cockney Rejects, The 4-Skins and The Business. Two notable groups of skinheads who spoke out against neo-Nazism and political extremism, and in support of traditional skinhead culture were the Glasgow Spy Kids in Scotland (who coined the phrase Spirit of 69), and the publishers of the Hard As Nails zine in England.
Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH) logo
Other skinheads countered the neo-Nazi stereotype by forming anti-racist organizations, such as The Minneapolis Baldies, who started in 1986; Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), which was founded in New York City in 1987 and spread to several other countries; and Anti-Racist Action (ARA), which was founded in the late 1980s by members of the Minneapolis Baldies and other activists. SHARPS are aggressively opposed to neo-Nazism and racism, although they are not always political in terms of other issues. The label SHARP is sometimes used to describe all anti-racist skinheads, even if they aren't members of a SHARP organization.
Redskins and anarchist skinheads are left wing skinheads who take a militant anti-fascist and pro-working class stance. The most well-known skinhead organization in this category is Red and Anarchist Skinheads. In the UK, some anti-fascist skinheads have been involved with Anti-Fascist Action or Red Action.
Conservative, right-wing skinheads enjoyed some popularity in the United States skinhead scene during the second term of George W. Bush, with songs promoting nationalistic violence.