welcome to the Skinhead Nation Hated by many, understood by few, the skinhead cult is a very different animal to that portrayed in newspaper headlines. Skinhead Nation takes you on a journey through the back streets of Britain, America and Europe to hear the skinheads' own story.

skinheads rule okay!
Here Comes Johnny Reggae

Skinhead clothing and style

Part One
The Big Apple Bites back
A day in the life of the skinheads of New York

Part Two
Among The Mugs

The media and skinheads - ignorance really is the mother of prejudice when it comes to journalists and our cult

Part Three
Bring Back The Skins

The origins and history of the skinhead cult from the late Sixties to early Seventies

Part Four
No Mean City

The story of the Spy Kids skinhead crew from Glasgow in the UK

Part Five
Here Comes Johnny Reggae

Skinhead fashion and style from the original skinhead clothing to today's skinhead cult

Part Six
Violence In Our Minds
The story of the Tilbury Trojan Skins, a skinhead gang from Essex, England

Part Seven
Ghost Town
The skinhead cult and the extreme right

Part Eight
Neither Red Or Racist

The story of the non-racist skinhead scene in Oslo, Norway

Part Nine
One Law For Them
The truth about Oi! music, the Southall riot and more

Part Ten
Tougher Than Tough

skinhead violence and aggro

Part Eleven
No One Likes Us
The story of the anti-racist and non-poltical skinheads of Berlin, Germany

Part Twelve
Us And Them
The divided nation that is the skinhead cult today

Richard Allen skinhead books - buy them here!

The book version of Skinhead Nation is not currently available, but you can buy other skinhead and youth cult books online and by post from www.stpublishing.com in the UK.

Interested in football and terrace culture? Visit www.terracebanter.co.uk for football books
“The shirts you wear are a distinct style,” says Big Iain with obvious pride as he talks you through his wardrobe. “They’re button down, late Sixties-Seventies style, big collar, quite hard to find now. Ben Sherman, Brutus, Arnold Palmer, Jaytex or a similar style to them. Your jeans are usually Levi’s or Wrangler, nothing else, and with Levi’s preferably big E which are very hard to come by. They’ve got white stitching on the inside and there’s a capital E on the Levi’s badge (as in ‘LEVI’S’) - most Levi’s today have the small E (as in ‘Levi’s’). Sta-press, smart trousers if you’re not wearing a suit, again Levi’s, Fred Perry. You don’t really get them anymore - it’s all early and late Seventies.

“Shoes are brogues or loafers. Some people wear Doc shoes which you can get away with. You can get away with any kind of boots as long as they’re not silly looking. Up here, most people wear red Docs. The colour of laces doesn’t mean anything no matter what people might tell you. They mean different things in different areas, but basically they don’t mean a thing. A lot of people wear football colours. I wear red and white laces because I support Airdrieonians. Steel toe cap boots still go with your Levi’s two piece. The Fred Perry is eternal, preferably an old type with the stripes and that on, the bigger the collar the better, the more buttons the smarter. Jackets can range from Levi’s, Wrangler, golf jackets, Harringtons. Dressier jacket - crombie, sheepskin. Suits, three, four, five button even, ticket pockets - the more the better - pure Sixties, early Seventies style.”

According to the style gurus, skinheads have long since passed their sell by date. We’re out of step with what the glossy magazines, television programmes and High Street shops are doing their best to sell, sell, sell. They want to tell you what’s hot and what’s not because that’s how they make their money. Good luck to them too, but you are as likely to find true style in shops as you are money on trees. Because what these people are selling isn’t style at all. It’s fashion. Written big and bold in capital letters. F-A-S-H-I-O-N.

It’s very easy to be taken in by it all. Attractive models pouting and strutting their way along the catwalks, or posing so sincerely for yet another photo spread. Tailor-made clothes to make your mouth water - as long as you can swallow the price tags that is. Surprising though it may be, not everyone can afford to spend £40 on a pair of socks. While the lucky few can sit in wine bars wearing suits by Hans Van Kooten, dresses by Ann Demeulemeester and smiles by Persil Automatic, the rest of us are left to fight over the mass produced fodder that fills your High Street shops.

You know what you are supposed to look like, but unless you have the money to match your appetite - unlucky. Scratch away at the gloss coating though, and you reveal the total emptiness of fashion. Not that it bothers the fashion industry mind you. They just come along and paint a new coat of gloss - a different colour for a different fashion. A new range for Autumn, Spring, what have you. And people fall for it time after time. Buy, buy, buy.

Fortunately, there’s hope for us all because at the cutting edge of fashion is style. It doesn’t come from glossy pages or the like. It comes straight from the heart. And at the top of the tree is skinhead style. Proud, hard, independent, honest, smart as fuck. All of this and more. Not bad for days like this.

As with so much of skinhead culture, the mainstream media has sought to create a myth that skinheads have no style. Watch any programme on TV that includes skinheads as characters, and time after time you’ll see the same old folk devil with no brains and big boots. It’s bad enough that script-writers get paid good money for coming up with the same old boring story lines - in the space of six months on British TV, Cracker, Between The Lines, The Bill, Casualty and every other drama series trotted out the “racist skinhead” episode - but they should at least make an effort to accurately portray skinheads as they are.

TV skinheads are nearly always played by actors with fake Cockney accents. They invariably have tattoos on their faces, wear dirty boots, ripped jeans, glue stained Union Jack t-shirts and dodgy flight jackets. They look more like scarecrows than skinheads. Skinhead style and clothing has varied over the years, but it has always been about dressing hard, dressing smart. If being a skinhead means anything it means having pride in yourself, and that has always been reflected in our style.

Different skinheads have different ideas about how they should dress. Without doubt, the smartest look is the traditional one, handed down to future generations by the original skinheads of the late 1960s and early Seventies. In those days people dressed more formally anyway, and with the skinhead cult drawing heavily on the mods who went before them, it is little wonder that they developed the most sussed street dress around. If you talk to anyone who wore skinhead fashion in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the attention to detail, the clothes to be seen in, and the variety available, comes flooding back as if you were only talking about yesterday.

Chrissy Boy Foreman - “I remember seeing someone at school wearing a Harrington, and I thought, what’s that - it looks really good. When they first came out they were black and blue, but then they started to diversify and you got Prince Of Wales checked ones and they looked really smart. At school you had to wear white shirts, and a white Ben Sherman looked so much better than those little nylon ones - which is what I had! And things like black sta-press looked much better than the old John Lewis naff black trousers, and it was the same for brogues, things like that.”

Gaz Mayall - “I was walking down the street when I was about nine years old, and I saw one of my best friends coming the other way, and I didn’t know what a skinhead was, but the kid with him looked like the mafia - he had on a shiny suit, his shades and highly polished loafers. Impeccable dress, the smartest guy in the whole street.”

Stuart from Bridlington - “It was really easy to pick up birds with a nice scooter and smart clothes. The birds were interested in you because you were different and you dressed nice. I used to spend hours and hours making sure my boots were shiny. You could use them as mirrors nearly. My clothes were always pressed. We didn’t have a lot of money then because we were pretty poor, so you’d wash your clothes in the sink so they were clean for when you went out. Skinheads took a lot of pride in how they looked.”

The skinhead haircut itself has been described as half-soldier, half-convict, and most skins are happy enough to go along with that. But what most commentators miss is the fact that a shaved head, particularly with a thin shaved parting down the left side to the crown, looks incredibly smart. Add a pair of sideburns - all the rage at the time - and you definitely looked the business. “You felt confident with yourself,” says Steve Goodman about the first time he shaved his head, “but there were a lot of piss-takers at the time. Like that playground chant, ‘Skinhead, skinhead, over there, what’s it like to have no hair?’.”

“I was up the Hope & Anchor with John Hassler, one time drummer and one time manager with Madness,” says Lee Thompson, “and it was when we first got our new little gang together - Carl and Suggs and Si and everyone - and we used to get our hair cut down at Pratt Street by a bloke called George. It was like 50p to have your head shaved, so I said to John, ‘Get your hair cut, get that mop on your head shaved off and I will pay for that haircut’. And he went and got it done and his ears were out here and his lips were out there and he looked a right pratt. I never even paid him for it. John - it’s in the post!”

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, skinheads would dress for the occasion. If it was hanging about on street corners, a few pints on the way home from work, or standing on the football terraces, boots and jeans would usually be worn. Boots were not only the perfect weapon, particularly if they had steel toe caps, but they also emphasised the skinhead’s working class traditions. Unlike hippies and other middle class drop outs, skinheads - like their fathers - believed in working for their money, and a working man’s boots left nobody in any doubt about that.

“Doctor Martens underneath a size 4 were half sole and it was really embarrassing,” recalls Lee Thompson, who was a size 3 at the time. “I think they lasted me a month before Dave Nash, who was a size 8, said, ‘You don’t want to wear those, you want to wear these.’ So I put them on and they were like four inches too big for me! I remember packing them with newspaper, and walking about wearing these massive big boots, but at least they had a full sole.”

Jeans too were very practical, but would always be clean, pressed, and a recognised brand - Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee being favourite. Some skins even ironed creases in them, just as you would your best suit, a tradition that still lives on today in some skinhead circles. Other skins might chose to wear a pair of sta-press trousers, so-called because they never needed to see an iron (in theory anyway). Levi’s made the best sta-press money could buy - and their white ones were never equalled.

T-shirts and Fred Perry polo shirts were on regular display, but most skinheads still preferred to wear shirts. Collarless shirts, often called union shirts, were popular for a time, but American style button down shirts were the really big sellers. Again, if you could afford brand names like Ben Sherman, Brutus and Jaytex, all the better.

If you were going to a gig or out on the pull chances were you’d be wearing a suit. Tonic, mohair, plain, Prince of Wales check, whatever happened to be the flavour of the month at the time. “The original skinheads evolved out of mods,” says Brian Kelson. “The clothes, the sta-press, the brogues, the suits, meant skinheads were always smartly dressed in the evening. During the day time it was jeans and boots.”

For skinhead girls, the fashions were much the same, although the haircut was almost always a feathercut and very rarely shaved like the boys. “It’s about looking smart”, says Jacquel, a skingirl who originally dressed in the more severe punk-influenced skinhead way, but who now dresses as originally as possible. “I’ve got a couple of three quarter length suits made out of good quality two tone cloth, old style shirts which are now hard to come by, Levi’s jeans, Levi’s and Wrangler jackets. It’s all quite particular, but above all it’s smart. My hair’s longer now and more in an original style too.”

Most people assume that skinhead more or less died out, and was then brought back to life by street punk bands like Cock Sparrer, Menace, Slaughter & The Dogs, and Sham 69, with Jimmy Pursey’s now famous “skinheads are back!” battle cry. It’s true that by the summer of ‘78, there was a mass skinhead revival happening, but well before the likes of Sham, skinheads were already making a comeback. “Around the end of ‘75 and the start of ‘76, we were getting pissed off with things in general,” says Dite, who first became a skinhead in 1970 and by the mid-Seventies was languishing in the post-glam post-bootboy era. “Most music was boring and crap, and even old favourites like Slade were losing it. Good gear was getting harder to find and the skinhead days seemed like a lifetime away. Our unofficial leader, Dale Watson, was true to the faith and remained a skinhead throughout.

“We were still most definitely a bootboy crew and still wore DMs, the most important part of the bootboy uniform. There were others in different towns who called themselves bootboys, but they didn’t look the part in desert boots, Adidas trainers, flared Levi’s and leather jackets. One day, myself and a mate Jake were discussing such matters and decided to go back to our roots. Despite the threats from our girlfriends (’get a skinhead and I’ll chuck you’), we became skins again. And the girls loved it.

“Now there were three skinheads in Montrose and for all we knew Scotland, although we didn’t want to believe that. Before we knew it all our mates had followed suit, and we were a skinhead crew again. The search was on for original gear, but it was largely in vain. So our look consisted mainly of Wrangler and Levi’s jackets, Harringtons, braces, t-shirts, Skinners, parallels, granddad or union shirts which were popular at the time, and 10 hole Air Wair. What really mattered was the spirit was there.”

All of this was happening in 1976, and before punk had arrived, let alone Sham 69. What’s more, within a month of Dite and his friends turning skinhead, nearly every kid in Montrose had shaved their head too, giving rise to most probably the biggest skinhead crew of that time. In the Midlands and the north of England, most kids had followed the fashions from skinhead to suedehead to crombie boy to bootboy and then into northern soul. Fashion was at a post-war low and then punk arrived, a look that a lot of people who had been original skinheads just could not relate to. Punks were just a variation on hippies and bikers.

“I can actually remember there being three or four of us in a mate’s car and we were talking about this,” recalls Brian Kelson, looking back to 1976, “and we said we had to do something, be something, and we all agreed the best thing we’d ever been into was skinheads. So that was it. We went out the next day to a shop in Wolverhampton, where we knew they used to sell the gear years ago, and he had a load of tonic suits left so we bought them up. You could still get loafers in the shops, and that was it. We were skinheads again. It seemed ideal - it was a smart look and a tough look so you had the best of both worlds.”

Brian Kelson also used to meet up with skinheads on his trips down to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge around this time. Even the first skins to follow Sham 69 were skinheads who’d stayed true to the cult throughout the Seventies. It wasn’t even necessarily a love of punk that attracted them - it was either disco or punk at the time, and most nightclubs wouldn’t let skinheads in so punk it was. In London, just like in isolated cases elsewhere, some people had stayed skinheads throughout the Seventies. Gary Hitchcock, later to be well known in Oi! circles as the manager of The 4 Skins, appeared in Sounds in 1980, talking about the lead up to the skinhead revival. “I’d caught the end of skinheads when I was at school and I just loved everything about it, what it stood for. But it died down and everyone got into Budgie gear and that. But I always said if it ever came back I’d be a skin again. In 1976 I saw a skinhead so I went and had a crop too.”

After talking about Sham and the way Pursey had sold out, he went on to describe Skrewdriver as the first real skinhead band. “We met Ian Stuart at a Sham gig at the Roxy in ‘77. He told us about Skrewdriver, said they weren’t like Sham, that they were skins, so we spread the word about, and there was a massive turn-out. Down at the Vortex it was. We never knew there were so many skinheads around and they were all geezers. No one looked under 25, and they played all the skinhead reggae stuff that we hadn’t heard in years.”

Few people today would believe that skinhead reggae could be played at a Skrewdriver gig, but back then they had no political affiliations. In fact Skrewdriver had been long haired punks just a few short months before, and were the only street punk band to shave their heads and actively court a mainly skinhead following at the time. Not that all skinheads were impressed by Skrewdriver even then. “All Skrewed Up was crap anyway,” said Dite of their debut album on Chiswick, “and press release photos at the time made them look like a bunch of scruffs.”

By March 1978, Ian Stuart was writing to NME, saying, “Skrewdriver is no longer a skinhead band due to the violence at our gigs.” London in particular was plagued by violence at gigs, and Skrewdriver obviously didn’t want to inherit Sham 69’s reputation for attracting aggro to gigs. Throughout that year, people were writing to the music newspapers, either complaining about skinhead gig violence, or defending skinheads, and it’s interesting to note that a number of letters were sent in by skinheads who had been around since 1969.

Few seemed impressed by the new breed of skinheads. A handful of original London skinheads, who claimed to have followed Sham from the beginning when they were the only skins in the audience, said, “We’ve noticed that all the poseurs down the King’s Road have now turned skinhead . . . and we’re sick to the back teeth of you lot cashing in on what we had.” Another original skinhead, who simply signed his letter, ‘a Nottingham Forest fan’ (meaning that at least one skinhead from Nottingham kept the torch burning through the dark years too) said, “So the ‘true’ skins support the NF eh? Bollocks! I’ve been a skinhead since 1969 and we hadn’t even heard of the National Front then.”

The influence of punk and the scarcity of traditional skinhead wear meant that the new breed of skin rarely came up to the standards of dress set just seven or eight years before. Even the music of bands like Sham and Menace was a world away from the original skinhead sounds of soul and reggae. “The music was just like rock music,” says Brian Kelson, who saw punks as a variation of hippies and bikers, “and the clothes were just so scruffy and ill-fitting. The jeans would be skin tight and too short with great big boots, and the hair was shaven right off. They’d be taking drugs and sniffing glue, and you wouldn’t have caught an original skinhead doing that - it was degrading. You were a working class bloke, proud of this great nation, and you wouldn’t be seen dossing like a hippy. The public saw them as dirty, scruffy, bald-headed drug takers - short haired hippies really. To be brought up with such strong ideals about the movement and to see it taken over like that was worse than anything.”

“When I first turned skinhead, all the old skinheads were giving me their clothes and I had some real class gear at the time,” recalls Steve Goodman. “When you were going through ‘77 you couldn’t get sod all. It’d be army lightweights, Harrington jacket, Fred Perry shirt. Those were the things you could pick up. Then later, when it kicked off with 2 Tone and what have you, you had a lot of gear come out labelled as mod wear, but it was just as much skinhead wear.”

During the 2 Tone era it was often difficult to tell skinheads from mods and rude boys - just as it would have been in the late Sixties. With the mod and ska revivals overlapping each other and catching the early days of Oi!, clothes manufacturers once again started to mass produce skinhead clothes. Markets in particular were full of cheap imitation crombies, sta-press trousers and pork pie hats. “When I was younger I had big ideals about what everyone else should wear or shouldn’t wear, but I suppose I’ve worn some things in my time!” adds Brian Kelson. “When I got older, I got a bit snobbish, especially with all the punk skins, and I used to dress up to be better than them, get one over them, and I got to looking down on other skinheads because they weren’t dressing up to standard. But you have to realise they were just buying what they could buy. It seemed like as the Eighties went on, a lot more skinheads started dressing to the original style which was really good. Even punk skins and the National Front lot seemed to be dressing in the original style. But by then, I knew you couldn’t buy the clothes anymore, and so had stopped looking down on people.”

Today, it’s not so easy finding decent clothes, particularly original skinhead clothes in good condition. 20 odd years has taken its toll on even the best made stuff, and nobody is genuinely catering for skinheads these days beyond shops like The Merc and Sherry’s Fashions in the Carnaby Street area of London. You can still buy Doctor Marten boots, and everyone and his dog has a pair of Levi’s 501s (same goes for MA1 flight jackets). Ben Sherman still makes shirts as do Fred Perry, but neither are the same in terms of quality or design (although Fred Perry have recently relaunched the original designs again in a somewhat belated bid to cash in on the now waning Seventies clothes revival).

For the real authentic look, you’re reduced to looking through second hand shops and jumble sales. Plenty of skinheads do it though, and there is real pride in being the only skin in town with a Prince Of Wales checked Harrington or a tonic pair of original sta-press. Another option is to get clothes tailor made, and it’s often the only way you’ll get what your looking for. Skinhead girls who want a suit with a three quarter length jacket are a case in point. Despite the difficulties in finding the gear, there is a definite move among skinheads back to the original skinhead look. “People have started dressing a lot smarter now,” says Phil, a skinhead from County Durham. “When I first turned skinhead, everyone was wearing 14 holers, bleached jeans, bald head, but now it’s gone back to like ‘69 - really smart, suits, sta-press, originally shirts. I like it better like this. I feel more proud dressing like this because I feel it’s more working class.”

Skinhead gigs and dances are full of skins and skinhead girls trying to look their best. It’s human nature. The birds and the bees and all that. And there’s no doubting that when you are dressed in your best gear, you feel on top of the world. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you can have nothing but admiration for those skinheads who do their utmost to look beyond mod smart. “Skinhead style is a progression from mod style, an extreme version of mod,” says Big Iain, just one of many skinheads who believe that the traditional style is the only genuine skinhead style. “It goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. It’s very smart to the extremes of being snobbish. You get looked down on if you don’t have the right size collar, your boots aren’t polished enough, holes in the knees of your jeans - it just isn’t tolerated. It’s basically smart dress, clean shaven, neat haircut, parting in your hair. A baldy head isn’t a skinhead. You’re either going bald or you’re a bonehead. The style is a very distinct style.”

The only downside to this is that snobbery has become a part of the cult. Some skinheads who have all the proper gear tend to look down on those who don’t and they think that they’re somehow better than a skinhead in boots, jeans and a t-shirt. Not all well dressed skinheads are like that, but there has always been an element within the cult who like to look down their noses at others. “The style was important enough for me to look like a skinhead,” says Gavin Watson of his days as a skin in the late Seventies and early Eighties. “You could tell I was a skinhead, but my brother and his friend were like prima donnas really, immaculately dressed and very elitist. There’s a lot of snobbery in the skinhead cult, a lot of snobbery.”

Snobbery is obviously nothing new, but it’s certainly more prevalent in some skinhead circles today than it has ever been. There should be no place for it in the most working class cult of them all, and nobody should be made to feel inferior just because they don’t have the time, the opportunity or especially the money to look like the perfect skinhead every day of the week. It goes without saying that skinheads are a breed apart, and an elite within the world of youth cults, but there are enough divisions within the cult itself without introducing dress codes that only a self-elected few can aspire to. It’s one thing trying to continue the dress traditions of the original skinheads, but those who think all skinheads should have wardrobes full of tailor-made suits and drawers full of original shirts are totally missing the point. Very few of the original skinheads had that. And as one original skinhead told me when hearing the sort of money people were paying for tailor-made suits, he would have bought a car if he’d had that sort of money back then.

Even funnier is the fact that every now and again, companies like Ben Sherman would introduce a new design of shirt that totally flopped. Skinheads didn’t touch it with a bargepole, and the design was quietly dropped. But today, these very same shirts are turning up on the backs of skinheads who think that ANYTHING with the right size collar and from the original era looks great. One look in the mirror will tell them otherwise.

In many ways, the skinhead cult mimics the casuals. You don’t buy clothes anymore, you buy labels. You wear Levi’s instead of jeans. Ben Shermans instead of shirts. Fred Perrys instead of polo shirts. Doctor Marten’s instead of boots. And so it goes on. It’s not as if the clothes involved are any cheaper or any better than similar clothes, especially if you live abroad and buy imported British clothes. “It’s a bit ironic that the cult is supposed to be for the low class, working man, whatever,” says Pete from New York, “and yet the clothes have become so damn expensive. You pay $40-$50 for a Fred Perry shirt! I don’t have to wear this stuff, but it’s the style I like so I pay the prices. To be honest with you, I don’t know any other way to dress anymore.”

Another problem with looking down your noses at those who aren’t dressed to your liking is that younger kids who know no better are made to feel unwelcome. They don’t stay skinheads for very long and so never have the opportunity to learn about skinhead style for themselves. And the fact is, everyone has to start somewhere. Even the best dressed skinheads of today will have been looked down on as “plastics” when they first turned skinhead by the veterans of the day . A lot of skinheads follow a similar pattern. You start off with the basic gear, don’t quite look the part, but do your best. Then you see what other more experienced skins are wearing and begin to learn about true style. During this phase, everything has to be perfect. Then as you get a bit older, you relax and start wearing clothes you feel good in. They might not meet with everyone’s approval (try wearing trainers with jeans instead of boots for example), but you have the self-confidence to carry it off. You’ve served your time and can afford to move on. And eventually you leave the cult.

This was the cycle skinheads followed for years, and it was true for music as well as clothes. You started off liking a few records, but not knowing too much about bands and other skinhead music. Then you tried to learn as much as you could, and assembled some sort of record collection for credibility’s sake. All those old pop singles suddenly became “your little sister’s” and everything in your collection had to be skinhead related. Then you start to listen to the odd song or two from outside the skinhead world, and so it goes on until you’re down at the local nightclub, bopping away to chart hits with the best of them (mind you, chances are you’re still asking the DJ if he’s got anything by The 4 Skins or Prince Buster).

Today though, it’s possible to jump straight in at the deep end with all the right clothes and look the part from day one. The knowledge is now widely available to do just that - you just need access to the right stuff - but whether it’s done the cult any real favours is arguable. When I first discovered Ben Shermans and bought my first one, it was an incredible feeling, and I felt I had earned it in some way by making do with a Fred Perry or two while I learned the ropes. Now though, you see someone one week who isn’t a skinhead, and the next week the same person has a shaved head and all the right gear, and somehow you bedrudge them. Inverted snobbery no doubt, and again, it really shouldn’t have a place in the skinhead scene today.

Given what’s available to them, the majority of skinheads today do seem to make an effort to dress smartly and traditionally, although some skinheads still think the minority could try harder. “A lot of foreign skins have missed the point,” reckons Big Iain. “There’s a lot of decent American skinheads, but you see some with beards. What’s that about? Skinhead’s about being smart, so what’s a beard got to do with anything? I’d never seen a skinhead with a beard. That’s just silly. And some of the gear they wear. Like you see Italian or French skinheads with hooded track tops - that’s sort of half-casual, half-skinhead. You’re either a skinhead or you’re not, it’s as simple as that. It’s all about being smart and 100% into the cult. I do know some foreign skinheads who are more into the style than even me, but a lot of others miss the point. A lot of European and American skins have picked up on the extreme right wing thing, again from watching the TV, but that’s not skinhead. It’s just a pile of old shit.”

One problem with traditional skinhead wear is that it is a very British fashion, perfect for a British climate. It’s not so ideal if you live in a very hot place. When we were filming in New York in August, a handful of skinheads were wearing shorts of various descriptions, something you wouldn’t see in Britain. The first day there I wore a Ben Sherman shirt, tonic sta-press and boots, and the humidity was killing me (your average New Yorker must have thought I was some sort of mental retard).

So it’s inevitable that as the skinhead style travels far and wide, it will be adapted to suit the locals. “The original spirit of skinhead stood in the face of British society as proof that the working class possessed its own identity and needed no one’s approval,” argues Leo, a hardcore skin from New York. “It was a statement of independence from tradition, and we in America represent that tradition with conscious pride. It means a hell of a lot more to us than just wearing the ‘right’ clothes, which is more than I can say for some of the traditionalist skins I’ve met. To them, skinhead means nothing more than meticulously emulating the identity (fashion, music, politics, etc.,) of the original skinheads, and in the process they give up their own identity, which to me seems like a complete contradiction.

“When someone becomes obsessively nostalgic for the outward appearance of the original skinheads it only proves how unauthentic and fake they really are. The original skinheads weren’t a bunch of kiss-arse copy-cats. They thought, acted, and dressed for themselves. We, as the current skinheads, think, act, and dress for ourselves too. Certainly we emulate their style in a lot of ways, but we consider it part of our style, not some dogmatic commandment etched in stone to which we must pay homage. We know our beginnings and look back on the first skinheads with great respect - our movement is based on their example, but what we’re doing now and where we’re going is up to us.”

A lot of what Leo says rings true. Even those who follow the traditional dress tend to forget that the original skinhead style never stood still. Like its mod ancestors, it was continuously evolving. What looked the business at the start of 1969 would have looked old hat come the start of 1970. But it’s equally important to remember that as the style developed, the skinhead label was no longer appropriate. And so from skinhead, other cults were born - suedehead, bootboy, crombie boy, butcher coat boy, droogs and so on. And if some skinheads today are looking to travel even further away from those roots, then maybe they should be looking for a new name too which pays respect to the past, but acknowledges the present.

Being a skinhead implies an attraction to the style. To wear clothes just because you feel obliged to does show a shallowness of character, but for thousands of working class kids the skinhead style is the perfect expression of their identity. They haven’t given up their own identity, they are simply celebrating it. That will always be more the case in Britain than anywhere else, simply because that is where the cult originated.

A lot of today’s skins make do with boots, jeans, braces and a t-shirt, either because that’s what they feel happiest in or because they just don’t have access to the smarter look. They are every bit a skinhead as someone decked out in tonic suit and brogues. Clothes don’t make a skinhead and never will do. Anyone can go down to London, hunt around street markets, and if they have enough money, go home with a complete wardrobe of original skinhead gear. So what? That doesn’t make them a skinhead. It might make them a lucky bastard, but being a skinhead is surely all about where your heart is, not how much money you’ve got in your bank account. As Bucket from The Toasters says, “There’s a lot of people walking around now in snazzy clothes we never had when I was a kid, but the clothes don’t make the man. The ideas make the man, and the feelings make the man.”
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