Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Boating Blazer - How Mods made the striped jacket a fashion statement


The Australian group The Easybeats in 1967

Mod fashion has taken its cues from a variety of sources and searched for inspiration from a myriad of different places. Basically, if it was cool, Mods sought to adapt it and make it their own. Musicians on Jazz albums were copied and actors in French film were imitated. A tennis polo shirt became a Mod icon, a US army parka became a second skin on scooter outings, wearing a cycling shirt became a fashion staple and even bowling shoes were considered perfect for the dance floor.


Carnaby Street 1967 - Photo by Dezo Hoffmann

One undeniable influence was the American Ivy League look. When it comes to looking smart and cool, 60s American university students with their cardigans, merino sweaters, button-down Brooks Brothers shirts and Bass Weejuns penny loafers had mastered the look. Add to that the uniform of the time honored sport of rowing and you have a recipe for some colorful Mod fashion.

From the book The Ivy Look

Ah… the famous boating blazer. The combination of multi colored stripes, golden buttons, college crest on the breast pocket all make for a rather bold statement when out at a Soul all-nighter. Like many pieces of clothing that became part of the Mod wardrobe, it has seen its share of modifications and adaptations. 

Scan from The Modern Man catalog based on Carnaby Street in the 60s

"Henley - A dashing blazer - gay Maroon and Yellow stripes on Light Grey. For the brave only."

For one, most of the Mod boating blazers have 3 buttons when the authentic ones from the 50s and 60s are more than likely to sport two. The contemporary version will see some covered buttons instead of the traditionnal gold ones and the extra ticket pocket on the right hand side makes it all the more Mod.
Eric Clapton in 1963 when in was in The Yardbirds
The Who's John Entwistle looking dapper in his boating blazer
Keith Moon sporting a daring 4-button number

Mod Revival band Squire

It is hard to tell at what point the boating blazer simply became a striped jacket but gone are the patch breast pockets with the university crest or the yacht club name on it. The contrast piping often seen on the edge of the lapel has been left to the past decades. But that doesn’t mean that a prime vintage example should lay dormant in a closet!

Boating Blazer display from vintage clothing store Bobby From Boston

During the Mod Revival, the boating blazer was still part of the uniforn. No matter where you stand on Quadrophenia's contribution to the resurgence of the Mod mouvement in the 80s and its equivocal  depiction of Mods in the 60s, we can't deny that it influenced many of us. Take this iconic image of Jimmy riding his Lambretta with his cocky attitude wearing a beautiful example of the blazer in question. How many of us wished we had a Leslie Ash holding on to us on the seat behind us?


And this photo of Dave (actor Mark Wingett) who made us all wish we could look this suave and stylish.


Like many questionable fashion choices made in the 80s, some women (not many that I knew) borrowed from their boyfriend's closet, evident by this catalog ad from Carnaby Street's Mod emporium The Carvern. 

"The Boating blazer - for blokes really, but girls wear them too!"

Personally, I like boating blazers… a lot. The trick is, pulling off the daring look without passing for a circus ring leader. It is also fair to ask yourself if there is one point in your life when you should simply avoid the look altogether.  Granted, when you hit 40, it’s not a look that is easy to pull off. You don’t always have that college state rowing champion figure that you used to have. Nonetheless, there are a few occasions, when well-coordinated, that you can still look sharp and stand out.

My good friend Christophe wearing a stunning green and blue number. The pocket square is a nice touch too.

I consider the boating jacket more part of semi-formal wear. I rarely wear mine with a tie but that's the beauty of the boating blazer, you can dress it up a notch by wearing one. I usually substitute the tie for a nice knit polo à la John Smedley, an open button-down shirt, a turtleneck or a plain Fred Perry polo.

From the book The Ivy Look

The jacket offers a wide range of possibilities of trousers to wear. Neatly pressed pants, chinos or even Levis all go well with it. I like to wear pants that will match one of the colors seen in the jacket. You can go with a lighter shade or a darker one, depending on what you have on hand. White Levis are a favorite of mine. They give the stripes of the jacket the attention they deserve. The same goes for the shoes. Loafers, saddle shoes, top siders, desert boots, Chelsea boots or brogues are all acceptable in my opinion.

Light summer jacket by La Rocka - England

Instead of  wearing men's clothing with its rather square lines, today's savy Mod lady can parade in her own striped blazer, the cut being much more flattering to the figure. My wife bought this short jacket from Canadian retailer Tristan & Iseult. The retro influence is undeniable and it looks great with a skirt or part of a more relaxed and casual look with a simple pair of jeans.


Many Mod friendly retailers like Merc, Fred Perry, Gabicci and Pretty Green have come up with their take on the classic blazer. If budget and big celebrity hyped brand names are not a concern to you then you might want to consider Pretty Green. Does the quality warrent a £450 price tag? That's debatable. I have to admit that my mate Dominic does look quite debonaire in his.


One of my favorite internet one-stop shops is by far Atom Retro. They carry two quality brands that offer the desirable blazer. The first is Gibson of London. The quality is apparent and can rival any of the previously named international renowned brands. This is not the type of garment that will have the seems split while you're doing the shing-a-ling on the dance floor and you don't need to worry about losing buttons in a dark club. 


The attention to detail is what sets it apart from the cheap copies you might find in large surface stores. The working cuffs, the covered buttons, the slim lapels and the ticket pocket are all there.

  The lastest arrival at Atom Retro is this Madcap England jacket. I've written about UK based Madcap in this post about cycling shirts and in this one about jumpers, so you know I'm partial to the brand. Well, fellow readers, I don't think you'll be disapointed with this one. This 3-button jacket, with the top button really high, sixties style, could have been taken straight off a young Steve Marriott's back.

If you never had the opportunity to own one, here’s your chance. The good folks at Atom Retro have provided this Madcap looker as a raffle prize to the Parka Avenue readers. The jacket looked so good that I had to buy one for myself! So I can personally attest to the quality and fit. Trust me, you want this one!


But that’s not all! Two additional prizes of two £20 vouchers at Atom Retro are also up for grabs! The contest will be held until November 1st 2012. You have more than one way you can enter the contest. One, go and like the Parka Avenue Facebook page. If you’re already a member, simply share the Boating Blazer post off the Parka Avenue page.  Follow me on Twitter and you have yet another chance of winning. Already following me on Twitter? Then simply retweet this post or mention the contest and add the #parkaavenue ashtag. Finally, leave a comment below and you’re in!


If you don’t believe that Lady Luck is on your side and you can’t stand the suspense, by all means, visit the good folks at Atom Retro and buy yourself one right now!

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Soul Music: Part II - The obscure sub-genres



In the previous post, I covered the basic styles of Soul we are most familiar with. In part II, I’m about to tread on less familiar ground and in certain cases, completely uncharted territory. Love or hate the fact that I’m trying to fit music in neat little compartments, at least give me credit for attempting to make sense of terms that I had no hand in inventing. Once again, let me be clear. I don’t particularly like putting music in defined boxes but people that sell music do. Personally, I simply like music that makes people want to party and let loose.

When came the time to choose a track or two that best defines each style, I had two criteria. One, it had to be a song, when possible, that I had in my personal collection. All the photos of labels were taken by me. Two, I went with tracks that would come closest to the spirit of the style in question and at the same time, would appeal to a Mod audience.

Finally, when I did the research for this post, it was hard for me to find clear cut definitions. Plus, the definitions seem to change constantly. For example, what Popcorn Soul is today is different from what it was when it started in 1970 in Belgium.

I want to thank my DJ friends for their tremendous support. A special shout out to Derek, Sir Eric, Ben, Jeremy, Scott, Brian, Suzy, Katie and Jeff for landing a hand and for their encouragement.

Here we go again…

RnB:

Rhythm and Blues has forever been a Mod favorite. A close cousin to proper 60s Soul and Blues, they share a lot of the same DNA. With a cool factor that is through the roof, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why Mods have been fans of this American art form for decades. Dominated by pioneer Black artists like John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles and Bo Diddley, the tempo is slower with a primal edge to it.  The harmonica is an instrument that was made to play RnB but that wouldn’t be heard in a typical Soul tune. The piano also has its place of choice.

Many white artists have built successful international careers by drawing in the RnB well. The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Creation and The Small Faces all had a Mod army following them early on.


New Breed: 


New Breed is basically a rebranding of early 60s RnB. Many Blues artists of the period were trying to capture the new blossoming sound of Soul and ride the wave. The result is a raw and brash sound that has captured a large Mod audience. At first, you might think that New Breed is not dance floor worthy, being too downtempo, but a lot would disagree. It's the perfect type of music you can slip in after a few high energy Northern Soul tracks, to give the dancers a few moments to catch their breath. When I hear New Breed, I feel like snaping my fingers instead of clapping my hands.

 


 Popcorn:

Popcorn, just like Northern Soul, does not only represent a sound but a whole scene that grew around it. Picture rural Belgium in 1970 where a few DJs started playing a melting pot of obscure Soul, RnB, Latin and even Ska at Dicotheques called The Popcorn and The Groove. When the rest of the world was playing Pop and Rock, Belgian DJs like Gerry Franken and Gilbert Govaert were spinning what was dubbed "Popcorn Oldies" and slowed down the pitch in order to create a more mellow beat. So Popcorn can be best regognized by its tempo rather then the sound. Just like many of the styles I'm tackling, the definitions seem to be everchanging and hard to pin down. Here's a few favorites of mine that seem to be accepted as Popcorn classics.



Boogaloo:

Boogaloo is a perfect mixture of latin grooves, Mambo with some obvious sweet Soul influences. Highly infectious and danceable, it is somewhat the precursor to Salsa. The term itself has been incorporated in many classic Soul songs without necessarily being “real” boogaloo. The piano, congas, handclaps, vibrant horns are part of the boogaloo landscape. This type of music will want to make you order a few Mojitos, grab the first pretty lady on the dance floor and make her twirl the night away.



Chicano Soul:

Very popular in the Latin Low Rider community of East L.A., this particular type of Soul revolves around ballads and the slow, down-tempo B-sides of records. Most of the songs have a strong Doo-Wop feel to them. Love, intense emotions and broken hearts are popular subjects. In the 60s, groups with Latino artists where praised and the main circuit centered around cities like Phoenix, San Antonio, Albuquerque with L.A. being the epicentre. I was exposed to this type of music when I attended a night in Chicago organised by the Soul Summit crew that was held on a Sunday evening. Talk about a smooth vibe.


Gospel:

Gospel will want to make you wave your hands in the air and have Jesus as your friend. Divine intervention? Maybe… If this was the type of music I heard in the churches around my neighborhood, I might be tempted to attend mass on Sunday mornings but since I believe in Mod, I’ll have to settle for some heavenly records that join Gospel and Soul in perfect harmony.

Gospel grew out of the black Pentecostal churches. It has close ties to Jazz, Soul, Blues and RnB. Many Soul singers were schooled in church and owe their formative years to Gospel choirs. Allen Toussaint, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson praised the name of their Savior at one point in their career. James Brown was even known to have formed a gospel quartet while in prison.

What makes a good Soul-Gospel song? You need a strong backing choir, a passionate singer, some handclapping and the good Lord as a source of inspiration. You’ll hear less horns in a gospel song than on your average Soul track but you can usually count on a piano or an organ being present.


Tittyshaker:

A little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of surf, some dirty jazz, a tad of greasy RnB, throw in some sexy Soul and you have all the marks of a good Tittyshaker track. Imagine a burlesque dancer , in a smoky Las Vegas style boudoir, twirling her tassles faster then an airplane propeller and you're not too far from the picture.

Your typical Tittyshaker tune is usually instrumental or has minimal vocals. It could easily be the soundtrack of a beach or Hot Rod B-movie.



Crossover:


This is where we get into nebulous territory. You can get 5 Soul connoisseurs into a room and you’ll get 5 different answers. It’s like going to Comicon and asking 5 nerds who is the best Star Trek captain. (Just in case you’re wondering, Picard is hands down the best)

Like the name indicates, Crossover is a transition period for Soul. It started in the late 60s and finished in the early 70s. You can squeeze it somewhere between Northern Soul and Modern Soul on the Soul continuum. Personally, I think of Crossover as Northern Soul when they started adding xylophones, flutes, violins and bells. You'll find that it's usually a bit slower than your typical fast paced Northern Soul track.



Modern Soul:

Modern Soul is sometimes hard to distinguish from early Disco. You can sense a definite change in direction in the early to mid-seventies. This is where we once again enter a hard to define area. Recorded for the club scene, it has dance on its mind. Drum machines, electronic keyboards and production effects started making apperences.

I know it’s the latest craze in Europe and some parts of the US but Modern Soul is just not my thing. I try to keep an open mind but for me, it doesn’t fit in the Mod realm. I know, I know… Mod = Modern. In this case, I just can’t push myself to appreciate it. Just like Northern Soul records, some go for astronomical prices. But who knows, maybe one day you’ll see me praise it.