Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is the perfect Mod suit?

"I'm the hippiest number in town and I'll tell you why,
I'm the snappiest dresser right down to my inch wide tie,
And to get you wise I'll explain it to you,
A few of the things that a face is supposed to do."

Zoot Suit, The High Numbers, 1964

It goes without saying, a Mod without a suit in his wardrobe is not a Mod. It's his uniform. Trends have changed over the several revivals the movement has gone through but one thing has remained, the suit.

The first time I ever wore a suit was to a high school dance. I don’t quite remember where I got the vintage threads from, but it most likely came from my grandfather’s closet. I permanently borrowed a few pieces from that closet. In fact, I still wear a crombie style, black coat with a velvet collar that came from that mysterious treasure trove.

The suit was a black pinstripe, 3-button jacket with matching trousers. I wore the customary thin braces with the pants because the waist was far too large. My mother had tapered the leg to give it the unmistakable Mod flair. To complete the look, I had a traditional white shirt with a shinny, imitation silk, black tie.

On my feet, I had some basic 3-hole, black Dr. Martens knock-offs and a pair of white socks. If you remember the 80’s, white socks were the norm. Don’t ask me why, they just were. As for the shoes, I had to settle for the counterfeit because the genuine Docs were hard to come by in North America. They were expensive and only a handful of shops had them in Toronto. But don’t judge me too fast because a few months later, I had enough cash saved up to buy myself a pair of real Dr. Martens 1460’s.

My suit might not have been a perfectly tailored, hand made mohair masterpiece but it was still a suit. You have to give me credit for being the only one to wear one to a school dance. It took guts. Especially since I was the only Mod in my whole French speaking high school. Luckily, I was part of a popular bunch of friends who accepted me as I am. I was never really teased for being a lonesome individualist. At least, nobody ever did it to my face.

That was just the beginning of my quest for the perfect Mod suit. When your 16 and have limited funds, you can’t afford the services of an Italian tailor to make a suit to your specifications.

So what are the avenues for a young Mod to find a respectable suit on a student budget? The answer is thrift shops. For me, that’s where the hunt for the elusive Mod garment began. But what are the universal requirements for a suit to be accepted in the inner circle and to be typified as “Mod”? There are a lot of different definitions out there. This is my vision.

First, I think everybody will agree that you need a single-breasted jacket with a minimum of three buttons. Personally, I like four. You can even push it to five, with the collar worn high. Narrow lapels are usually a staple on any Mod jacket. A two-inch lapel will help you achieve the look.

The jacket is worn short and sometimes referred to as a bum freezer. The sleeves are customarily worn short to let the cuffs of the shirt be seen. Besides, what would be the purpose of having a nice pair of cufflinks if you can’t show them off?

We traditionally like to customize our jackets to be different and add that Mod “je ne sais quoi”. For example, you can add extra buttons on the sleeves. I like mine with at least five. It’s an inexpensive way to add a personal touch. Even better, you can have them covered in fabric. You can’t go wrong.

It’s also imperative that you have that jacket well fitted. The slim fit look with a tight waist is a must. As for the back vents, you may go with a central one or two side vents. I personally prefer side vents and they seem to be a widely spread Mod convention. Like The Who song Cut My Hair states: “Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents. It’s five inches long…”

The number of pockets on a jacket may vary but most ready made suits offer a minimum of three, not including the breast pocket. The smaller ticket pocket, on the right hand side, is a nice touch. The pockets are often slanted and the flaps are apparent.

A detail that is frequently overlooked is the jacket’s lining. A nice silk pattern will give it that little something extra. I’ve even heard of Mods, back in the day, adding a lining to the inside of their trousers. Now, that’s dedication!

The pants must be tapered and the leg is worn slightly shorter than usual to make sure that the shoes or the boots attract the attention that they deserve. The pant pocket can be straight or slanted. A popular choice is the frog mouth pocket. The trousers must be freshly pressed and devoid of a single wrinkle, often with a central crease.

No matter if you follow those guidelines or not, the most important aspect is that you feel comfortable and confident in what you wear. And make sure you add that personal touch. That’s the way to separate the men from the boys. So go on… suit up!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mods and scooters. What’s the deal?

When Sting, aka Ace Face, rides in on his silver Vespa GS in Quadrophenia, he’s the envy of every Mod. In 1962, the Vespa GS160 Mk 1 was the pinnacle of speed, technology and style. Mods in the sixties didn’t look back. They wanted the newest, most advanced, futuristic, stylistic machine on 2 wheels to hit the market. The Italian scooter was the premiere choice for the discerning Mod. The Vespa and the Lambretta hit every criteria.

Aside from being a very convenient mode of transportation, make no mistake, to a true Mod, a scooter IS an accessory. It’s a way to impress and be seen, a great excuse to attract attention, a guaranteed head turner, a canvas for self expression, a beacon for the opposite sex, a way to assert your individuality and stand out from the crowd. Let’s be honest, it’s a very noticeable way to “make an entrance”.

It’s a shinny accessory that can take you from point A to point B. Girls have jewelry, Mods have scooters.

The origins of the love affair between Mods and scooters began in the early sixties. The reasons why the first Mods adopted this way of travel are numerous.

Some are practical. For instance, a Mod can ride a Vespa to an all-nighter in his best threads and the legshield will protect him from the elements, for the same reason he will wear a fishtail parka. In reality, everyone who has ever ridden a vintage Vespa in the rain knows that a legshield the size of a Hummer won’t make much of a difference.

The engine being encased behind side panels also keeps nasty grease from ruining your tailored mohair suit. That was not the case for the oil spewing British motorcycle. When you spend a lot of time ironing your pants and achieving the perfect crease, you don’t want nasty dirt stains destroying your look.

Second, a Vespa or Lambretta was affordable. They were inexpensive to operate and relatively cheap to acquire. Sometimes you could find a Lambretta LD for a song and a dance. Of course, a top Mod would not dream of being seen on a LD. A Vespa GS or a Lambretta TV175 series 3 would be at the top of the list. Some scooter dealers offered payment plans to those who wanted the latest model, often including the tax and insurance in the deal.

It was also a very convenient way to help fit all of a Mod’s daily activities. Between going to work, shopping for new clothes, hunting down rare soul records, meeting fellow Mods at the coffee house and going to the clubs, you didn’t have time to rub elbows with the common man on the bus. Plus, you can park a scooter anywhere. Let’s face it, Mods are a busy species.

But the real reason why the Italian scooter is a Mod’s first choice is simple. It’s damn cool! On the hip scale, it’s a 10. OK, it hasn’t always been that way. For the longest time, scooters have been considered toys. Especially in North America, the scooter always suffers from an inferiority complex when it’s parked next to a Harley Davidson. But who cares about that. We know we are cool, right?

I bought my first scooter in 1997. It was a brand new, yellow SIL GP200 Lambretta. Looking back, it might have been a smart idea to invest my hard earned cash in another scooter, but I didn’t care. I wanted to parade on it every chance I got. This photo was taken during the summer of '97 during my cross Canada trip. I'm holding the break leaver I broke when I slipped on small pebbles going 5 miles an hour.

On a nice scooter, it’s easy to claim your independence. Just like the famous Who song goes: I can go anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hey you, don't watch that. Watch this! (Part 2)

Last week I learnt that our beloved Monday nights would be no more. The Skatton Club band will no longer host a traditional ska night at Les Bobards. After months of our blissful ritual, sadly, they will be moving on. Why is this happening? The story doesn't say.

And of all things, their last appearance at the club is on my birthday. What a bittersweet moment it was going to be. So there was nothing that was going to stop me from joining the fellows for one last skanking bonanza.

If you remember my last foray with the Skatton Club (see the February 4th post), I was looking for a do-over. Come hell or high water, I wanted to nail that intro to Once Step Beyond once and for all. And to top it all off, I was going to do it on my 39th birthday, with the whole gang in attendance. How could Andre, the bandleader, refuse such a request?

Even though two of the band members had come off a plane from Winnipeg a couple of hours earlier, they played with full force. They masterfully mixed ska and rocksteady, covering the likes of Alton Ellis and the James Bond theme. The feet started tapping and the beer never stopped flowing. They even threw in some Jamaican mento for good measure. There was a party atmosphere in the air. My lovely girlfriend, who is usually sound asleep at that hour on Monday nights, was made an honorary Skatton Family member for one night.

Everything was in place for my second appearance. The band was briefed this time not to start playing as soon as I opened my mouth. I was going to hop on stage during the second set. Andre, being the gentleman that he is, eloquently introduced me and mentioned that it was my birthday. He even gave my blog a shout out! (Thanks again Andre)

So here I am, I have a chance to redeem myself and there's a captive audience in front of me. "Hey you, don't watch that. Watch this! This is the..." And I drew a complete blank! It serves me right to accept a few pints of Guinness on my birthday before I get on stage! My friends didn't miss the chance to burst out laughing. Andre then turns to me with a smile and says: "Hey, this is what happens when you play live."

Well, I guess third time's the charm. And it was. Plus I got to stay on stage to shout a few other "One Step Beyond". I have to admit, it was one of my best birthday gifts ever.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Too much too old?

"We tried not to age, but time had its rage" 
Pete Townshend 

Today I turn 39. The dreaded 3-9. I have one desert boot in the grave. You’ll soon see me skanking on the dance floor with a cane. I'm considering buying those electric wheelchairs and adding a ton of Stadium mirrors and a bunch of fog lamps on it. Alright, maybe I'm over dramatizing things just a tad.

Seriously, I think I might have a legitimate question here. Am I too old to be a Mod? Modernism is supposed to be a youth subculture. When you're a teenager, you feel invincible. You look at the world with a carefree attitude, thumbing your nose at society. I don't have time to do all that; I have a mortgage to pay!

Even though I feel like I'm not a day over 25, am I pushing it? Is an almost 40-year-old geezer supposed to prance around on a vintage Vespa in a parka?  Is this the start of a mid-life crisis? Am I holding on to the last throws of my youth with both hands and not letting go? When you stop and ponder, it does sound pathetic. But before I go in a dark alley and shoot myself in the head, let me play devil's advocate.

If you ask most of my coworkers, acquaintances, neighbors and a lot of my friends what they thought about me being a Mod, they would most likely answer: "What the hell is a Mod?" Besides, since I'm French Canadian, they usually get confused about the word itself. Mode in French means fashion. So its gets even more complicated when you try to explain that the Mod movement is more than just about fashion.

The point is that a Mod can be very anonymous in a crowd. Your attire is sharp, smart and clean. You can pretty much blend in everywhere. It's not like if I was a huge hip hop fan, wearing a crooked cap, pants that can fit two and enough chains around my neck that the weight could break a few vertebrae. I have no piercings, no tattoos and no wild haircut. I have nothing against any of those things. In fact, most of my friends have tattoos and piercings but they don't teach elementary school kids either.

The Mod movement is also rooted in a lot of things that are retro. The music, the fashion, the art, the scooters, all get their inspiration from the past. Therefore, you don't have to keep up with the latest trends to feel that you are part of it. There's no real street lingo attached to it anymore. Modernism used to be synonymous with everything that is now and upcoming. I think that we can all agree that it's not really the case anymore. You can have a firm hold on the present while having a foot (or boot) planted in the past. That's what makes the Mod movement unique. For that reason, I think that I can keep being myself without being looked upon as being out of touch.

Modernism is not a religion. You can embrace it without being fanatical about it. It doesn't define me. It's simply part of who I am. You won't find a target logo on everything I own and I don't wear a suit to the grocery store. On the other hand, I will drive my '59 Vespa VNB to work every once in a while. I think there's a difference between wearing a nice Fred Perry to work, with nicely pressed Farah trousers at 39 and looking like Marilyn Manson. And if you do, well more power to you!

    "People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
    Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
    Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
    Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

    This is my generation
    This is my generation, baby"

My generation, The Who, 1965

From now on, I have to accept the fact that I'm getting old. I will only sit in rocking chairs...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Parka Avenue now on Twitter!

Follow the day-to-day happenings of a Mod on the run. It might be all new to our parka wearing crusader but this is the Modern World, right?

So be the first to be informed of new posts! Learn fun facts! Have a front row seat as our Super Hero Mod fights the drab and mundane city life in real time! Get the inside scoop on his latest finds! Get a glimpse of the glamorous daily life of a Face going about town! Be a witness to what inane ramblings his brain can come up with! Be informed of all the juicy gossip direct from the horse's mouth! Make requests for future posts! Be inspired by his deep and insightful thoughts in 140 characters or less! Ask him advice on how to save your marriage! Partake in a Mod revival the size the world has never seen!

Can you handle the truth?

Come on guys! It's free! This is NOT a limited time offer! Don't keep it a secret, tell all your friends! Mods of the world unite! Be part of history! Join the revolution! Keep the faith!

Oh! The humanity!

We are the Mods! We are the Mods! We are, we are, we are the Mods!
We are the Mods! We are the Mods! We are, we are, we are the Mods!

Make sure you type ParkaAvenue and see you on Twitter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Does The Who still have it?

I just finished watching The Who at the Super Bowl halftime show. Let’s not beat around the bush. Do they still have it? I won’t hold my answer until the end of this post. Hell yeah they do! The Mod gods must be smiling from the heavens my friends!

We can debate for hours if The Who is a true Mod band or not. Let’s postpone that one for another day. We can all have our personal opinion about Townsend’s arrest in 2003. Let’s put that aside for a moment.

Today, they were simply amazing. The energy, the presence, the power, they had it all. Pete’s trademark windmill was in full force. Daltrey’s strong voice was ever present even if he didn’t do his legendary spinning of the mike. Plus he looked the part in his ultra cool boating jacket.

And how about that light show? I have goose bumps just thinking about it. All the Mod iconic images were there: a giant roundel in the middle of the field, the usual Mod arrows flying everywhere. And what about those roundel Zildjian cymbals? Simply out of this world! But who was that drummer? Don’t ask me, I have no idea.

Pinball Wizard, Baba O’ Riley, Who Are You, See Me Feel Me and a feet stomping finale with Won’t Get Fooled Again. It was a perfectly balanced medley of classics.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey you, don't watch that. Watch this!

Last fall, a few mates of mine and I made this wonderful discovery. Through word of mouth, I learned that a local band called The Skatton Club was playing traditional ska in this small, cozy club on St-Laurent Street in Montreal.

Les Bobars is the perfect place for the die-hard ska fan to congregate every Monday night. It’s in an intimate setting and it’s dirt-cheap (Only 5$). The seven-piece ensemble put their own twist on the Jamaican classics. Most notable is the traditional guitar “skat” being played by a banjo and the bass violin filling the duties of the more common electric bass. It simply gives it a great vintage sound. Also worth mentioning is the talented horn section. My favorite part is when they each show off their skills during their respective solos.

Although I’m not there every Monday night, I usually look forward to the beginning of the week. Our small group of dedicated Skatton Club followers has been dubbed by Andre, the bandleader, as “The Skatton Family”. For us regulars, it’s a badge of honor. And let’s face it, we rule the place!

Well, I have to be honest. It’s not like a lonesome Mod and ten of his Skinhead friends lay down the law. We are far from Rude Boys of Kingston in the sixties. It’s more because there are usually only 30 patrons in the bar. Plus, we are an approachable bunch too!

But being part of the Skatton Family does have its privileges. For instance, we get to play our music between sets. Our friend Chai also gets to have Monkey Man dedicated to him at every show. I hope that’s a compliment…

So I thought that since I’m part of “The Familia”, I might tempt my chance and ask the band for a favor. I decided to send Andre Desilets, bandleader and tenor sax player, an email.

This is how it went.

Hi Andre,

We never had the chance to officially meet but I am part of the Skatton Family. I’m friends with Frank, Chai, Catherine and company. I’m the guy who arrives on the old Vespa.

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate every Monday I get to see you on stage. What a great way to start the week! That being said, I have a special request. I love your version of Once Step Beyond and I was wondering if you would mind letting me do the spoken intro as heard in The Madness song. I noticed that don't have anybody doing it. You would make one of my dreams become reality.

Feel free to say no, I will still remain a loyal fan.

Kind regards and see you soon,


Here is Andre’s response.

Wow! I’m touched.

This is really cool Patrick.
No problem for the intro to Once Step Beyond. If you come tonight, we are doing the song in the second set. (You can also do the intro every time you come).

Thanks for your interest. We are trying to grow and we need people like you to feed us.

See you soon!
Have a nice day!

Andre D
Dance & Dream

Very excited about the news, I immediately started practicing the intro, adding my own personal touch.

Hey you, don't watch that
Watch this!
This is the heavy heavy monster sound
The nuttiest sound around
So if you've come in off the street
And you're beginning to feel the heat
Well listen buster
You better start to move your feet
To the rockinest, rocksteady beat
Of The Skatton Club
One step beyond!

I picked out my best suit, ironed my button down shirt and shined my 10 hole Docs. I made sure that I had my camera with me to memorialize this momentous event. Suited and booted, I was ready to go.

I showed up and the usual gang greeted me. I announced to everyone that I had a surprise for them later in the evening. I handed my camera to J-F and asked him to take a picture of the surprise. “When will I know?” he asked. “Oh! You will know!” I responded.

Between the two sets, I passed Andre and he gave the thumbs up. He told me that he was going to call me up after the second song. So here it was, the moment of truth, my 30 seconds of fame…

As I get up on stage, I hear one of the band members say: “Well, well… He’s better dressed than all of us.” Facing the 30 spectators or so, I opened my mouth and as soon as the first word came out, the band started playing! Eh? What? This isn’t supposed to be happening! This part is supposed to be a cappella guys!

Doing my best not to look too confused, I tempted to go through the intro, trying to follow the beat. So there it is folks. That was my big break, my moment of glory. Andre even said that I did a great job and that I was welcomed to this anytime I wanted. The funny thing is, I really had a great time. And plus, what a great story to tell on my blog…

For an idea of how I thought it was going to go:

Madness - One Step Beyond

Monday, February 1, 2010

Can You See The Real Me?

“Oh can you see the real me, can ya?
Can ya
Can you see the real me, can ya?”

The Real Me, lyrics by Pete Townsend

All hipped by the fact that I just launched my first blog and published my first post, I visited my friend Martin to show him the fruits of my labor. Martin, a genuine Mod in his own right since he was teenager, has been a good sounding board for the past few weeks.

I've been tossing ideas around of future posts with him and I value his opinion. He's certainly knowledgeable with the history of the scene and he can quote lyrics from obscure soul bands from the sixties at the drop of a pork pie hat. He impresses me every time he does so. One piece of advice that did stick in my mind was that he suggested that I should keep this blog personal. "Don't try to educate the masses,” he says. "You should speak from the heart. You've gotta have soul, man!"

I promised him that I would do my best to share my thoughts on what it is to be a Mod but that I would also give out info about the history of the movement or at least my take on it. I just can't help myself. I am an elementary school teacher after all!

After a few minutes of our usual banter, he gave me a few 45s he had as doubles and I left. Walking home (I live a block away), I glance at the records with a smile on my face. In the pile, there’s 5 original Tamla Motown, a Style Council, a Rolling Stones and a Fine Young Cannibals. “What a generous guy…” I thought to myself.

A few hours later, I sit back down at the computer to work on this blog’s next post. As I am lost in my thoughts, I start staring aimlessly at the beautiful photo at the top of this page. I love this scene in Quadrophenia. Hundreds of Mods marching down in Brighton, pumped with adrenaline, wearing parkas. It suits my blog to a tee. I just hope that I am not infringing any copyright laws. If I am Mister Townsend, please feel free to let me know. I’ll be happy to invite you to my loft so we can discuss what I owe you over a pint.

After staring at the photo for a few moments, I’m suddenly shocked by what I am seeing. Oh my god! I’m in the photo! There I am, part of the gang! That’s me in a suit and pork pie next to Dave! But… but… how did this happen? I start singing I Can’t Explain.

This can’t be possible. My blog has been hacked a few hours after it hit the World Wide Web? Nah! That can’t be it. I call up my friend Eve who graciously helped me that afternoon set the blog up and show me the ropes. I describe what I see on my computer screen and she has no clue what I’m talking about. I thank her again for coming up with the name of the blog and tell her that I will get back to her as soon as I find the culprit.

My next phone call was to Martin. As soon as he picked up the phone, he started laughing. I guess that solves the mystery. That’ll teach me to leave a computer without logging out. I learned something new about my mate Martin today. Not only is he a skilled prankster but he is also a talented graphic artist.

Thanks Martin.

Here is the original photo he worked from.