Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Having a custom Mod shirt made

Since the sixties, Mods have been customizing, altering and adding subtle changes to their clothes in order to set themselves apart from the masses. Sometimes hardly noticeable to the untrained eye, for the die hard Mod, it's all part of a secret code. As the years passed and the Mod waves have come and gone, a certain uniformity has settled in and a recognized style has established itself.

For the dedicated Modernist, off the peg brand names like Ben Sherman, Brutus, Britac, Fred Perry, Baracuta and Brooks Brothers might be acceptable but the custom tailored version will always take precedence.

The suit has long been at the forefront of the customizing and creative efforts but it's not the only piece of clothing that can receive your personalized touch. Shirts are also deserving of such attention to detail. This is what separates the boys from the men, the Faces from the Tickets. I want to make something abundantly clear. I'm not trying to accurately recreate what a Mod would wear in August 1963. I don't pretend to be an historian or a fashion expert. This is my personal vision of the 21st century Mod look. Individual style, this is what it's all about. I've never subscribed to the dictatorial, rigid and competitive nature of certain Mods.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's possible to have a good quality, custom-made shirt for 39$. At that price, why not go for something that will fit you perfectly? Plus, you get to have something unique, distinct, classy and that reflects your personality. I highly recommend you use Prince Henry Tailors for all custom shirts needs.

First and foremost, you need to choose your fabric. The most common is a cotton blend. If you go 100% pure Egyptian cotton for instance, you should expect to pay more. A vast array of patterns are then at your disposal. Plain colors, stripes, checks, madras, small herringbone, gingham checks are all up for grabs. The choice is sometimes overwhelming. For your first experience, simply go for a plain white cotton blend. You never have too much of those.

Next, you have to select how you want the back of your shirt to look. Do you prefer plain, with side pleats or your classic center box pleat? If you’re a Ben Sherman fan, then the center box pleat with loop should suit you well and an obvious choice for any Mod.

Then comes the collar with a vast array of styles to choose from. I'm a long time adept of the button-down collar. It always looks sharp and neat. It has the added advantage that it can be worn casually without a jacket. Some detractors maintain that a button-down shirt should never be worn with a suit and tie. I don't subscribe to that school of thought.

According to Brooks Brothers, to mix jacket, tie and button-down is perfectly acceptable. They touched on the subject on their website. Have a look here. I trust their judgement since they are the ones who popularized that style of collar.

Types of collars offered by  Prince Henry tailors
The button at the back of the collar may be deemed more decorative than functional but I like it. Shirts from stylish and classy DNA Groove inspired me to add a subtle point under the button. A small detail that only the true fashion fanatic will appreciate.

The height is your traditional "3 finger" collar. Suedeheads and Skinheads will remember that as the standard for their desired Ben Sherman.

Vintage collar display seen in the Scwab's store on Beale Street in Memphis
Vintage Arrow collar display seen at Bobby From Boston
Another uncommon element that I added is a silk lining to the inside of the collar of some of my shirts. Dark blue silk with a subtle paisley pattern can be seen on the inside of my striped shirt. It may not be noticeable to most but it has the practical purpose of preventing the unfortunate discoloration due to perspiration. Very practical when you wear them to all-nighters. The same idea was applied to the inside of the cuffs.

I've always liked contrasting collars and cuffs. It screams "chic" and "class". This is what I tried to do with this shirt, using a plain white collar and cuffs with a stripped blue pattern.

A breast pocket is a common feature on any dress shirt but I have decided to drop it off my list. Besides, when was the last time you used that pocket unless your name is Urkel or Poindexter? I have nothing against them. I just don't like it when the fabric pattern isn't perfectly aligned with the shirt. Lately, some brands have been guilty of this. In lieu of the pocket, I had my monogrammed initials stitched in script.

Cuffs are another way to make a statement and you have a wide range of styles to choose from. Most store-bought shirts tend to have a single button barrel cuff. I went with the classic French cuff. It's about time it makes a major comeback. How else would you get to parade those posh antique cufflinks that have been laying dormant in your drawer?

The choice of buttons are too often neglected and an easy and inexpensive way to make a statement. Have them match your suit or opt for square ones. For this shirt, I decided to pair them up.

How about this for a different take on the traditional? I asked my tailor to have the button holes cut horizontally instead of vertically. I know that worn with a suit and tie, nobody will notice but that is not the point. I'm sure that if you are reading this post, chances are you will appreciate the effort and creativity.

The stitching around the button holes and the thread used on the buttons is another way to add your unique individual touch . For this shirt, I used a blue thread to contrast with the white fabric but also to match the blue stripes in the pattern and red was used to fasten the buttons. Voila! The picture is complete.

For those of you who can't stand being a walking advertising billboard for a clothing company (Yes, we are talking about that noticeable "laurel" we all know and love) may I suggest having your shirt monogramed instead? Customarily, you can have your initials stitched on your left cuff and/or on the left breast.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. So go on and be bold, be you, be Mod!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Big Bass Man

“Living as a Mod in the 21st century” is the subtitle of this blog. It’s a statement I try to hold myself to. In all honesty, I’ve made a sustained effort of exploring every aspect of the culture since my teenage years and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

There is one thing I have never attempted and always regretted not doing when I was younger. I’ve long had this burning desire and pushed it aside for all these years. There’s one thing that needs to be added to my Mod resume.

I thought that before I was going to turn 41, I was going to learn to play a musical instrument!

Most of my friends are talented musicians and I admire them for it. They speak a language that is foreign to me and I’ve always yearned to be part of the inner circle. My good friend Daniel, guitarist for the Chelsea Beat, is one of these well-rounded musicians that are passionate about creating music.

I guess he sensed that I wanted to take the plunge and join the ranks. All I needed was a slight push. Daniel was there to provide it and I thank him for it. But I suspect that he had a hidden agenda for wanting me to pick up an instrument. I believe he has an ulterior motive. I think he wants to start a Soul band. “Built it and they will come”, my new teacher often says.

It all started with a simple email. In it, he told me that he had something that he wanted to talk to me about. Mysterious… He also asked that for the next few weeks, I pick out some of my favorite tunes and that I pay careful attention to the bass line. Without asking why, I followed his instructions.

This is one of the songs I picked out. I always thought that the bass line in Start! from The Jam is quite catchy.

My friend Olivier, a good bass player himself, made me realize that it’s basically the same bass line as Taxman from The Beatles. Well look at that! Maybe I should have a second look at that little British band they call The Beatles.

A couple of weeks later, Daniel invited me over to his place. I had done my homework not knowing what to expect.  After exchanging a few pleasantries and catching up, we moved to his basement. That’s when he handed me his beautiful German made Hoftner club bass guitar. “I’m going to teach you how to play”, is all he said. Daniel is sometimes a man of a few words.

So for the next couple of months, we’ve been meeting once a week in his man cave to jam. Luckily, I have an incredibly patient mentor who’s willing to tough it out until I get to play something that resembles a tune.

I’m at the point where my brain is faster than my fingers. My digits won’t catch up just yet. I often complain that my fingers are “out of breath”. Apparently, that is normal in the beginning. The most encouraging words I’ve heard yet from my master are: “Patrick, you need 3 things to become a good musician. One, a little theory. Two, technique and three, feeling. The good thing is you already have one of the three and that’s feeling. It’s the only part that you can’t really teach someone and it seems to come naturally to you. Playing Soul is 10% technique and 90% feeling.” Wow! He actually believes I can do this! Let’s do it!

So here is my pledge to you, Parka Avenue readers. In exactly a year from now, I will record a little video that I’ll post on this blog showing my progress or the lack thereof. This is the type of incentive I need to push myself.

In the meantime, to give you a small idea of what a beginner’s lesson is like, I’ll let my teacher be the star. With today’s technology, all you need to immortalize a basic bass lesson is an iPhone and an email account. After each visit, I’ll use Daniel’s phone to film my homework for the week and send it by email.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mod Gone Wrong: The Parka Avenue Edition

Disclaimer: This Mod Gone Wrong concept is directly inspired (if not stolen) from the fantastic Mod Male blog.

Fellow bloggers Anorak Thing, Mod Male and I seem to have all been inspired by each other in the past. I’m convinced that we’ve all been guilty, at one time or another, of saying: “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?” So I urge you to have a look (right after catching up with your latest Parka Avenue posts of course!) at these two highly entertaining Mod infused blogs.

Now, enough with the love fest and on with the subject at hand. Since Mod has hit the mainstream, some say around 1964, some merchants and even certain artists have tried to capitalize on Mod’s hip image. Some have successfully done it with an acceptable amount of good taste like Mary Quant, Twiggy, John Stephen and Pete Meaden with The Who. But others have simply bastardized the movement and reduced it to a series of commercial clichés.

About a year ago, I was grabbing a few essentials at a generic Dollar Store and came across a CD rack. Curious, I flipped through it quickly and found some surprisingly good titles. Amongst them were a Marvelettes Greatest Hits CD, a Sam & Dave album and a series of RnB Classics compilation. For a couple of dollars each, it wasn’t going to do significant damage to my wallet. Then this caught my attention.

With the cover sporting a typical mid-century modern look, the name Flabby written in the classic Vespa script, the “modern tunes for everybody” as the title and a classic Vespa on the back, I was definitely intrigued. Who is this Flabby fellow? Or maybe we’re talking about a group? My curiosity got the best of me and I added it to the pile.

It was the first album to make a trip in the CD player when I got home. My first reaction was a mixture of disdain and disgust that quickly turned to laughter. With titles like Cheek-A-Boom and Diggy Doggy Do, it’s hard to keep a straight face. Not Mod by any means, it’s sort of an exotica, kitch, jazzy, space age, organ driven modern lounge music. The best way to describe it would be William Shatner meets a less cool Esquivel.

Once I got over the initial shock, I sort of liked it. You know when something is so blatantly bad that it actually becomes good. It’s similar to the way I feel about Kraft Dinner.

I also bought this on eBay a while back.

I can’t argue the fact that it’s a tacky 60s souvenir from Carnaby Street but I think I deserve some credit for the fact that it’s from the 60’s famed I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet boutique.

It was known for promoting  the military look amongst the Mod and fashion conscious psychedelic youth of the time. It was also the place that was credited for inspiring the Beatle's suits seen on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. So I won't apologize for having it in my collection.

Just remember that bad sometimes turns out to be good.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mod On The Road - Road Trip to Motown – Day 3

This is it. We’ve reached our final destination, Detroit. Two reasons bring us here. My traveling mate Ben and I are here to buy records and to visit sacred land,  Motown. I’ve visited Hitsville before (read about it here) but it was a first for our young disciple.

Ben has been living, breathing, dreaming about Motown since he was 5. He knows more about that place then Berry Gordy Jr. himself. He has never set foot in the Motor City in his life yet he knew all the street names. “I feel like I’ve been here before. I’ve read about all these streets. We’re close. I can sense it.” Even if it was getting dark and Detroit is not known for being the safest city in the land, we knew we had to stop at the Motown Museum regardless of the fact that the place was closed.

“I swear to you Pat, I’m going to lick the door of Studio A!” And he did! His excitement was palpable and frankly contagious. But I kept my bodily fluids to myself.

On Day 3, we were up bright and early, ready to be first ones in line. We were.

While waiting for the Museum to open, we saw an older gentleman walking out of the administrative offices.

- Pat! I think that’s Cornelius Grant from the Temptations!

- What are you waiting for? Go talk to the man!

As he approached, the tall black man asked us if we were here to visit the Museum.

- Yes sir, said Ben. Would you happen to be Cornelius Grant from the Temptations band?

- Ha! Ha! I wish I were! No, I’m the President of the Museum. Why don’t you guys come on in? The place should open up soon.

Even if this wasn’t my first visit, I still get chills thinking of all the great music that came out of that tiny house. We were paired up with a bunch of local high school students and Ben was uncommonly quiet. I guess he was taking it all in. At one point during the tour, our guide was talking about the first Supremes album that came out in 1964. That’s when Ben leaned over and whispered to me: “He’s wrong, it was actually in 1963.” You know what, I believe the guy.

That inspiring visit was all we needed to put us in the mood for some intense record digging. It’s imperative, that if you are ever in Detroit, you stop at People's Records. Their specialty is Soul 45s. Need I say more?

The owner Brad is a class act. He might not have the most pristine records on hand but you can’t beat his prices. The new store is in a bright new building but the experience remains the same. Get ready to get those hands dirty going through those milk crates with stacks of dusty old 45s. If you ask nicely, he might even let you dig through the upstairs storage room. When we got up there, we were surprised to find a whole crate of brand new Ric-Tic 45s. But it was all the same title!

I was very happy that I got to cross a few records off my want list. First was Since I Found My Baby by The Metros. This is pure Northern Soul. I know I use the term loosely too often in this blog but this song makes you want to Burn The Torch and Keep The Faith. It had arrived that morning like so many others that come through the door every day.

Now I understand why a few of British DJs make the pilgrimage a few times a year. You never know what’s going to turn up. I got to talk with Dave Thorley from Top Dog Records and he makes the trip a few times a year from the UK just to buy records. But I’m sure his budget doesn’t resemble mine. When you got to spin at the Wigan Casino and manage to play 3000$ records on a regular basis, you are in a different category. Nonetheless, I left with a stack that made the trip worthwhile.

One of Ben’s favorite finds was Now I’ve Got A Woman by Freddy King.

After a couple of hours, we thought we should try our luck somewhere else. A fellow reader of the blog, John Sparks, had recommended we pay a visit to Hello Records. As luck would have it, it was only a few blocks from our motel. When the sign over the door says “Soul, funk, jazz, gospel”, you are hoping for a bountiful dig. The problem was that it was closed on the two days we were in town. I guess we’ll just have to make the trip back!

Instead, we drove to The Record Graveyard. The owner has chosen the name for his store correctly because this is where records go to die. 

Even if he has a room full of 45s, we left without spending a dime. If you are looking for something on the rare side of things, don’t waste your time there. The owner told us as soon as we walked through the door that he didn’t have any of the rare stuff. If you are looking to start a collection of common 70s and 80s RnB, then by all means visit the place. 

A bit disappointed by our two last stops, we both knew where we would end up next. Back to People's Records! It’s worth spending a lot of time there because it will pay in the end. The proof is here. Here are some of my top purchases.

I Lost A Good Thing - Gwen Owens - Velgo


 Be Mine Tonight - Lloyd W Williams - Soul Beat


I've Been Changed - The Right King - Galaxy


Craked Up Over You - Lee Rodgers - Wheelsville

A friend of mine told me that there's another version of this 45 with Cracked with a "c". That version is apparently harder to find.

All that focused digging opens up quite the appetite. There is no better way to reward yourself than with the best BBQ place in town, Slow’s.

If you have a chance to pass through Detroit, make sure you stop at People's and say hi to Irma for me, will you?

Irma, in trance, listening to some sweet Soul music