In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom's entrenched class system limited most working class people's educational, housing, and economic opportunities. However, Britain's post-war economic boom led to an increase in disposable income among many young people. Some of those youths spent that income on new fashions popularised by American soul groups, British R&B bands, certain movies, actors, and Carnaby Street clothing merchants.
These youths became known as the mods, a youth subculture noted for its consumerism—and devotion to fashion, music, and scooters as depicted in the ground breaking movie Quadrophenia. Mods of lesser means made do with practical styles that suited their lifestyle and employment circumstances: steel-toe boots, straight-leg jeans or Sta-Prest trousers, button-down shirts, and braces. When possible, these working-class mods spent their money on suits and other sharp outfits to wear at dancehalls, where they enjoyed soul, ska, bluebeat and rocksteady music.
Around 1965, a schism developed between the peacock mods (also known as smooth mods), who were less violent and always wore the latest expensive clothes, and the hard mods (also known as gang mods), who were identified by their shorter hair and more working-class image. Also known as lemonheads and peanuts, these hard mods became commonly known as skinheads by about 1968. Their shorter hair may have come about for practical reasons, since long hair can be a liability in industrial jobs and a disadvantage in streetfights. Skinheads may also have cut their hair short in defiance of the more middle class hippie culture popular at the time.
In addition to retaining many mod influences, early skinheads were very interested in Jamaican rude boy styles and culture, especially the music: ska, rocksteady, and early reggae (before the tempo slowed down and lyrics became focused on topics like black nationalism and the Rastafari movement). Skinhead culture became so popular by 1969 that even the rock band Slade temporarily adopted the look, as a marketing strategy. The subculture gained wider notice because of a series of violent and sexually explicit novels by Richard Allen, notably Skinhead and Skinhead Escapes. This freedom of expression coincided with Stanley Kubrick’s controversial and subsequently banned film A Clockwork Orange starring Malcolm McDowell, with many youths at the time, donning white butchers coats akin to those worn by Alex and his droogs as they introduced the nation to ‘ultra-violance’.
By the 1970s, the skinhead subculture started to fade from popular culture, and some of the original skins dropped into new categories, such as the suedeheads (defined by the ability to manipulate one's hair with a comb), smoothies (often with shoulder-length hairstyles), and bootboys (with mod-length hair; associated with gangs and football hooliganism). Some fashion trends returned to mod roots, reintroducing brogues, loafers, suits, and the slacks-and-sweater look.
In 1977, the skinhead subculture was revived to a notable extent after the introduction of punk rock. Most of these revival skinheads were a reaction to the commercialism of punk and adopted a sharp, smart look in line with the original look of the 1969 skinheads and included Gary Hodges and Hoxton Tom McCourt (both later of the band the 4-Skins) and Suggs, later of the band Madness.
From 1979 onwards, skinheads with even shorter hair and less emphasis on traditional styles grew in numbers and grabbed media attention, mostly as a result of their involvement with football hooliganism. These skinheads wore punk-influenced styles, like higher boots than before ( 14-20 eyelets) and tighter jeans (sometimes splattered with bleach).