Skinhead – Where did it all go wrong?

The Skinhead sub-culture is probably one of history’s most misunderstood. The image of neo-Nazi fascists is one that is now all too often thought of in relation to skinheads. Far-right demonstrations, the National Front, football hooliganism – these are the things associated with the sub-culture during the 1970s and beyond, but how did it all start?

Skinhead emerged in the 1960s as a ‘post-mod’ culture, as many were becoming disillusioned and sought something new. From the urban, multicultural estates, came a new culture – Skinhead. Influenced by the Jamaican Rude Boy’s and a passion for Ska music and Reggae, a new sub-culture was born. From this rose some the 1970s classic bands like The Specials and Madness, as Two-Tone music really took off.

Its fashion involved short hair, a Gingham check shirt, braces, rolled up jeans and Doc Martens. It was a response to harsh living conditions, a desire to look smart, gain camaraderie and create an identity away from mods and hippies. The culture itself was a direct result of the increased Caribbean immigration and subsequent integration with working-class Britain. Which makes the image of racist hooligans even harder to comprehend.

Anyone familiar with the film ‘This is England’, directed by Shane Meadows, gains a useful insight into the allure of the culture and the ways in which it has been moulded into something that it originally was not. To simplify the plot, a young boy finds much needed solace and comfort in a group of Skinheads who look after him, and kit him out in the required gear. However, the group is infiltrated by ‘Combo’, who introduces some far-right, nationalist views, even taking the group to a National Front meeting. It embodies the politicisation of the Skinhead, demonstrating the way in which a sub-culture can be moulded into something that it originally was not.


In the BBC 4 documentary, ‘The Story of the Skinhead with Don Letts’, the origin of Skinhead, as a culture arising from a love of fashion and music, is excellently portrayed. So too is the way in which some members took to ideas of the National Front. It explains the vulnerability and susceptibility of skinheads to the ideas of the National Front due to their place in society, as working class people.

So where did it all go wrong? Clearly, there were many events during the 1970s and after, like violent demonstrations and clashes on football terraces, which unsurprisingly tarnished the Skinhead with this negative image. But many argue the sensationalism of the press not only gave an unfair representation of the culture, but also caused further violence and disillusionment. Furthermore, many far-right groups adopted the Skinhead look, utilising its perceived toughness, and so the negative image is prevalent across Europe. However, Skinhead culture has seen a resurgence in recent years, with groups like ‘Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice’ (SHARP), some have tried to reclaim the culture for what it originally was. Therefore, despite those who have tarnished the Skinhead name, the proud culture of the Skinhead is still alive, and it is important to remember it for what it stood for in the beginning – a love of music and a love of fashion.

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