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Skinheads, named after their shaven heads, are members of a subculture that originated in Britain in the 1960s, where they were closely tied to the Rude Boys of the West Indies and the Mods of the UK.

Skinhead with scooter Skinhead with scooter



There are several different types of skinheads, and three main political categories:

  • Traditional skinheads (Trads, Trojan Skinheads) - They identify with the original skinhead movement (The Spirit of 69) in terms of music, style, culture and working class pride. Unlike the other categories, traditionalist skinheads often do not regard attitudes toward racism as central to the subculture.
  • SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) - Aggressively anti-racist and usually political, often left wing. The moniker "SHARP skinheads" is commonly used for all outspoken anti-racist skinheads, even if they aren't members of a SHARP organization. Anti-racist skins also include RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads), Redskins, and Anarcho-Skinheads.
  • White Power skins and Nazi-Skinheads - Racist. Despite the common moniker, many Nazi skins have no connection to the original skinhead culture in terms of style or interests. SHARPs and traditional skinheads sometimes refer to them as Boneheads.

These categories are descriptive, not definitive. There are many skinheads who don't fit in any of these categories. The usefulness of these terms is to explain the dominant forces of skinhead social structure.


English Skinheads in late 1960s English Skinheads in late 1960s

In the early 1960s, Britain saw a continuation of the entrenched class system, which offered most working class people substandard educational, housing and economic opportunities. However, Britain was also experiencing a post-war economic boom, which led to an increase in disposable income among many young people. Some of those youths invested in new fashions popularized by American soul groups, British RnB bands, certain movie actors, and Carnaby Street clothing merchants. These were the Mods, a youth subculture noted for its consumerism and devotion to style, music and scooters. Mods of lesser means made do with practical styles that suited their lifestyle and/or employment circumstances - steel-toe boots, straight-legged denim jeans, button-down shirts and braces (suspenders in the USA). When possible, their limited funds were spent on smart outfits worn in the evenings to dancehalls, where they enjoyed ska, reggae, and rocksteady beats.

Around 1965, a schism developed between the "peacock" mods, who always wore the latest expensive clothes, and the "hard" mods (also known as "gang" mods), who were identified by their shorter hair and working-class image. Also known as "lemonheads" and "peanuts", these hard mods were commonly known as skinheads by about 1968. The shorter hair may have come about for practical reasons, since long hair can be a liability in industrial jobs and a disadvantage in streetfights. An alternate explanation is that skinheads cut their hair short in defiance of the more bourgeois hippie culture popular at the time. In addition to retaining many mod influences, early skinheads were greatly interested in Jamaican Rude Boy style and culture, especially Reggae and Ska music.

Skinhead culture exploded in 1969 to the extent that even the rock band Slade temporarily adopted the look. By the 1970s, the skinhead subculture started to fade, 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 hairstyles down to shoulder length), and "Bootboys" (associated with gangs and hooliganism). Some fashions returned to the mod roots, reintroducing the wearing of brogues or loafers, suits, and the slacks-and-sweater look.

In the mid-1970s, the skinhead movement was reborn after the introduction of Punk Rock. Skinheads with even shorter hair and less emphasis on style grew in numbers and grabbed the attention of the media, as a result of hooliganism during football matches, sometimes to the point of rioting. These Skinheads wore bigger boots(14-20 eyelet), tighter pants, and bleachers. Later on though, the style was mainly reverted back to the original mod inspired dress rather than the punk style.

Skinheads also gained a great deal of media attention after some of them were recruited by far right political parties like the National Front. The party's position against blacks and Asians appealed to some working class skinheads who blamed immigrants for economic and social problems. Racist violence in England dates back a couple of hundred years, and certainly was not introduced by the skinhead subculture. In the late 1960s and 1970s, much racist violence was directed towards Pakistani immigrants, derisively called "Pakis". In the 1970s however, racist violence was more identified with organized racist groups such as the National Front, and some racist hooligans adopted the skinhead image. This led to the public's common misconception that all skinheads are neo-Nazis. In the meantime, the skinhead subculture had spread beyond The UK and Europe.

In an attempt to counter this negative stereotype, some anti-racist skinhead organizations were formed. In the USA, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) started in 1987, and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) began in 1988. SHARP then spread to the UK and beyond, and other less political skinheads also spoke out against neo-Nazis and in support of traditional skinhead culture. Two examples are the Glasgow Spy Kids in Scotland, and the publishers of the Hard As Nails zine in England. The Skinhead sub culture has since spread around the world, and there are many different kinds of skinheads.


Coordinating fashion, such as the clothing, accessories, and grooming techniques listed below, is an essential part of the skinhead culture.


  • Men: fitted Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Brutus, Jaytex, Arnold Palmer or other brands of button-up or polo shirts; Lonsdale shirts or sweatshirts; V-neck sweaters; cardigan sweaters; sweater vests; T-shirts; fitted blazers.
  • Women: Same as men, with addition of dress suits, comprised of a ¾ length jacket and matching short skirt.


  • Traditional skinheads are known to wear tailored suits to events such as soul dances or ska concerts. Skinheads are particularly known to favour tonic suits (also known as shark-skin suits), so named for the shiny material.


  • MA-1 type Flight Jackets (popular brands include Warrior and Alpha) in black or sage green; blue denim jackets (Levi or Wrangler); Harrington jackets; Monkey jackets; Crombie-style overcoats; sheepskin 3/4 length coats; Donkey jackets.


  • Men: Blue Levi's or Wrangler jeans, straight leg with rolled cuffs (turn-ups) to show off the boots, often with the seam cut off and sewn to give a neater, flatter turn-up, and "properly" fitted; Sta-Prest flat-fronted slacks and other trousers; bleachers (jeans splattered with household bleach to resemble camouflage trousers) popular among punk-influenced Oi! skins; combat trousers, popular among Oi! skins and scooter boys.
  • Women: Same jeans and trousers as men, but also skirts and stockings. Some skingirls wear fishnet stockings and mini-skirts, but that was introduced with the skinhead revival, not in the 1960s.


  • Men: Boots, originally regular army or workboots, then Dr. Martens (Docs or DMs) and later brogues and loafers. Grinders and other brand boots have now become popular, partly because Dr. Martens boots are no longer made in England. During the '60s, steel-toe boots were often referred to as "bovver boots" - thought to derive from the Cockney pronunciation of "bother".
  • Women: Docs, Monkey boots or loafers.

Hats: Trilby hats; pork pie hats; scally caps (Benny in the UK); "flat caps" (driver's caps).

Braces: No more than ¾ inch in width (In some areas, wider braces are considered to identify one as either white power or a wanna-be.


  • Men: Originally, between a 2 and 4 grade clipguard (short, but not bald); beginning in the late '70s, typically shaved close with no greater than a number 2 guard. Now some skinheads clip their hair with no guard, and some even shave it with a razor. This started with the introduction of the Oi! scene. Many skinheads sport sideburns of various styles, usually neatly trimmed.
  • Women: Skinhead girls commonly wear a "Chelsea" shaved on top with fringes grown out in the back, sides and front; also known as a feathercut. Some females in the skinhead subculture just have normal hairstyles, and others have chosen to shave their hair just like male skinheads.

Laces and braces

Some skinheads, particularly highly political ones, attach significance to the color of their laces, braces, and (less commonly) flight jackets, using them to advertise their beliefs and affiliations. The particular colors used vary regionally and locally, however, so only skinheads in the same area are likely to interpret them accurately.

The "braces and laces game" has largely fallen into disuse, particularly among Traditionalist skinheads, who are more likely to choose their colors for fashion purposes. Additionally, in many areas laces must be 'laddered'—arranged with the outside laces horizontal and parallel, resembling a ladder—to be considered of any significance.


Oi! Oi! Music Oi! Oi! Music

Originally, the subculture was associated with the ska and reggae music of musicians like Desmond Dekker, Laurel Aitken, Symarip and Joe the Boss. The link between skinheads and reggae led to the sub-genre known as skinhead reggae.

Other types of music popular amongst early skinheads were Motown, Northern Soul, Rocksteady,and mod RnB. Suedeheads of the '70s were also known to listen to British glam rock bands like The Sweet and Mott the Hoople.

The most popular music for the late '70s Skinhead was Two-Tone, named after a Coventry-based record label that featured such bands as The Specials, Madness, and The Selecter. Two-Tone was the musical integration of Ska, Rocksteady and punk rock. The label scored many top 20 hits, and eventually a number one. During this time (1979 - 1981), skinheads were a common sight on the UK highstreets.

In the '70s and early '80's Oi! became accepted by skinheads and punks. Oi! continues to be one of the most popular genres among skinheads. Musically, Oi! combines elements of punk rock, football chants, pub rock and '70s British glam rock. Some forefathers of Oi! were Sham 69, Cock Sparrer and Menace. The term Oi! as a musical term is said to come from the band Cockney Rejects and journalist Garry Bushell, who championed the genre in Sounds magazine. Well-known Oi! bands of the late '70s and early '80s include Angelic Upstarts ,Blitz, Last Resort, Combat 84 and 4-Skins. Not exclusively a skinhead genre, many Oi! bands included both skins, punks and people who fit in neither category, who were sometimes called herberts.

U.S. Oi! began in the '80s with bands such as the Bruisers (the singer is now in Dropkick Murphys), Anti-Heros (who sued the makers of American History X for wrongful use of their logo), and Iron Cross (whose singer Sab Grey is said to be of Jewish descent). American skinheads have also accepted hardcore punk, with bands such as Warzone, Agnostic Front, and Cro-mags. Current American Oi! bands are generally closer musically to hardcore than to early British street-punk.

White power skins have a separate musical culture known as Rock Against Communism, which features bands such as Skrewdriver, Brutal Attack and Bound for Glory.

Glossary of terms

3i's or 3-eyes, 8i's (8-eyes) etc.
Leather shoes or boots, having the given number of eyelets for laces on either side. Other common numbers are 10, 12, 14, 18, and 20.
Blue jeans treated with household bleach to create a camouflage-like pattern. They were popular among punk rock-influenced Oi! skins in the '70s and '80s.
A derisive term used by Traditional and anti-racist skinheads for a neo-Nazi skinhead. Also used in the UK as a derogatory term for scruffy punk-influenced skinheads.
Boot party
[US] Euphemism for a skinhead-style fight (involving kicking), especially where one side outnumbers the other.
Bovver boy
[Europe] A skinhead who regularly or frequently seeks out enemies to beat down. The enemies are generally members of rival football (soccer) team supporters or members of other youth subcultures. Bovver is a Cockney slang word literally meaning "bother".
A fashion accessory for holding up one's trousers, consisting of a pair of elasticized bands which go over the shoulders and fasten to the trousers (usually in the form of a clip in the case of jeans) in the front and back. Although in the US these are commonly called suspenders, skinheads usually use the British term. (Suspenders in British English means a garter belt.)
  1. Traditionally, a female skinhead. Also called a "skinhead girl" or "skingirl".
  2. The traditional haircut of a female skinhead, consisting of short hair on the crown, sides and back with a longer fringe in the front and on the neck. Also known as a feathercut.
Crucified Skinhead
An icon depicting a skinhead suspended from a cross and often seen on a T-shirt or patch, or as a tattoo. It symbolizes the hardships of the skinhead lifestyle (such as being vilified as a racist whether one is or is not) and makes a statement about one's commitment to the lifestyle.
A derisive term used by political skinheads for those who refuse to take sides, or who will associate with opposing groups.
A dance style associated with ska music.

External links

Regional sites

Skinhead - Ska - Reggae - Oi! - Northern Soul - Punk Rock - Streetpunk - Hardcore

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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