Skin deep ( a retrospective viewpoint ) .
Light and bitter was the chosen drink , the outlook , and the misunderstood attitude , of that unique and somewhat maligned sixties animal - the skinhead .
He appeared without prior warning on the streets - something of a Mod derivative originally , but intrinsically more violent and certainly somewhat classier than the marauding typical Margate Mod .
This hobnailed hobo was the epitome of working class youth with time on their hands .
This was a youth who could no more identify with the culture of flower power than he could with the House of Lords .
The foot stomping and fancy free summer of '68 was the skinhead sartorial peak . During the day he sported spotless Ben Sherman shirts , naturally tapered , clip on braces , and Levi jeans or Sta Prest trousers that wavered enticingly at least two clear inches above the tops of his gleaming black or red Dr Martin boots .
Night-time perambulations required an infinitely more elegant approach . These intimidating habituaries of the local Mecca would mooch to ska music wearing two-tone mohair suits that were made to measure , no room or acceptance here for off the peg ordinariness . The suits would be complimented with highly polished brogues , college style ties , and of course the customary Ben Sherman . All of this was topped off with the obligatory crop , a minimalist hair style that conjured Fascist or concentration camp images but in fact was simply a protest to the long haired Hippys .
But that whole era was ultimately doomed . Paki bashing set in . Sheepskins and crombies shot up in price . Flares became widely popularised and somehow they just didn't go with boots . Somewhere along the line ' Django's theme' and Desmond Dekker stopped seeming to matter anymore .
Fashion goes around in cycles . Now the rabble-rousers are making a come back . However , this time round the circumstances are a little different . Most of the skinheads you see today are kids who tried punk or goth but were disillusioned by the seemingly middle class infiltration of those particular cults .
They became forced to revert to another trend which maintained the intrinsic butchness and continued to perpetuate a disquieting but gratifying reaction from commentators and peer groups alike .
Perhaps some kid overheard his father fondly reminiscing about his skinhead past and BAM ! an idea was born , or at least an image resurrected .
Just last week I ventured into Canning Town , once the stronghold of Millwall skins , and there in a vast open plan boozer I encountered a group of young retro skinheads .
Steven Peverall is a 20 year old factory worker who became a skinhead to forget about weekday employment authority .
His mate , Tony Parkes , a 19 year old trainee landscaper , became a skinhead because he wanted something to identify with , no matter how nebulous in todays politically correct society .
Both are dressed exactly the same as their long gone sixties ancestors .
" We get most of our authentic gear from shops up at Covent Garden , " says Steven . " I reckon you can get fully kitted out for about 2 hundred quid these days , it's what we spend our money on ."
The compulsory crop is still readily available in most barbers salons in this area .
" It's merely a question of telling the barber whether you want a number 1 , 2 , or 3 cut " says Tony .
Steven maintains that the contemporary skins are not as violent .
" We're just working class geezers looking for a good time , we just want to enjoy ourselves really . But I do think we have something to prove - we're not scum.
People think just 'cos you come from the East End that you must be trouble or something . But nothing could be further from the truth . We just like the look , the style , it gives us a purpose , a type of identity .
Girls tend to keep clear of us , won't let us take them home from a club , because of how we look and where we come from .
So that limits our choice because there aren't many skin girls really , and the soulies and the clubber types just don't want to know . But why should we change ? "
Tony says that his parents , who were both skins , prefer him being a skin as opposed to a punk or goth or whatever .
What is interesting is that both of these young men show absolutely no interest in politics .
" People think we're either National Front or Marxist or something ," says Steven , " and that's shit , they are just stereotyping us . We are fed up being asked if we have been involved in race riots and things like that .
We just don't want anything to do with that stuff . I don't get taxed any lower for being a skin , do I ? " .
Steven and Tony both admit to being in trouble with the Old Bill , mainly for football related incidents .
" At one time the Old Bill would pick on us for hanging round on street corners , now we have found an identity and they still pick on us for being skins ," says Tony , who has had 5 different jobs in the last 18 months .
" I just can't take authority on any level , I don't think I ever will . Eventually I want to be self employed and not answer to anyone . I suppose that's why I became a skin , it's a sort of protest in a way " .
These are just normal young men , trying to find their way in the world and struggling with what they are faced with . But at least they are trying .
Last word from Steven as I thank them and prepare to leave .
" The future looks bleak for us , but it was bleak to begin with too . I can see us all wearing suits and going to clubs and discos soon ," he sighs heavily , " Not much to look forward to when you reach 25 is it ? " .
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