SKINHEADS - To most people this word conjures images of insane Neo-Nazis committing horrendous crimes and persecuting peoples everywhere. Unfortunately, however, this image represents only the smallest and most violent wing of the "skinhead culture". So, let's take a look back at some history.
Flashback to London, it's the 1960's and increasing numbers of immigrants arriving from Britain's colonies and former colonies in the Caribbean, namely Jamaica. Jamaican immigrants bring their own brands of fashion and music, and fuse it with existing British styles, fueling a style known as Rude Boy. Rude Boy culture fused European and Caribbean sensibilities, bringing the sounds of ska, dancehall, and reggae to England.
Many immigrants assumed working class positions next to the native middle class of England, and, naturally, they exchanged styles. With new disposable incomes, Middle Class youths were able to experiment with their styles, incorporating many of the new elements they had seen in the Rude Boy movement. The cross of these styles created the traditional skinhead look: Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, suspenders (often called braces), aviator jackets, the ever present Doc Marten 20 eyelet boots, and, of course, shaved heads.
Eventually, however, some of the middle class roots of the culture turned violent, as some skinheads became more involved in gangs. More extreme skinheads even turned against the immigrants (Islanders, Middle Easterners, etc.) who had become very visible in London. They blamed immigrants for unemployment and the loss of traditional British values. The 2006 film, This is England, does a great job of chronicling the atmosphere of England at the time, as seen through the eyes of a young boy struggling to find his place without his father, who was killed in the 1982 Falklands War. In England, the skinhead movement splintered, and by the 1980's, had lost much of its popularity in England.
By the 80's, however, the style reached New York City, specifically the hardcore punk scene of the Lower East Side, centered at the famous club CBGB's. Bands such as Agnostic Front and Warzone promoted traditional skinhead styles and values, especially unity within the middle working class. At the same time, however, the NYC skinhead scene experienced many of the same trials as England, as some skins began to promote "traditional working class American" values, and brought a regrettably racist vibe to the culture. Often the tension between racist skins and SHARPs (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice) exploded into violence at shows. Many bands and fans of the era, however, continue to respect the style which was once very strong in New York's rich cultural landscape.
Today, skinhead culture still exists around the world, and has been making a comeback in England, due to the recent success of works, such as This is England, which relive the glory years of the culture. It is truly unfortunate that racist and violent elements corrupted what I think is a really cool and interesting style, which was born out of learning and cooperation between races and lifestyles.
To learn more, check out: This is England, Skins and Punks by Gavin Watson, and Radio Silence by Nathan Nedorostek & Anthony Pappalardo.