Skinheads are members of a subculture that grew out of the United Kingdom and then spread throughout the world. The skinhead subculture has been active since the mid to late 1960s, but the term skinhead remains a loaded word evoking many different connotations. Like many subcultures, skinheads have evolved and changed with the times. Splinter groups have formed for certain beliefs, the movement naturally evolves as society changes, and backlash reactions to generalizations made against the subculture by the dominant culture have also changed the movement. Today the label skinhead is subject to much misunderstanding and confusion, increased only by the radically different meanings associated with the term in different cultures and classes.
- Before you can “be” a skinhead you have to know what it means. For many music, culture and fashion movements what individuals’ stand for is clear for the whole group. For skinheads, this is not true. To know what kind of skinhead you want to be consider:
- The history of the skinhead movement.
- The kind of skinhead groups local to you.
- What draws you to being a skinhead? Is it the music, the clothing, political beliefs, social class or something else?
- Know how to dress, and how not to dress.
Know the History
In the early 1960s, before the hippie movement, there were primarily two youth groups based on music in the United Kingdom. One group was called the mods, the other the rockers. Mods mostly listened to R&B, soul, ska and British rock bands such as The Who and Small Faces. Rockers mostly listened to 1950s American rock & roll. Being a mod meant dressing very well, riding a scooter and dancing late into the night. Rockers rode motorcycles and wore leather jackets, similar to greasers, their American counterparts. To learn more about mods and rockers watch the movie Quadrophenia (1979).
When the psychedelic 1960s hit England, the mods split into a wide variety of fashions and styles including hippies and the skinheads. This period is where the fashion of skinheads was first defined. Skinhead fashion is intended to show pride in a traditional English working-class look.
As time went by and the skinhead movement spread around the world, the original beliefs and values evolved and split into a variety of different subcultures. Today, skinhead can mean almost anything, depending on your own beliefs, country, culture, class and where you get your information. The fascist skinheads, originally a very small minority, got a lot of press attention and in many ways were the first “ambassadors” of the skinhead look to the rest of the world. Fascist skinheads are about as common as regular fascists, and they are the exact opposite of the original skinhead philosophies and music.
Know Your Local Skinheads
Find clubs or other places where ska, reggae, soul, Oi!, or old-school hardcore and punk is played in your area. These are the types of music skinheads are most interested in.
Find your local skinheads. They shouldn’t be hard to pick out of the crowd.
Eventually, if the scene’s a good fit for you, you’ll wind up shaving your head or having it shaved for you.
Never act like you know everything.
If you find that the skinhead scene where you live does not reflect your beliefs, then consider an alternate subculture that better reflects your own values.
Understand the Kinds of Skinheads
Today, skinheads can be broken down in many ways, but the following categories may be a good place to start. Skinheads are divided into categories based on style and categories based on political beliefs.
- Traditional skinheads identify with the original skinhead movement (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.
- Oi! skins and punk-skinheads – Originating after the development of punk rock, they prefer Oi! and punk music. They often have shorter hair and more tattoos — and wear items such as high boots, tight jeans, T-Shirts and flight jackets. Although the original Oi! bands advocated a pro-worker populist stance, the Oi! fanbase includes a wide range of political beliefs.
- Hardcore skins – A United States-based version of skinheads, part of the hardcore punk music scene associated with bands such as Iron Cross, Agnostic Front, Cro-mags, Sheer Terror, Warzone and Murphy’s Law. Hardcore skins tend to dress a little bit more casual, often donning Adidas samba’s instead of boots. Somewhat baggier jeans and non traditional “Windbreaker” type jackets and hooded sweatshirts are also commonplace. Certain aspects of the traditional skinhead style, like Muttonchops, Ben Shermans, Scally Caps and of course, cropped hair are still present however, to identify with the subculture.
- Gay Skinhead – A gay person who identifies with the skinhead subculture. Gay skinheads can also fit into other style or political categories.
- Fetish Skinheads – Gays who are into sadomasochistic sex that find the skinhead look a turn on.
- Anti-racist (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice, or SHARPs): Aggressively opposed to neo-Nazism and racism, although not always political in terms of other issues. The label SHARP is sometimes used to describe all anti-racist skinheads, even if they aren’t members of a SHARP organization.
- Apolitical, Centrist or Anti-political skinheads, or skinheads who keep their political views out of the skinhead subculture. They often have a sense of working class pride, but not so much in a political sense. Most traditional skinheads, or “trojans” fit this category.
- Left-wing skinheads are anti-racist and anti-fascist, taking a militant pro-working class stance. The most well-known organization in this category is Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH).
- Right-wing: Conservative and patriotic, but not necessarily extreme or fascist. This type of skinhead seems to be common in the United States.
- White Power or Nazi skinhead: Racist, extremely nationalist and highly political. Despite the common moniker, many Nazi skinheads have no connection to the original skinhead culture in terms of style or interests. SHARPs and traditional skinheads often refer to them as boneheadsor hammerskins (which is a specific organization as well as a general term). Racist skinheads are found largely in prisons, as part of a gang.