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 boy of the West Indies and the Mods of the UK.

Missing image
English Skinhead on cutdown circa 1991


There are a number of different "types" of skinhead falling into three main categories suggested by common usage:

  1. Nazi-Skinheads (Neo-Nazi Skins, sometimes called White Power) - Racist and highly political. Despite the common moniker, some racist skinheads have no connection to Nazism.
  2. SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), ARA (Anti-Racist Action) Skins, and RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads) - Aggressively anti-racist and political. Again, the moniker "SHARP skinheads" is commonly used for all anti-racist skinheads, but these organizations are independent.
  3. Traditional (Trad), Trojan (after the Trojan Records label) or Original Skins - Unlike the other categories, traditional skinheads do not regard attitudes toward racism or politics as essential to the subculture. Instead, they identify with the original skinhead movement ("The Spirit of 69") in music, style, and/or working class pride.

These categories are descriptive, not definitive. A particular skinhead may fit into multiple categories, or none at all. The usefulness of these categories is to explain the dominant forces of skinhead social structure.

There are a number of subcategories within these which are worth mentioning, including Hammerskins (Militant, organized racists), Reds or Redskins (communists), Anarchists, and white pride/racialists. There are also gay skinheads, who some argue constitute a distinct category.

In-fighting and hostilities

It should be noted that degrees of hostility vary regionally and locally. In many places, for example, trad skins, punks and SHARPs mix freely and without conflict.

Each category of skinhead may be considered to be hostile to a number of other groups, though violence is the exception to a rule of name-calling, harassment and defamation behind closed doors. Some traditional enmities include:

  • Traditionalists - Punk-Skins (sometimes including both SHARPs and racist/racialist groups), Punks, Bikers, Greasers, Red Skins, Metalheads, Hippies
  • Punk-Skins (old school) - Mods, Trads, Bikers, Greasers, Teddy Boys, Red Skins, Hippies
  • SHARPs - Red Skins, Hippies, Fence-Walkers (non-racist skins who will associate with racist skinheads).
  • Racist/Racialist/White Pride/White Power/Neo-Nazi - Minorities, Anti-war protestors, SHARP / ARA skins, gay skinheads, and especially Jews and non-white immigrants


London in the early 1960s was experiencing a growing class separation between the working class - struggling, relegated to substandard housing, and increasingly neglected by their political representatives - and the middle class. Those youths who could afford it invested in new fashions popularized by The Beatles (haircuts) and Carnaby Street merchants (clothing). These were the Mods, a youth subculture noted for its consumerism and affection for style, music and scooters. Those of lesser means, such as the dock workers, made do with the practical styles that suited their employment - steel-toed boots, straight-legged denim jeans, and shirts and braces (suspenders in the US) often handed down by their fathers. When possible, their limited funds were spent on smart outfits worn in the evenings to the dancehalls, where they danced to ska, reggae, and rocksteady beats alongside their Jamaican coworkers.

Around 1965 a group of "hard" or "gang" mods, who could be identified by their shorter hair and working-class image, emerged from the larger mod scene. This resulted in a schism that produced "peacock mods" (The Who, The Kinks) and skinheads, commonly known by that name by around 1968. (Other early nicknames included "lemons", "peanuts" and "suits.") Early followers were mainly interested in and influenced by Jamaican Reggae and Ska music (aka, The Spirit of 69), Jamaican Rude Boy culture and a dislike of those perceived as the 'ruling class'. They had an extreme dislike for the government and many large businesses as both appeared to lack sympathy for the increasingly desperate straits of the working class.

Skinhead culture exploded in the year 1969, to the extent that even the rock band Slade adopted the look, after which the original skinheads slowly dropped into new categories, including the "Suede-head" (defined by the ability to manipulate one's hair with a comb) and the next-stage "Smoothies" (often with hairstyles down to shoulder length). Fashions within both groups regressed to their mod roots, reintroducing the common wearing of brogues (originally an identifier once boots became too conspicuous) as well as the slacks-and-sweater look. Here was a far cry from the singularly blue-jeaned and typically steel-toe booted skins of the past.

During the mid-1970s in the UK, the skinhead movement was reborn in an unexpected way. With the introduction of Punk Rock to the public, kids were looking for the next great shock-rockers. Skinheads with shorter hair, less emphasis on style, and a new sound grew in numbers and grabbed the attention of the media as a result of repeated incidents of hooliganism during football matches, often to the point of rioting between rival groups of supporters. Whether these riots were, in fact, initiated by skinheads or by overzealous fans in general is the subject of some controversy, but it is clear that skinheads were eager participants.

So-called "Punk skins" also gained a great deal of media attention after they were recruited by the racist political group, the National Front, which used the skinheads' reputation for violence to intimidate its opposition. Most skinheads deny that their group was recruited to engage in racist and criminal activity by this organization, claiming that the National Front recruited street youth, shaved their heads to give them the appearance of skinheads, and paid them to bully, threaten and even commit violence upon immigrant workers. The negative press generated concerning skinheads caused a decrease in their numbers.

American skinheads were also being recruited (or created) for similar purposes by racist groups around this time. After a number of brutal attacks were reported in the media, they received the same spin as their British counterparts. Fueled by sensationalist television, all skinheads were stereotyped as mindless, violent, and racist, with little attempt made to discriminate one subgroup from another. In an attempt to counter this negative stereotype, several anti-racist skinhead organizations were formed: SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) in 1987, Anti-Racist Action (ARA) in 1988, and Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH) in 1993.

The Neo-Nazi skinhead movement began to grow in numbers in Russia after the beginning of second Chechen war. In recent years Neo-Nazi skinheads have been involved in numerous violent murders and pogroms against migrants in Russia. It is believed by some analysts, particularly among Russian opposition, that president Putin's government and secret police are using violent right wing skinheads as an unofficial paramilitary force. See also Caucasophobia.

The Third wave of ska brought a resurgence in skinhead subculture in the early 1990s, and the popularity of the group continues to grow. Today, skinheads can be found in all of North America and Europe, as well as in scattered places worldwide such as Japan, Brazil, and Israel.


Skinheads who adopt traditional styles are highly visible in public to both allies and enemies. In terms of clothing:




  • Men: Blue Levis 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 (an oft-heard skinhead cry: "Get some jeans that fit, wanker!"); bleachers (jeans splattered with household bleach to resemble camouflage trousers); combat trousers; Sta-Prest flat-fronted slacks
  • Women: Same jeans as men, but also mini-skirts and fishnet stockings


  • Men: Boots, originally Dr Martens (Docs) sometimes "steelies" (steel-toed) with 3 to 14 holes; later, brogues and loafers and recently, Grinders and other brand boots; black Rigger boots are also popular, although UK Skinheads tend to stick with 'original' styles. During the '60s, steel-toecapped boots were often referred to as "bovver boots" - thought to derive from the Cockney pronunciation of "bother".
  • Women: Docs, Monkey boots or black penny loafers

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

Braces: No more than inch in width (In some areas, wider braces are considered to identify one as either white power or a poser)


  • Men: Originally, between a "2" and "4" grade clipguard (short, but not bald!); beginning in the '70s, typically shaved close with no greater than a number "2" guard. With the recent acceptance of shorter hair and shaved heads among the general public, any length down to and including shaved is now common.
  • Women: Although hair can be worn in the same fashion as men, skinhead girls commonly wear a "Chelsea" shaved on top with fringes grown out in the back and front.

Modern day adult skinheads more often adopt only one or two traditional elements of clothing, such as jeans with rolled cuffs and a button-up or polo shirt, for daily wear. Complete outfits are more likely to be worn on special occasions, such as when going to an event where other skins are expected to be present.

Laces and braces

Some skinheads, particularly highly political ones, attach significance to lace, brace, and (less commonly) flight jacket colors, using them to advertise their beliefs and affiliations. The following color code lists the meanings which are widely, though not universally, recognized for this purpose:

  • White - White power, white pride, traditional
  • Red - Red Skinheads, comunnist.
  • Yellow/black/blue - SHARP; sometimes a badge for completed violence against a racist. Yellow sometimes signifies anti-Asian sentiment
  • Black - Traditional, or simply wearing what came with the boots
  • Black and White - Racial unity, ska fan or "Two Tone."

Other colors have had meanings within specific groups, locations, and time periods, but never achieved as general recognition; they are not listed because doing so would be more confusing than enlightening.

The "braces and laces game" has fallen largely into disuse, particularly among Traditionalist skinheads, who are more likely to choose their colors for fashion purposes. A common saying among these is "Laces and braces don't make you a racist."


Music plays an important role in any youth subculture and skinheads are no exception. Originally, the group was closely associated with the ska and reggae music of Desmond Dekker and Laurel Aitken before forming their own flavors of the style with bands like Symarip, Joe the Boss, and Judge Dread.

In the '70s and early '80s, a variant on streetpunk, Oi!, became accepted enthusiastically by skinheads and punks, and Oi! continues to be one of the most popular genres among skinheads. American skinheads have also accepted hardcore punk, born out of the New York City metropolitian area.

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 Selecter. Two-Tone was the musical integration of Ska, Rocksteady and the spirit of Punk music. The label was initially very successful scoring many Top Twenty hits and eventually a number one. During this time (1979 - 1981) Skinheads were a common sight on the UK highstreets.

Other types of music are also popular among skinheads: Northern Soul, Rocksteady, streetpunk, mod rock and, in America especially, Hardcore. Neo-Nazi and some Traditional skinheads also listen to Rock Against Communism (RAC).

Glossary of terms

3i's or 3-eyes
Fashion shoes, preferably with steel toes, having three eyelets for laces on either side. Popular for their resemblance to the steel-toed boots worn by skinheads.
8i's (8-eyes), 9i's (9-eyes) etc.
Steel-toed boots having the given number of eyelets for laces on either side. Other common numbers are 10, 12, 14, 18, and 20.
[Chiefly UK] Aggressive behavior; fighting or threatening to fight.
[US] A skinhead brawl in which one side is literally beaten to the ground. See also: "boot party"
Blue jeans treated with household bleach to create a camouflage-like pattern. They were popular among early skinheads because military surplus combat trousers were more expensive and less available. Uniquely skinhead, they remain popular today.
A derisive term used by Traditional and anti-racist skinheads for a neo-Nazi skinhead. Also used as a non-derogatory term for scruffier skinheads in parts of the UK.
Boot party
[US] Euphemism for a skinhead-style fight (involving kicking), especially where one side outnumbers the other. See also: "beatdown"
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.
  1. Traditionally, a female skinhead. More commonly called a "skinhead girl", "skingirl" or "skinbyrd" today.
  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.
Claim skinhead
[US] To declare oneself a skinhead to the skinhead community at large. This may be done verbally or simply by adopting skinhead styles. Doing so may expose one to challenges from established skinheads.
Crew or (in the UK) Firm
A skinhead gang whose members pledge loyalty and mutual defense. Some crews also engage in organized attacks or illegal activities.
Curbstomping or curbing
Seriously injuring an opponent by stomping on his head after placing it across the edge of a curb. The injuries may be fatal.
A derisive term used by extremist skinheads for those who refuse to take sides, or who will associate with opposing groups.
Short for "flight jacket," a traditional skinhead jacket originally obtained from military surplus stores.
[US] Someone who has recently "claimed skinhead" (see above), particularly one who hasn't yet learned skinhead culture.
A football (soccer) team fan who likes to brawl with fans of opposing teams. Often associated with skinheads and vice versa, but not all hooligans are skinheads.
A dance style associated with ska music.
Suss (out)
Originally, to "check out" an unknown skinhead to determine his credibility or political leanings (and thus to identify "poseurs" and enemies). Now often used as a noun representing familiarity with skinhead attitude, customs, and style ("He's got the suss").

See also

External links

Template:Skinheadde:Skinhead fr:Skinhead id:Skinhead ja:スキンヘッド pl:Skinhead pt:Skinhead ru:Скинхед sl:obritoglavec fi:skinhead sv:Skinnskalle


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