Image courtesy of Gavin Watson
Image courtesy of Gavin Watson

Skinhead identity, from a female perspective

Over its forty-year development, Skinhead has hit the mainstream and become one of Britain’s most recognisable subcultures. Photographers and film makers such as Shane Meadows, Derek Ridges, Don Letts and Nick Knight have documented Skinhead culture in its entirety. However, the women of the Skinhead subculture have had less documentation than their male counterparts.

Often disregarded in media coverage of the subculture, Skinhead girls, often referred to as Skingirls, are regularly forgotten. “I do feel there is a definite exclusion of the female skinhead. You rarely hear about Skingirls. It feels like the media portray the subculture as a male dominated or male only subculture. In fact sometimes people actually ask me ‘what am I?’ ” Aisling Rourke admitted. “It’s simple it’s a male dominated world so subcultures follow suit.”

Administrator of ‘The Great Skinhead Reunion, Brighton’ Facebook group, Rourke spoke to us about life as a Skingirl and the annual Brighton reunion as it approaches. “In the first year there were very few. Now 6 years on there is a big influx of women who have decided to become skinheads in their 40’s. Some were skinhead girls in the youth, they left to rear families and are reliving their youth again.”

Image courtesy of Aisling Rourke

Embracing the Skinhead look is something Rourke believes to be brave. As short cuts for girls were viewed as unacceptable during the emergence of Skinhead culture in the 1960s, entering the skin culture as a women was precarious. “The hair cut was the defining feature of the skinhead so it took guts for girls to shave off or crop their hair. My parents refused to speak to me and were horrified. They saw me as some kind of a hooligan and again media portrayed us as the baddies. So, therefore, it took a lot of guts to be a skinhead girl. I have been refused jobs and entry to pubs etc in the 80’s and 90’s and people would look at you with disgust too.”

With recognisable feather cuts and feminine styles, the look of female skins differed from the men’s. “I think as a Skingirl we can be very individual. We have more choice of clothes. Dresses, pinafores, skirts and shirts. I do love my bleached skirts.” explains long-time Skingirl, Rose Cook.

Although, adopting the same American Ivy League look as their male equivalents, Skingirls stayed true to the recognisable Skin uniform, as Rourke explains; “There are myriad ways to dress. From Fred Perry dresses and loafers to tonic skirts and shirts, varying from either vintage Jon Wood, Permanent Press, In House or the more modern Brutus, Fred Perry and Mikel Rude shirts. Jackets are monkey jackets, sheepskin, Crombie or Levi denim jackets.”

Skinhead culture has entered the mainstream and become a way of life for many since its emergence in the late 1960s.
This year, Shane Meadows’ BAFTA Award winning film, This Is England turns 10 years old.  Mirroring Meadows’ own life, This is England depicts the life of a young Skins in 1980s Britain. As leading characters alongside Skinhead boys, Meadows featured Skingirls, revealing the feminine side of Britain’s predominantly male subculture.

Although sometimes disregarded, women have also adopted the culture in their own way. A subculture built on the basis of community and acceptance, Skingirls have also had an impact on the iconic British movement. As Brighton’s Skinhead Reunion approaches, Aisling Rourke reminds us, “A skinhead is a skinhead, whether male or female.”

Words by Emily Gallagher


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