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Painted on the wings and panels of aircraft to identify them, the Royal Air Force roundel has been in existence since 1915. At the start of WWI anti-aircraft gunners would fire on anything they encountered, enemy or ally, which quickly meant identification was required. The roundel was designed after ground troops found it difficult to distinguish between the Union Flag/ St. George's Cross and the German Iron Cross. Since then there have been many incarnations to suit a variety of tastes but it is the modern standard, called Type D (Ratio 1:2:3), which has been adopted by mods in popular culture and most notably for fans of cycling, Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Mod derives from the term modernist, used in the 1950s to describe musicians and fans of modern jazz, as opposed to those who preferred trad, or traditional forms. Colin MacInnes 1959 novel, Absolute Beginners, is one of the first cultural documentations of this 'type', the main protagonist being a free-roaming teenager in Italian-style clothes who listens to jazz and drives a scooter. This earlier beatnik type then developed into the more common creature described as mod, which were – to generalise a term open to interpretation – working class dandies who wore the latest fashions and had a propensity for African-American-influenced music. The British R&B (rhythm & blues) sound exploded in the 1960s, no more well purveyed than by London band The Who. Their 'maximum R&B' and dress sense mirrored the tastes of their audience and shot them to fame as the embodiment of mod culture.
These sharp, iconoclastic, hyper-cool youths took direct influences from 'teds' and 'beatniks' and made it socially acceptable for men to be interested in fashion and dandyish tendencies and women to act with far more freedom (think miniskirts and short hair). These dedicated followers of fashion were avid consumers and – much like the pop art of the era – appropriated distinctive and recognisable motifs and symbols. So as well as Desert Boots and tailor made suits, things like the union flag and the Royal air force Roundel became part of the visual vocabulary.
The use of the RAF Roundel may (or may not) also hint at a sense of irony. After all, the Ministry of Defence's acronym is MoD… Indeed the interest in military artefacts extended to the use of Parkas on scooters to protect said tailored suits… And today, you can find it on other performance garments, namely the Rapha Wiggo Pro Base Layer. Sir Bradley Wiggins is, if you didn't know already, a big fan of mod culture and is known for his sharp dress sense and love of music from the Small Faces to The Verve and beyond. He certainly cuts a hip and streamlined figure when riding at full tilt out on the road.
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