In the late 1950s, Great Britain's entrenched class system limited most working class people's educational, housing, and economic opportunities. However, Britain's post-war economic boom led to an increase in disposable income among many young people. Some of those youths invested in new fashions popularized by American soul groups, British R&B bands, certain movie actors, and Carnaby Street clothing merchants.
These youths became known as the mods, a youth subculture noted for its consumerism — and devotion to fashion, music and scooters. Mods of lesser means made do with practical styles that suited their lifestyle and employment circumstances: steel-toe boots, straight-leg jeans or Sta-Prest trousers, button-up shirts, and braces (called suspenders in the USA). When possible, these working-class mods spent their money on suits and other sharp outfits to wear at dancehalls, where they enjoyed soul, ska, bluebeat and rocksteady music.
 Split with the mods
Around 1965, a schism developed between the peacock mods, who were less violent and always wore the latest expensive clothes, and the hard mods (also known as gang mods), who were identified by their shorter hair and more working-class image. Also known as lemonheads and peanuts, these hard mods became commonly known as skinheads by about 1968.
Their shorter hair may have come about for practical reasons, since long hair can be a liability in industrial jobs and a disadvantage in streetfights. Skinheads may also have cut their hair short in defiance of the more bourgeois hippie culture popular at the time. In addition to retaining many mod influences, early skinheads were very interested in Jamaican rude boy styles and culture, especially the music: ska, rocksteady, and early reggae (before the tempo slowed down and lyrics became focused on topics like black nationalism and Rastafarianism).
Skinhead culture became so popular by 1969 that even the rock band Slade temporarily adopted the look, as a marketing strategy. The subculture gained wider notice because of a series of violent and sexually explicit novels by Richard Allen, notably Skinhead and Skinhead Escapes.
 Offshoots and revivals
By the 1970s, the skinhead subculture started to fade from popular culture, and some of the original skins dropped into new categories, such as the suedeheads (defined by the ability to manipulate one's hair with a comb), smoothies (often with shoulder-length hairstyles), and bootboys (with mod-length hair; associated with gangs and hooliganism).  Some fashion trends returned to mod roots, reintroducing brogues, loafers, suits, and the slacks-and-sweater look.
In the mid-1970s, the skinhead subculture was revived to a notable extent after the introduction of punk rock. Skinheads with even shorter hair and less emphasis on traditional styles grew in numbers and grabbed media attention, mostly as a result of their involvement with football hooliganism. These skinheads wore punk-influenced styles like higher boots than before (14-20 eyelets) and tighter jeans (sometimes splattered with bleach). However, there were still several skinheads who preferred the original mod-inspired styles. Eventually different interpretations of the skinhead subculture expanded beyond The UK and Europe. One major example is that in the United States, certain segments of the hardcore punk scene embraced skinhead style and developed its own version of the subculture.
 Racism and anti-racism
In the late 1960s, some skinheads (including black skinheads) had engaged in Paki bashing (random violence against Pakistanis and other South Asian immigrants). However, there had also been anti-racist and leftist skinheads from the beginning, especially in areas such as Scotland and Northern England.  In the 1970s, the racist violence became more politicized, with the involvement of far right organizations like the National Front and British Movement, which included many skinheads among their ranks. Those organizations' positions against blacks and Asians appealed to many working class skinheads who blamed immigrants for economic and social problems. This led to the public's misconception that all skinheads are neo-Nazis.
In an attempt to counter this stereotype, some skinheads formed anti-racist organizations. Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) started in the USA in 1987, and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) began in 1988 as an anti-racial movement, not a political movement. SHARP spread to the UK and beyond, and other less-political skinheads also spoke out against neo-Nazis and in support of traditional skinhead culture. Two examples are the Glasgow Spy Kids in Scotland (who coined the phrase Spirit of 69), and the publishers of the Hard As Nails zine in England.