The arrival of skinheads in the US in the early 80s and elsewhere... was alarming - as the politics in Britain had gone hard fascist and the mind share in popular media had decided that the shaven headed youths in flight jackets and steel toed work boots were nothing more than neo-Nazis - as early as the late 70s.
Geraldo in 1988 had some young men with an axe to grind in his studio, and goaded the assembly into a fight, and when a black guest finally got up and menaced one of the white power guests, also started strangling another when all hell broke loose. The guards seized the skinheads but not fast enough and Geraldo's nose got broken when the wild melee caught him in the face. They were guilty of a lot of awful things, but their most famous moment was actually an incident they didn't instigate. But the working class are used to being misrepresented and scapegoated, sensationalized in the media and co-opted by other interests: it's why a common skinhead tattoo is a working class man in boots nailed to a cross.
However, if you'd taken a time machine to the summer of 1969, when the Skinhead movement first started - many modern observers would be startled to see that these close-cropped youths with the scary 10 lace Dr Martens boots and mohair suits were actually dancing to the sounds of Desmond Dekker, a black artist. The early skinheads were influenced by a number of things, and West Indian ska and reggae were a huge part of it. Desecended from the so called hard mods - youths who didn't have the middle class money to have nice scooters and dress like fashionable The Who, the skinheads were still obsessed with looking "smart" - taking the only half decent footwear they owned (their work boots) and pairing them with whatever nice clothing they could otherwise accessorize with. Mohair suits, Sta-Prest pants, Fred Perry polo shirts and tartan-lined Harrington jackets.
The boots were 8-hole or 10-hole, as opposed to later "bald punks" and "boneheads" who would favor 14 or 16 lace boots going up to the knee. There's nothing particularly special about Dr Martens except that they were the equivalent of an American work boot like Red Wing or Kodiak up in northern climes - sensible, heavy footwear you'd be banned from a job site for not wearing. The hair was cropped short to avoid being pulled or caught, and also because it meant it required no styling and could be common to every hair type, a consideration when your members are both black and white.
Which isn't to say that these "yoofs" weren't violent. Soccer was common in the lower classes, and several teams had "firms" or what amounted to gangs that followed the teams. While the teams on the field tried to win the game, supporters on both sides conspired to enjoy giving each other a good kicking, whether in the venue or enroute to or leaving said venue. And violence is no stranger to any working class in any country. You work hard, live hard, accept no insult and swing fists.
The first wave, like the "droogs" in Clockwork Orange, grew up, and had kids. Getting into fights and minor skirmishes with the law ceases to be fun when you have kids to look after, and a home to lose because you can't get a job because of your lengthy relationship with the police. But just as how Americans didn't stop wearing jeans and white T-shirts when the greaser thing in the 1950s petered out, the UK wasn't going to get rid of the cropped hair and boots. It was just what people did.
They deviated from the West Indian music as well. Desmond Dekker went towards themes, as did reggae, of the Black Israelites, Liberation, etc. and the white side of the crowd couldn't quite come along for the ride.
In the late 1970s the economy in England went halfway to shit, and the working class youths started blaming the huge influxes of Asian immigrants. Paki-bashing became a thing, and disturbing violence raged back and forth, including a disastrous concert by the 4 Skins which was firebombed by people of Indian origin who had been harassing concertgoers with violence. For once the skinheads picked up riot shields and joined in WITH the police against the hail of bricks and molotovs but the pub in which the concert was being held burned down. The news of course seized on this by taking now-infamous pictures, clearly staged, of a National Front leaflet lying in the ashes, strangely untouched by the flames that had ruined EVERYTHING ELSE in the scene. (Who knew that idiots like the National Front had invented fireproof paper?
Life was hard for second wave skinhead bands, whose sound had moved from rocksteady and reggae to Slade-like heavy metal and Cock Sparrer's chirpy poppish-punk. The Business and the 4 Skins lost record contracts and were pilloried in the news as the vanguards of Those Scary Evil Children Who Are All Nazis, even though both bands were heavily involved in anti-racist rallies and there was even a COMMUNIST skinhead band known as the Redskins. The music of choice became Oi! (which is Cockney for "hey!"), a sort of chanty, loosely sung and slightly more musical punk rock that had a penchant for storytelling. White power music of course was as bad as it's always been and evermore shall be- produced solely for its content as opposed to the talent that produced it. It sucks for the same reason Christian rock does.
The National Front were overjoyed that at least there was some group listening to them, and started recruiting the young. Just as how American bikers adopted the SS logo and the Iron Cross as a way to truly piss off the "squares", what better way to antagonize society and prove what a hard man you were, as to idolize and evoke the same folks who levelled London some thirty years ago. But let's face it, with jobs scarce and a convenient scapegoat to blame in the immigrant population - you couldn't well argue against your son wishing for an all-white homeland when you yourself were talking like Alf Garnett over your morning corn flakes.
And when the skinhead cult went worldwide, the old guard who were retiring - whose reggae and rocksteady had morphed into the 1980s suedehead two-tone ska movement had ceded much of the mindshare and the publicity to the Combat 18 types seig-heiling their way up and down the continent. The violence on this side of the pond scared those in the UK. Sure you had people who got a glassing or a kicking in the East End, but in the US one member was NAILED TO A BOARD when he tried to leave a Nazi Skin cell, and there were some that went straight out to premeditated murder.
The skins tended to be organized. Almost paramilitarily so. Catching one alone was tricky - they moved, and they hunted in packs. Working class and macho was the pool they fished from, guys who really liked to use their fists, and tended to have had enough experience with them to win more often than not. Pair that with a set of terrifyingly heavy steel-toed workboots and a police force not savvy enough to confiscate boot laces from passing skins, and you had a serious scourge threatening 80s punkers. They got jail time, they got put away a long time - but they also headlines, with headlines they got notoriety, with notoriety they got converts. But all things must pass, and the youths of the early 80s who'd inherited an economy even worse than the Sex Pistiols' "No Future" generation eventually did find work. And the folks goading them on to further violence were muzzled: Ernst Zundel in Canada had tremendous legal problems concerning his Holocaust denial, the country turned its back on the Klan and others in America who organized race rock. The biggest voice in UK Nazi skinheadism, the constant front man of Skrewdriver lost his life in a car crash in 1993. Likewise, Nordic Thunder was silenced by a gangbanger's gunshot when one of its band members started something the other man was more prepared to finish. Many of them simply grew up. One of the biggest lights of the Canadian scene recanted his former beliefs and is married to a woman from India.
Dr Martens boots are now made overseas, by Asians, and the quality has gone down tremendously. They are no longer an item kids get held up for - now that honor is being occupied by various kinds of Nike and Adidas sneakers. The boot of choice is now England made "Solovaires".
Skinhead iconography still remains - there were a whole host of Nazi skins who showed up to the South Carolina Confederate flag rally - all imported from places like North Carolina, and looked as quaintly an anachronistic as their beliefs. American History X had a scarily-jacked up everyman Ed Norton as the leader of a ragtag bunch of Nazi skinheads, and Russell Crowe stomped folks with a shaven head in Romper Stomper.
But honestly, the Fred Perry, braces, Harrington jacket and boots look looks fantastic, and nothing beats shorn hair with heavy sideburns for an ensemble that is working class but well put together, stylish without being fashionable, elegant without being pretentious. I'll wait til the last of the Nazi types die off, and quietly set my razor to having a #3 guard.