Kustom Kulture began in the Southern California area in the late 40’s and early 50’s and spread rapidly. Initially it was a form of folk art, created by the people for the enjoyment of the people. In my opinion, it was a playful response from ‘Joe Public’ to a political era where times were a bit less hard, and life was starting to appear more hopeful and colourful.
The USA had just emerged from the depression. Most Americans had suffered and some had known terrible hardship. The Labour movement was strong, and workers rights and the quality of lifestyle of the average ‘Joe’ were at the forefront of the political agenda. By the mid-50’s, the time had come where life wasn’t quite as hard as it had been, and it gave rise to many new things. People had a little spare cash for once, and the time to relax and enjoy it. It was post WW2, and the baby boom children from the war years were growing, or had grown up, a strong youth culture was appearing, filling movie theatres and dance halls, it was the beginning of the rock’n’roll age. Almost every working person could afford to purchase a car, and they did. In fact, people were actively encouraged to buy cars! Cars were relatively cheap, petrol was cheap, and with working hours often cut to 40 hours a week, people had a whole weekend during which to socialise, or take their car out and visit family, sightsee, or just go for a drive! As more cars sold, more cars had to be produced, which placed more workers into more jobs, earning more money, thus the US economy prospered!
The small problem was that as cars were mass-produced, most cars looked very much alike. There were very limited factory paint colours available, and as a consequence ‘spray shops’ opened in all areas. You could take your car in, and have it sprayed a non-standard colour of your choice that nobody else had! It was easy, cheap and convenient! You could even get the guy at the spray shop to paint on some detail or a few stripes for you at the same time, to make it more ‘yours’, a more personalised and individual item.
Another consequence of vehicles being so inexpensive, was that people who could afford it purchased a new car much more frequently, often as soon as a new model appeared or they had a minor accident. Due to this, there was a constant supply of second-hand almost new cars and parts about for those people who couldn’t afford to buy the latest thing straight from the showroom floor, or for the growing number of enthusiastic amateur mechanics who wanted to personalise, repair or even to build their own vehicles.
Many people took the growing trend for customising everyday items into other areas of their lives. Clothing became painted, embroidered, and covered in slogans and badges proclaiming everything from a membership of a club or gang to a preference for coca-cola.
This was the beginning of a culture of ‘Customising’.