One of the most interesting things about British fashion and cultural history is its sub-cultures. Punks, Skinheads, New Romantics, Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, and their respective revivals, the list is endless. Britain has had a number of sub-cultures disrupting the norm for decades, but where did it all start?
The youth subculture is thought to have started with the Teddy Boys. Dating back to the late 1940s and early 1950s when young people adopted an Edwardian style of dress that was currently in fashion on Savile Row. Drapes with collars, cuff and pocket trimmings, narrow trousers and crepe soled shoes and hairstyles greased into a quiff, the Teddy Boys are acknowledged to be the first group in Britain whose style was self-created. They were also the first real high profile rebel teenagers. Though Teddy Boys are often associated with rock ‘n’ roll, prior to that they listened to jazz and skiffle music. From 1955, the Teddy Boys adopted rock ‘n’ roll and started listening to acts such as Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran. After teenager John Beckley was murdered by Teddy Boys, tabloid tales of teenage violence followed the sub-culture until its demise. It is said that the Teddy Boys were the ancestors of the infamous Mods and Rockers. In the 1970s the Teddy Boy saw a revival due to the resurgence of rock ‘n’ roll and the resurgence of interest in the Teddy Boy style. Promoted by Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren via their shop, Let it Rock, the new generation adopted some of the aspects of the original Teddy Boy look but with a heavier influence from glam rock, such as louder colours, satin shirts and the use of hairspray.
Teddy Girls were the first British female youth sub-culture. However, Teddy Girls remain historically invisible and are often forgotten about when discussing the Teddy Boy sub-culture. Only one article was published in the 1950s about Teddy Girls and very few photos were taken. Teddy Girls were primarily working class young women who had dropped out of school at fourteen or fifteen to work as shop assistants or secretaries. Rejecting post-war austerity, Teddy Girls wore drape jackets, pencil skirts, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, tailored jackets with velvet collars and straw boater hats. It is also reported that Teddy Girls were rarely seen without an umbrella, but they never opened them even in the pouring rain. Teddy Girls were less likely to hang around on the street like their male counterparts, as although there was more attention to youth culture, young women would still have a life firmly structured around being in the home. Teddy Girls also were more likely to become fans and record collectors, rather than actual performers like the Teddy Boys.
The Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls paved way for the numerous youth sub-cultures in the following decades, creating a youth market that the country had never seen before. However, with great power comes great responsibility and the newly founded youth culture became associated with violence, something that never really went away.
feature image: Ken Russell