"Our dress is our answer to a dull world."
In 1953, a hot new fashion trend took over Britain's teen boys. An adaptation of Edwardian romanticism from which the name “Teddy” is derived, they donned tailored velvet blazers and button-down shirts coupled with drainpipe jeans or trousers, skinny ties, and chunky leather shoes. They topped it off with outrageous coiffures (or quiffs) and these working-class teens set the stage for all young tribes to follow. They were the first group to create a truly specialized youth market.
By 1954, the tabloid Daily Express was describing these insubordinate teenagers as “Teddy Boys,” although their preferred term was “Teds.” Their shocking look, as well as their rebellious behavior, panicked the staid and proper Brits, with the media and the middle-aged expressing their worries about “feral youth” and “the teen menace.”
These “menacing” teens were working-class kids, tired of post-war austerity. In an interesting twist, rationing had continued to affect the fashion industry, and London tailors had devised a style based on Edwardian clothing that they hoped to sell to the abundant young officers (i.e. upper class) entering the civilian workforce. In a classic market bomb, the style was not popular with its target market, and as a result, the tailors were left with loads of clothes....so, yep—they sold 'em way cheap, to menswear shops for working-class blokes.
The now-affordable tapered trousers and long jackets were similar to post-war American zoot suits and were quickly adopted by the suburban working-class youth. Trousers were high waisted and exposed socks and chunky suede shoes. Hairstyles were highly dependent upon Brylcreem, a men's hairstyling product, and included the “Boston”—greased straight back and cut straight across the nape of the neck, and the “DA” (which stands for duck's arse)—a style featuring a quiff at the front and sides and molded in the back to look like a duck's butt.
Yes, the girls got in on the action, too. Teddy Girls were also called Judies. Collectively rejecting post-war austerity, Judies often left school by the time they were 15 to work in factories or offices in London. They spent much of their free time buying or making their clothes. They wore tailored jackets, coupling them with pencil skirts, poodle skirts, voluminous circle skirts, rolled-up jeans, and flat shoes. Although they embraced many American styles, tops were often low-cut, a comment on American prudishness. They looked for accessories like straw boater hats and elegant clutch handbags. They often wore their hair pulled into a ponytail.
The Teds were closely identified with music and dancing. And when American rock-and-roll exploded on the scene, the Teds embraced it with passion. Their passion often lead to violence, and in 1956 when the US film Blackboard Jungle, featuring rebellious youth and a rock-and-roll soundtrack, was shown in a London cinema, the Teds really cut loose, tearing up the place and causing a media sensation. This resulted in rioting wherever the film was shown that year, throughout the UK.
Lest we glamourize them too much, we must remember that many Teds formed gangs resulting in the inevitable violent clashes with rivals. They often held racist views and in 1958—in the notable Notting Hill riots—they led unprovoked attacks on immigrants in London. Inflamed by far-right groups such as the White Defense League, they were also hostile toward blacks. That year the violence was finally eclipsed by harsh sentences for the riotous Teds handed down by the British judicial system.
We have seen resurgences of the style in both the 70's and 90's, with a little more glam rock and hopefully a lot less violence.
Written by T. K. for GGR Blog.