The Original Trendsetters: The Teddy Boys

In ART & FASHION, Commentary, HOME by Charlotte Dawnay

Coco Chanel once said that everyday is a fashion show. This is certainly true in the life of a student, whose campus acts as a sort of runway. Libraries are particularly notorious hotspots for finding interesting new looks. While you’re young, you have the luxury of a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to fashion. You can get a bit experimental with the clothes you wear, safe in the knowledge that everyone else is doing the same.

Pictures2Whatever the case may be, when you go wandering the streets of any city you’re bound to see a student making some sort of statement with their look. In fact, many of us fail to realise that only a few decades ago, this wouldn’t have been the case. There was a time when “teenage” was an unheard-of phenomena, a time before Doc Marten declarations when clothes were just clothes. That was the beginning and end of it. We’d have simply been less wrinkled versions of our parents, scampering around with high spirits and looser morals yet in the same dowdy get-ups.

This all changed however with the birth of the Teddy Boys – the first ever youth subculture to grace our streets. We are all forever indebted to these slick, pinstriped pioneers without even realising it. For that reason alone it is worth taking a moment raise our metaphorical hats to their undeniably sharp, ground-breaking street style. It began in post-war Britain when the end of conscription stripped a large group of boys on the brink of manhood of their uniforms, giving them the opportunity to invent their own.

Beginning to appear in poorer areas severely struck by the Blitz, the Teds stomped onto the scene in thick-soled shoes (before later claiming the brothel creeper as their own), their hair was slick and their suits as worthy as a Saville Row tailor’s. Little did these boys know that in their effort at class rebellion, they were about to make British style history. Taking inspiration from the Edwardian elite with a parody, the Teds hijacked the rich boy image modelled by Oxford graduates and the like. They chose the long, high collared jackets and tight trousers but added distinct twists like bright linings and contrasting socks. The parade of lairy Edwardians on the streets in their loud and well-rehearsed ensembles made it “okay” for men to start taking real pride in their appearances.

‘Our dress is our answer to a dull world’ – anonymous Teddy boy at Tottenham’s Mecca Dance Hall, 1954.

Although the Teddy boy style pre-dates the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, the arrival of both music and film from America gave the Teds additional material to work with. Yet they remained careful to keep the look tarred with a quintessentially British brush. Nonetheless the likes of Buddy Holly and Bill Haley were having an impact on the youth group beyond measure. ‘Rocking Around the Clock’ was hailed by many as one of the key triggers of rock ‘n’ roll delinquency after the song made its debut at the end of the film Blackboard Jungle. The hit was went down an absolute treat with the Teds who proceeded to show their appreciation by grooving about the cinema, dancing on and tearing up the seats with their staple accessory flick knives.

The new sounds of skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll gave the look a soundtrack, marrying together music and fashion in a way never seen before, enabling the Teds to introduce sex into clothes for the first time. Dancehalls swarmed with flamboyant, spruced up street urchins hoping to attract a partner. If their quiff was high enough and their pelvic movement up to speed, they were usually in with a good chance. The Teddy boy’s had a glorious reign, however as with all trends and subcultures, it was “elitist” by nature therefore it had to be extinguished when it got too popular to make place for the next one. Nonetheless, if it hadn’t been for these boys – the university catwalk might not be quite as vibrant as it is today. Teddy Boys – we salute you.

Jess Bolton

Jess Bolton is a philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh. She likes drinking ale and chatting shit (that’s a surprise from a Philosophy student – isn’t it?) in cosy pub corners. She enjoys listening to sweet reggae whenever she can and would probably consider herself happiest when in the mountains. 

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