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Youth Culture - Teddy Boys 1950s | by brizzle born and bred
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Youth Culture - Teddy Boys 1950s

The Teddy Boys grew out of the 1950's when anything and everything had to do with America.


America was viewed as the nation to be. The cars were big and opulent and the austerity by which the English had previously led their lives was something the teenagers of the time were rebelling against.


Rising prosperity meant teenagers in work had more money to spend. The 50s saw the first youth cult, the Teddy Boys. Their outlandish style of dress combined with acts of violence shocked British society. The 50s was also the decade of American Rock’n'Roll. Young people in the latest fashions danced to music despised by their parents.


American influence on European teenagers was huge. Rock and Roll idols including Elvis Presley, Bill Hayley, Jerry Lee Lewis and film stars James Dean and Marlon Brando set fashions almost unwittingly. The main looks for teenagers were greasers and preppies.


Teddy Boys, quiffs, Brylcreem, poodle skirts and blue suede shoes.


Greasers followed the standard black leather and denim jeans look set by Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" (1953) and later emulated in the 1978 film called "Grease". They raced about town on motorbikes and were consider outrageous.


Preppie qualities were neatness, tidiness and grooming. Teen girls wore full dirndl or circular skirts with large appliqués on their clothing. Neat pleated skirts were also popular. The pleated skirts were made from a then new fabric called TERYLENE (polyester) which helped maintain razor sharp sunray pleating.


The skirts were supported by bouffant paper nylon or net petticoats. On top, teens wore scoop neck blouses, back to front cardigans, tight polo necks or three quarter sleeve white fitting shirts often with a scarf knotted cowboy fashion at the side neck. These teen clothing fashions that originated in America, filtered to Britain in watered down fashion.


The Teddyboy emerged in the 1950s as Britain was coming to the end of post-war austerity and represented the first face of British youth culture.


The consumer boom of the 1950s America did not reach Britain until the 1960s but nevertheless working class teenagers could for the first time afford good clothes, a bicycle or motorcycle and entertainment.


The clothing that the Teddyboys wore was designed to shock their parents' generation. It consisted of an Edwardian style drape jacket, much too 'camp' for a working class man, suede Gibson shoes with thick crepe soles, narrow 'drainpipe' trousers, a smart shirt and a loud tie - usually of the 'Slim Jim' or bootlace type.


The trademark drape jacket was not as impractical as it seems. Not only did it act as a badge of recognition but, as it was made of woollen cloth with lots of pockets, its kept it's owner warm as he hung around in the street and was also good at concealing weapons and alcohol.


Some carrying coshes, bicycle chains, razors and flick-knives beneath their fine Edwardian style clothes.


The Teddygirls adopted American fashions such as toreador pants and circle skirts, although they tended to wear low cut tops to make themselves look less prissy. Girls wore ponytails and the boys tried a number of experimental hairstyles, the most favourite being the overblown quiff with a DA (ducks arse) at the back.


The British Teddy Boy subculture is typified by young men wearing clothes that were partly inspired by the styles worn by dandies in the Edwardian period, styles which Savile Row tailors had attempted to re-introduce in Britain after World War II.


The subculture got its name from a 1953 newspaper headline which shortened Edward to Teddy and coined the term Teddy Boy (also known as Ted).


The subculture started in London in the 1950s, and rapidly spread across the UK, soon becoming strongly associated with American rock and roll music of the period.


Although there had been youth groups with their own dress codes called "Scuttlers" in 19th century Manchester and Liverpool, Teddy Boys were the first youth group in England to differentiate themselves as teenagers, helping create a youth market.


The US film Blackboard Jungle marked a watershed in the United Kingdom. When shown in Elephant and Castle, south London, in 1956 the teenage Teddy boy audience began to riot, tearing up seats and dancing in the cinema's aisles.


After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown.


Some Teds formed gangs and gained notoriety following violent clashes with rival gangs which were often exaggerated by the popular press.


The most notable was the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, in which Teddy Boys were present in large numbers and were implicated in attacks on the West Indian community.


The violent lifestyle was also sensationalised in the pulp novel Teddy Boy by Ernest Ryman. The bound edition was first published in England in 1958, by Michael Joseph Limited, London, WC1 © 1958 by Ernest Ryman. The first Ace Books edition (H399) was printed 1960.


During the 1970s, rockabilly music enjoyed a renewed period of popularity and saw a resurgence of interest in Teddy Boy fashions; the look was taken up by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren through their shop Let it Rock on London's King's Road.


This new generation of Teds adopted some aspects of the 1950s but with a large glam rock influence, including louder colours for drape jackets, brothel creepers and socks.


Additionally, rather than grease to style their hair, they were more likely to use hairspray. In the later 1970s, the new generation became the enemies of the Westwood and Sex Pistol-inspired punk rockers.


The early 1990s saw a revival of original Teddy Boy style by a group known as The Edwardian Drape Society (T.E.D.S). Based in the Tottenham area of north London, they were concerned with reclaiming the style they felt had become bastardised by pop/glam bands such as Showaddywaddy and Mud in the 1970s.


They were the subject of a short film, The Teddy Boys, by Bruce Weber, at the Cambridge Film Festival in July 2006.


Were you a Teddy Boy? Do you have any stories from that era?


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Taken on March 30, 2009