During the 1950s, a distinct and trendy subculture emerged in Britain. Young men of this era embraced a revival of Edwardian fashion, a style that had faded away four decades earlier.
These individuals were famously known as “Teddy Boys.” Their distinctive appearance featured meticulously groomed hairstyles, long suit jackets, stylish waistcoats, slim neckties, and narrow trousers.
The Teddy Boy aesthetic served as a notable departure from the prevailing atmosphere of postwar austerity and frugality.
Remarkably, some working-class Teddy Boys were willing to invest more than two weeks’ worth of their wages into acquiring a meticulously tailored suit.
Notably, a portion of the Teddy Boy community became associated with gangs and garnered a reputation for hooliganism and delinquency.
An unfortunate incident in 1953, in which a 17-year-old lost his life due to a confrontation with a group of Teddy Boys, led to several clubs imposing bans on Edwardian clothing.
Despite these controversies, the captivating photographs from this era provide a glimpse into the mischievous antics of Teddy Boys as they roamed the streets and frequented dance halls in the vibrant heart of London.
In post-war Britain, rationing continued to affect the fashion industry, and men’s tailors in central London devised a style based on Edwardian clothing hoping to sell to young officers being demobilized from the services.
However, the style—featuring tapered trousers, long jackets similar to post-war American zoot suits, and fancy waistcoats—was not popular with its target market, leaving tailors with piles of unsold clothing which, to recoup losses, were sold cheaply to menswear shops elsewhere in London.
While there had been some affluent adoption—”an extravagant upper-class snub to the post-war Labour Government and its message of austerity”—it was predominantly suburban working-class youth who adopted and adapted the look (“spiv” and cosh boy associations also hastened its middle-class rejection) and, around 1952, what became the “Teddy Boy” style began to emerge, gradually spreading across Britain.
Teddy Boy clothing included drape jackets reminiscent of 1940s American zoot suits worn by members of Italian-American, Chicano and African-American communities, usually in dark shades, sometimes with a velvet trim collar and pocket flaps, and high-waist “drainpipe” trousers, often exposing the socks.
The outfit also included a high-necked loose-collared white shirt (known as a Mr. B. collar, because it was often worn by jazz musician Billy Eckstine); a narrow “Slim Jim” tie or western bolo tie, and a brocade waistcoat.
The clothes were mostly tailor-made at great expense, and paid through weekly installments.
Favored footwear included highly polished Oxfords, chunky brogues, and crepe-soled shoes, often suede (known as brothel creepers or beetle crushers).
Preferred hairstyles included long, strongly molded greased-up hair with a quiff at the front and the side combed back to form a duck’s arse at the rear.
Another style was the “Boston”, in which the hair was greased straight back and cut square across at the nape.
Teddy Girls (also called Judies) wore drape jackets, pencil skirts, hobble skirts, long plaits, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, tailored jackets with velvet collars, straw boater hats, cameo brooches, espadrilles, coolie hats, and long, elegant clutch bags.
Later, they adopted the American fashions of toreador trousers, voluminous circle skirts, and hair in ponytails.
The Teddy Girls’ choices of clothes were not intended strictly for aesthetic effect; these girls were collectively rejecting post-war austerity.
They were young working-class women from the poorer districts of London. They would typically leave school at the age of 14 or 15 and work in factories or offices. Teddy Girls spent much of their free time buying or making their trademark clothes.
Their style originated from a head-turning, fastidious style from the fashion houses, which had launched haute-couture clothing lines recalling the Edwardian era.
“It was our fashion and we made it up,” declared one “Judie”, succinctly writing the mantra of the Teddy Girl ethos.
(Photo credit: The Edwardian Teddy Boy via edwardianteddyboy.com / Pinterest / Wikimedia Commons).