My penchant for mixing masculine and feminine styling recently led me to the so-called Teddy Boys; a subculture of rebellious young Britons that emerged in London in the 1950s as a form of post-war expression. The Teddy Boys or Teds, as they are sometimes referred to, married the stylistic dandyisms of the Edwardian period with strong ties to American rock ‘n roll. The Teds became the first group of youngsters in the history of England to differentiate themselves in this way, and as the movement gained popularity, it gave way to a lifestyle characterised by rival gangsterism, sharp dressing and music culture.
The Teddy Boy getup centered around the iconic drape jacket, often bedecked with velvet collars and pocket detailing, drainpipe trousers, exposed socks and skinny ties paired with gleaming Oxfords, chunky brogues or suede brothel creepers – the exact kind beloved by fashion forward culprits like Susie Bubble today. The Ted coif – the iconic duck’s tail – was another hallmark of the era, and this symbol of rock ‘n roll attitude remains the choice of dapper modern gentlemen today.
The girls, of course, were not to be left out. Teddy Girls, or Judies, as they are also known, worked the look in drape jackets, sleek pencil skirts, cuffed jeans, cameos, espadrilles and jaunty clutches. Their style later evolved to incorporate the American influence of full circle Pink Lady-style skirts, sassy ponytails and toreador trousers. Typically of working class descent, the Teddy Girls were factory workers who spent their time making their trademark clothes and rejecting the conventions set out for them by the time.
In the 70s, and again in the 80s, rockabilly music and a resurgence of Teddy Boy styles was fueled by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, who added a little more glam rock to the look. Ted revivalists continue to pay homage to the original trappings of the 1950s style, in some cases driving 1950s cars, wearing only 1950s clothes, and stockpiling 50s-era collectibles.
I find the Teddy Girl style particularly alluring. I love the unapologetic stylisation of the look, and the confident statement that the women that wore it were making. I find myself incorporating various aspects of the Teddy Girl and later rockabilly styles into my look – a letterman jacket here, a neck tie there, and of course, my perennial devotion to rockabilly staples: red lips and cat’s eyes.
Over the past year or so the influence of the Ted movement on street style has been marked – duck tail coifs, drainpipe pants, wingtips, creepers, neck ties and dandy styling are all visibly popular, from Seattle to Seoul.
As blogger Cartoon Heart observes in her Resort 2012 round up below, the Teddy Boy style holds as much influence over the masculine as it does over the feminine. With unisex footwear and clothing on the rise, and the irreverent mixing of traditionally gender-specific clothing items, it seems the Teddy Boy androgyny was way ahead of its time.
Fascinating to novelists, musicians and filmmakers since the movement first came about in the 1950s, Teddy Girls are still inspiring styling today. I love this aptly titled editorial, Teddy Girls, which was shot by Liz Ham and styled by Jolyon Mason for Oyster Magazine in 2010.
It’s modern and old all at once.
All vintage Teddy Girl images by Ken Russell