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Greasers were a youth subculture that originated in the 1950s among young northeastern and southern United States street gangs. The style and subculture then became popular among other types of people, as an expression of rebellion.
In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, these youths were known as "hoods", nowadays there are greasers but often referred to as rockabilly. The name "greaser" came from their greased-back hairstyle, which involved combing back hair (greasers of other races would have different hairstyles if they had curly hair like Mexicans or blacks) using wax, gel, creams, tonics or pomade. The term "greaser" reappeared in later decades as part of a revival of 1950s popular culture. One of the first manifestations of this revival was a 1971 American 7 Up television commercial that featured a 1950s greaser saying "Hey remember me? I'm the teen demon." The music act Sha Na Na also played a major role in the revival.
Although the greaser subculture was largely a North American youth phenomenon, there were similar subcultures in the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy and Sweden. The 1950s British equivalents were the ton-up boys, who evolved into the rockers in the 1960s. Members of rival subcultures in the UK, such as skinheads, sometimes referred to greasers simply as "grease".
Unlike British rockers who were exclusively bikers, North American greasers were known more for their love of hot rod cars and ordinary or customized vans, not necessarily motorcycles, although both subcultures are known for being fans of 1950s rock'n'roll and rockabilly music.
Clothing usually worn greasers included fitted, colored T-shirts (often with the sleeves rolled up); ringer T-shirts; Italian knit shirts; Baseball shirts; bowling shirts; "Daddy-O"-style shirts; black, blue or khaki work jackets; black or brown trenchcoats; Levi denim jackets; leather jackets; black Levi's jeans (with rolled-up cuffs anywhere from one to four inches) and baggy cotton twill work trousers.
Common greaser footwear included motorcycle boots, such as harness boots or engineer boots; army boots; winklepickers; brothel creepers; cowboy boots and Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Common accessories included bandannas; stingy-brim hats; flat caps and chain wallets.
Portrayals in popular culture
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Greasers are usually portrayed as urban working class ethnics, often Italian American or Hispanic American. In fact, the terms "greaser" or "greaseball" are also ethnic slurs applied to Italian Americans or Hispanic Americans due to stereotypes of either naturally greasier hair or widespread usage of hair grease. Notable exceptions to the urban ethnic portrayal include films such as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Outsiders (1983), which portrayed a more rural, non-ethnic, southern or midwestern United States variant of the greaser subculture.
Other media featuring greasers include Crime in the Streets (1956), The Delinquents (1957), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), The Young Savages (1961), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), American Graffiti (1973), Badlands (1973), Happy Days (1974–1984), The Lords of Flatbush (1974), The California Kid (1974), Grease (1978), The Wanderers (1979), Grease 2 (1982), The Loveless (1982), The Outsiders (1983) Eddie and the Cruisers (1983), Rumble Fish (1983), Streets of Fire (1984), Tuff Turf (1985), Stand by Me (1986), La Bamba (1987), Full House (1987–1995), Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), Cry-Baby (1990), Stephen King's It (1990), This Boy's Life (1993), Roadracers (1994), Deuces Wild (2002), Secondhand Lions (2003), the children's cartoon Johnny Bravo, the video game Bully (2006), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Fallout 3 (2008), Mafia II (2010), and Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Hairspray Teen Beach Movie (2013)