Teddy Boy (also known as Ted) is a British subculture 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 started in London in the 1950s, and rapidly spread across the UK, soon becoming strongly associated with American rock and roll. Originally known as Cosh Boys, the name Teddy Boy was coined when a 1953 Daily Express newspaper headline shortened Edwardian to Teddy.
Wealthy young men, especially Guards officers, adopted the style of the Edwardian era. At that point in history, the Edwardian era was then just over 40 years previous, and their grandparents, if not their parents, wore the style the first time around. The original Edwardian revival was far more historically accurate in terms of replicating the original Edwardian era style than the later Teddy Boy style. It featured tapered trousers, long jackets that bear a similarity to post-war American zoot suits and fancy waist coats.
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 were 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 sensationalised in the pulp novel Teddy Boy by Ernest Ryman, first published in England in 1958.
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Teddy Boy clothing included drape jackets reminiscent of 1940s American zoot suits worn by Italian-American, Chicano and African-American communities (such as Cab Calloway or Louis Jordan), 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 "Maverick" tie, and a brocade waistcoat. The clothes were mostly tailor-made at great expense, and paid for through weekly installments.
Favoured footwear included highly polished Oxfords, chunky brogues, and crepe-soled shoes, often suede (known as brothel creepers). Preferred hairstyles included long, strongly-moulded 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 known as 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 pants, voluminous circle skirts, and hair in ponytails.
Their choice of clothes wasn’t only for aesthetic effect: these girls were collectively rejecting post-war austerity. They were young working-class women, often from Irish immigrant families who had settled in the poorer districts of London — Walthamstow, Poplar and North Kensington. 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. It was a head-turning, fastidious style from the fashion houses, which had launched haute-couture clothing lines recalling the Edwardian era.
Music and dancing
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Although Teddy Boys became associated with rock and roll music, prior to the advent of that genre, Teddy Boys mainly listened and danced to jazz and skiffle music. A well-known dance that the Teddy Boys adopted was The Creep, a slow shuffle that was so popular with Teddy Boys that it led to their other nickname, Creepers. The song "The Creep" came out in 1953, and was written and recorded for HMV by Yorkshire-born big band leader and saxophonist Ken Mackintosh. Although this was not a rock and roll record, it was widely taken on by the Teddy Boys of the time. From 1955, rock and roll was adopted by the Teddy Boys when the film, Blackboard Jungle, was first shown in cinemas in the UK, and Teddy Boys started listening to artists like Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Eddie Cochran.
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During the 1970s, rockabilly music enjoyed a renewed period of popularity and there was a resurgence of interest in Teddy Boy fashions. The look was promoted 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, and shiny satin shirts worn with bootlace ties, jeans and big-buckled belts. The 1970s Teddy Boys often sported flamboyant pompadour hairstyles in addition to long sideburns and were alleged to prefer hairspray over grease to style their hair. In the late 1970s, the new generation became the enemies of the Westwood and Sex Pistol-inspired punk rockers. In the spring of 1977, street battles between young punks and aging teds happened on the London King's Road, where the earliest new wave shops, including Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's Sex (by now not selling zoot suits and ted gear anymore), were situated.
In the late 1980s, there was a move by a number of Teddy Boys to revive the 1950s Teddy Boy style. In the early 1990s, a group of Teddy Boy revivalists in the Tottenham area of north London formed The Edwardian Drape Society (T.E.D.S). The group concentrated on reclaiming the style which they felt had become bastardised by pop/glam rock bands such as Showaddywaddy and Mud in the 1970s. T.E.D.S. was the subject of a short film, The Teddy Boys, by Bruce Weber.
The Edwardian Teddy Boy Association was formed in 2007 and has continued the work of reviving the original 1950s Teddy Boys style. In 2010, a new group of Teddy Boys surfaced in Manchester, known as The Manchester Peacock Society. The group in the main were Teddy Boys during the 1970s, and most were former members of the Salford Bop Cats. The group also have a number of original Teddy Boys in their ranks, who are in their seventies. The principal aim of the Manchester Peacocks is to promulgate the original style of the pre-1955 Teddy Boy and actively promote the ethos and style of the original and authentic British Teddy Boy movement. The group, although growing in numbers are limiting their membership to 100 members as a means of maintaining an authentic image.
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- The Guardian
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- Cambridge Evening News