Teddy Boy

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This article is about the subculture. For other uses, see Teddy Boy (disambiguation).

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.[1] The subculture started in London in the 1950s, and rapidly spread across the UK, soon becoming strongly associated with 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.[citation needed] 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,[2] 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.[3] After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown.[4]

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.[5] The violent lifestyle was sensationalised in the pulp novel Teddy Boy by Ernest Ryman, first published in England in 1958.


Single button sportcoat with shawl collar, of the type commonly worn by Ted revivalists during the 1980s
Brothel creepers

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.[6] The clothes were mostly tailor-made at great expense, and paid for through weekly installments.[7]

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[edit]

Teddy Girls[8] 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.[9]

The Teddy Girls's 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. [10] 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.[11]

Music and dancing[edit]

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.[12] 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.


Mud, a 1970s glam rock band that was influenced by the Teddy Boy subculture. (source:AVRO).[13]

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[14] 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.

Ford Zephyr, a popular vehicle for Teds.

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.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of the British Teddy Boy and Culture". The Edwardian Teddy Boy. The Edwardian Teddy Boy. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Chalmers, Sarah (17 January 2009). "The First hoodies". Daily Mail. pp. 60,61. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  3. ^ Gelder, Ken; Sarah Thornton (1997). The Subcultures Reader. Editors. Routledge. p. 401. ISBN 0-415-12727-0. 
  4. ^ Cross, Robert J. "The Teddy Boy as Scapegoat". Doshisha University Academic Depsitory. p. 22. 
  5. ^ The Guardian
  6. ^ "The Teddy Boy Movement". Black Cat Rockabilly Europe. Black Cat Rockabilly Europe. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Edwardian Teddy Boy Dress". THE GREAT BRITISH TEDDY BOY. THE GREAT BRITISH TEDDY BOY. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Teddy Girls". Subculture List. 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Forgotten 1950s Girl Gang". Messynessychic.com. February 10, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-08. These are one of just a few known collections of documented photographs of the first British female youth culture ever to exist. In 1955, Ken Russell, then a freelance photographer, was introduced to Josie Buchan, a Teddy Girl who introduced him to some of her friends. Russell photographed them and one other group in Notting Hill. After his photographs were published in a small magazine in 1955, Russell’s photographs remained unseen for over half a century. He became a successful film director in the meantime. In 2005, his archive was rediscovered, and so were the Teddy Girls. 
  10. ^ "Bombsite Boudiccas – History of the London Teddy Girls". The Edwardian Teddy Boy. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  11. ^ "Teddy Girls". History is made at night. 31 December 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "British Skiffle Craze". THE GREAT BRITISH TEDDY BOY. THE GREAT BRITISH TEDDY BOY. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  13. ^ Algemene Vereniging Radio Omroep
  14. ^ "The Rockabilly Look". define rockabilly. AskDefine.com. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  15. ^ Cambridge Evening News

External links[edit]