Written by Jenny Li
“The Great British Teddy Boy is a rebel of conformity and therefore wears a Style and not a Uniform”.
The Teddy fashion was a middle/upper-class revival by Savile Row tailors but became a style dominated by the working class. The rise of the teenager had allowed the Ted to become a youth subculture and was an expression of their independence as well as, creating a new market of teen customers.
In many ways, the Teddy aesthetic was a move away from the traditional Edwardian and has been described as a rebellion to conformity, which can be demonstrated in their attire. They had boosted the popularity of creepers (first developed by George Cox in 1949) and revamped the suit style, therefore, the Teddy aesthetic was also a modification of the Edwardian style. It also incorporated American influence, which came from movies such as ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and inspired by stars like Marlon Brando. Moreover, the influence of rock n’ roll music of the mid-1950s became closely associated with Teddy culture, as well as violence. The age of austerity in the late 1940s and early 50s was coming to an end with the affluence of the working class increasing therefore, buying consumer goods was possible and this included clothing.
Hair was also a defining aspect of the Teddy boys. Early haircuts being the Tony Curtis style, which was displayed by short back and sides with some length left to form a quiff over the forehead. An early Ted might have also had the sides and back of his hair tapered up high but a greasy, messy quiff with sideburns, finished off with a Ducks Arse thickly greased down the back of the head. This became the most popular as time went on. The 1970s revival of the Teds popularised mutton-chop sideburns which weren’t seen in the original style and saw the Teds become further Americanised.
Though the styling of hair had become a staple of the aesthetic, the shape of the bottom garment had transformed with the Teddy boys popularising the drainpipe trouser style. This had a 1 to 1½ inch turn-ups which complemented pleated fronts. This style was much tighter and shorter than the Edwardian trousers and the turn-ups were for added weight to help the drape of the trousers. Often the bottom of the trouser leg ended in a ‘guardsman’s fall’ and it was to highlight the footwear and the socks. The Teddy boys complimented their attire with a narrow Slim Jim tie or Maverick tie. In the 1950s, many of the Teds’ waistcoats were made from brocade silk patterned material which was a type of waistcoat worn by American Wild West gamblers and gunfighters. In general, the double-breasted waistcoat was the more popular style throughout the Ted period and the brocade added vibrancy to the waistcoat, which was normally complemented by a ‘Hunter’ pocket watch and chain.
Perhaps a more defining factor of a Ted was the Drape jacket. The Teddy boy drape originally had a ‘natural waistline’ which meant the waist was brought in, and it had built up shoulders to add a masculine appearance to the jacket. But as time went on, the universal style had dispensed with the ‘natural waistline’ in favour of the full Drape with straight sides and complimented in all cases with a full-back with no seam and no vents, accentuating the square Drape-like appearance. Moreover, jacket cuffs were generally made from the matching cloth or from velvet the same colour as the collar of the jacket. These were a 2″-3″ deep ‘turned-back’ cuffs called ‘Double’ or ‘French Cuffs’ with either a single button placed over the cuff at the top corner or a combination of a turned-back cuff and a working cuff with 4 buttons. The ‘cut’ of the jacket could either be a single button link fastening or two, three, four or even five-button fronts but, the most common tended to be a single link or four button fastenings. The length of the jacket also varied from knuckle length to knee length and the initial colours of the jacket were conventionally sombre greys, browns and blacks. But, until the late fifties, colours such as powder blue, maroon and purple became common due to the increased availability of dyes, and the main material used for the jackets was gabardine.
The Teddy Girl has been largely forgotten by fashion history but, as important as it was a complete difference in style for women, for it was androgynous, improvised and customised with women freer to wear masculine styles like trousers. They could have their hair cut short either for convenience or personal expression in the 50s/60s. This style for women came at a time where they were socially unequal and prior to the start of the second wave of feminism, which began in the 60s. You would hardly see a Teddy Boy without his Teddy Girl so, it’s strange to see such limited information on the Girls in contrast to the Boys.
The Teddy Girl style icon was Audrey Hepburn, her boyish yet feminine style as well as her attainable physique, was popular with women in general. This was because, it was easier to emulate and showed a change from the hyper-feminine, curvy images of Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Girls often copied Hepburn’s short straight fringe bangs that shaped down to the ears in the Pixie haircut. Ted girls had also been inspired by the Gibson girl’s pompadour hairstyle, it was high, rounded and curved away from the head; the hair could be straight or have a wave or curl to it.
The saddle shoes became a popular choice of shoe for Teddy girls and this could be viewed as a more feminised version of oxfords. They were nearly always black and white saddle shoes with either natural or black rubber soles also, ballet flats and loafers became popular and had only ½ an inch of heel, these two shoe styles were often paired with bobby socks.
Teddy girls wore the Capris which was characterised by a high waist, rounded hips and slim leg as well as, coming to a mid-calf length; the denim version of the Capri was the most popular amongst teenagers. The modern 1950s skirt was slightly above the ankle and decorated with large applique images as well as, being made from wool felt, this became known as the poodle skirt. Another popular skirt style was the pencil skirt, also known as the sheath skirt, this was a much more controversial skirt as it was seen as a mature woman’s style and teens were encouraged to stay clear of the sheath skirt, this was obviously ignored.
Despite, the seemingly more relaxed look of the Teddy aesthetic, women were still encouraged to have an S-shaped body by wearing girdles. It is interesting to note that women’s fashion became more progressive therefore, challenged clothing norms and that it was not a sole change in menswear but also in womenswear.