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Teddy boy – wearing a uniform to be different

Teddy Boys -dressed with long, narrow lapelled, waisted jackets, narrow drainpipe trousers, ordinary toe-capped shoes and a fancy waistcoats – were one of the first youth groups to differentiate themselves as teenagers, weighing in the emergence of a youth market.

It was the late 1940′s when Savile Row Tailors attempted to revive the styles of the Edwardian era (1901-1910) into men’s fashion, shaping a new style, which was primarily addressed to the young, aristocratic ‘men about town’. Additionally, barbers began offering individual styling. Around 1952 this style spread out and reached young working-class males who, despite their gentleman appearence, quickly became associated with trouble on newspapers and by media in general. As a result, the middle class felt that they could no longer share the style with its new adherents.

'Group of Teddy boys - Southend on Sea', 1974. Photograph in black and white by Kevin Lear. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum. ©Kevin Lear CC BY NC

Wearing the Edwardian style was a conscious attempt to rebel against the grey austerity that had enveloped the country after the war, as well as a way for teenagers to differentiate their clothes from those of their parents. These fashionable young men, descending at the same time from the upper-class Edwardian dandies and the older delinquent subculture of South London, initially simply known as Edwardian’s, would later be called Teddy Boys.

Woman's trouser suit in red and black velvet, Teddy Boy styling, designed by Lee Bender for Bus Stop in 1972 and made in 1993. England. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum. ©Lee Bender for Bus Stop CC BY NC

The term “Teddy Boy” was coined on September 23rd 1953 by a Daily Express newspaper headline which shortened Edward to Teddy. It is also known that the girlfriends of working class Edwardian’s were referring to them as Teddy Boys before. Less known then Teddy Boys, Teddy girls were working class teens as well, who would dress up in their own drape jackets, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes and tailored jackets with velvet collars.

In 1958 a huge Italian influence on fashion signed the begining of the end of the Teddy Boy as a mainstream style. However, there continued to be a genuine revival of that style through the 1970s, even if the movement lost its roots and the trend started to be associated with Rock’n’Roll and the emerging interest in Rockabilly music. During this period the look was adopted by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren through their shop ‘Let it Rock’ on London’s Kings Road and it was a mid step to move on to other styles such as the Punk and Rocker styles.

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