Teddy Boys or ‘Edwardians’ began to appear in the early 1950s on the streets of South and West London. Dandified street gangs; their extravagant dress and defiant pose made them popular subjects for the expanding media of magazines and television in the 1950s. Like the Spiv of the Second World War, the Teddy Boy became a media folk devil, but the media that villified them also spread their image far beyond the original metropolitan gangs, until the Teddy Boy became a nation wide teenage style and the first post-war teenage subculture.
As inner-city working class youth they appropriated the expensive Edwardian ‘Ted’ suits designed for wealthy city gents in the early 1950s, or the ‘drape’ jackets favoured by the growing number of American rock ‘n’ roll stars. ‘Teenage Terrorists – Absurd But Deadly’. Headline in Illustrated, May 1954.
The Teddy Boy image sent a powerful message. The adoption of upper class dress by working class youths was a defiant act. However, the exaggerated style of their dress also made them an easy target, the media constantly attempted to discredit the Teddy Boys by ridiculing their appearance. A charicature of the Teddy Boy as a ‘monkey in a drape’ was printed in the Brighton Evening Argus in 1954 and clearly illustrates the general public’s perception of Teddy Boys and their dress style.
The Teddy Boy outfits in Royal Pavilion & Museums’ Renegade collection illustrate two phases in Teddy Boy style, representing both the style of the early 1950s, and that of the 1970s. However this is complicated further by the earlier style outfit having actually been made in the early 1980s. This therefore represents a third phase of Teddy Boy style; that of the Teddy Boy as a vintage or retro style to be copied.
In the early 1950s tailors on Saville Row started reproducing Edwardian suits for wealthy young clients that worked in the city. These luxurious clothes attempted to reassert the sartorial supremacy of both the Saville Row tailors, and that of the wearers. This Edwardian-style bespoke dress was a signifier of class, almost an attempt to revive a pre-war notion of class heirarchy in the face of the advancing social mobility of the working and middle classes.
For working class youth to appropriate a clearly upper class dress style for their own purposes was a serious challenge to the old order. Teddy Boys used backstreet tailors or bought suits second hand, and although it began as something of a London style, by the mid 1950s gangs of be-draped teenagers could be found throughout Britain’s cities. Their suits were worn with narrow ‘slim-jim’ ties, crepe soled suede shoes, and a hairstyle known as the ‘Tony Curtis’ or, if worn longer at the back, in a style known as a ‘Duck’s Arse’.
Their image sent a powerful message of defiance, but it was the murder of a youth on Clapham Common in 1952 by a gang of teenage boys that quickly cemented the media image of the Teddy Boys as violent juvenile delinquents. This image was to follow them for the rest of the decade. Teddy Boys became the first rebel teenage subculture and the first media folk-devils of the 1950s.
The Teddy Boy revival of the 1970s transformed the original style into something altogether more eye-catching. Sharing the colourful elements of the Glam Rock style of the early 1970s, Edwardian style suits were replaced with brightly coloured drape jackets trimmed with contrasting satin or velvet, drainpipe trousers worn almost halfmast to expose lurid socks in fluorescent nylon (right) or glitter-lurex, and brothel creeper shoes in coloured or patterned material such as fake leopard skin. Because the look was so over the top the 1970s style is often referred to as The Cartoon Look and typified by the 1970s Rock ‘n Roll revival bands such as Showaddywaddy and Darts.
The 1970s Teddy Boys also became known for violence that was particularly directed at the fledgling Punks. The Punks, whilst borrowing elements of Teddy Boy style such as the brothel creepers and the drape jackets, were anti-royalist and faux-anarchist, offending the largely royalist and politically conservative Teddy Boys. Ironically, it had been punk’s stylists Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, with their first shop Let it Rock on London’s King’s Road, who had catered for the then scarce Teddy Boy revivalists.
Teddy Boy outfit worn by Paul Culshaw, early 1980s
This suit, made in the 1980s is an example of the original 1950s style when Teddy Boys wore sobre Edwardian-style suits, rather than the exaggerated colourful styles that became popular during the 1970s Teddy Boy revival. The suit was worn by Paul Culshaw, who paid particular attention to period detail and authenticity, drawing on period images and recollections gleaned from his parents. It was made to his specifications by the tailor Jack Geech in Harrow-on-the-Hill, London. It cost about £85.
Paul Culshaw donated his outfit to Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection, which illustrates the history of subcultures in Brighton.
This outfit includes, from top to bottom:
Black wool drape jacket with velvet collar c1980.
Black and white synthetic striped tie c1980.
White cotton shirt c1980.
Grey wool waistcoat with shawl collar and mother-of-pearl buttons, c1980s.
Metal fob chain with 1940s threepence coin.
Black wool trousers c1980
Teddy Boy outfit worn by Rockin’ Bill, c1965-1969
A self-described ‘Rocker-Ted’, Brighton based Bill Wheeler, known as Rockin’ Bill, is a DJ, who at the time of interview, had been active on the Rock n Roll scene for thirty seven years.
He donated his outfit to Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection, which illustrates the history of subcultures in Brighton.
This outfit includes:
Blue ‘Drape’ jacket with black velvet trim c1969.
Leather bootlace tie with saxophone clasp c1960.
Grey cotton shirt, c1985.
Flurorescent green nylon socks c1976.
Red suede ‘Brothel Creeper’ shoes c1965.
Culture: Violence and the Media
Teddy Boys caused a wave of moral panic throughout Britain in the 1950s and were seen as a real threat to society. As a result the media released countless reports which only seemed to confirm peoples worst fears: Teddy Boys were violent and out of control, some newspapers even went as far as to suggest that they were psychotic.
However, newspaper reports of Teddy Boy violence were exaggerated, and what they failed to report was that the fighting was mainly territorial between rival Teddy Boy gangs, and rarely directed towards outsiders.