The original teen fashion rebel of the postwar era, the Teddy Boy paved the path of rebellion for all hooligans to come. During the war years, young men filled the working positions left vacant by their enlisted fathers, and they had money to burn when their fathers returned. This new prosperity allowed adolescents to do something they had never done before: engage in a carefree lifestyle called the teenage years.
Originating in the early 50’s from the streets of London, the Teds were working class youths looking for an identity, and they found it through a preference for romantic Edwardian dressing. (‘Teddy’ being a nickname for ‘Edward’). The Edwardian look was one of dapper refinement, featuring slim coats with velvet trim and the impeccable tailoring preferred by upper class gentlemen. The Teds built their own characteristic look by mixing the Edwardian style with American Western and rock and roll looks. This conjunction of styles from the past and the present created a dandified “neo-Edwardian” look that would earmark the start of fashion conscious youngsters.
The Teddy Boy look soon found its way across the shores to American boys, turning conventional society on its head. The rumblings of angst were ready for an identity, and teens used the Teds as a prime example. Long, draped jackets were borrowed from the zoot suit and juxtaposed with thin, bootlace ties from the western look. Skinny-legged stovepipe pants were cut short to show off wild patterned socks worn with suede, crepe-soled creepers, or the pointed-toe black oxfords called winkle-pickers. The only thing to top off such an outrageous cornucopia of clothing was the wildly styled, Brylcreemed pompadour called a D.A. The mandatory accessory was a metal comb, which restyled the hair into pompadour perfection after is got tousled during a fight.
While the Teds started as a fashion clique, they soon earned a reputation for fighting and vandalism. They spent time hanging out on street corners, desperate to converse privately, away from the parents who didn’t understand them. And as all parents know, complacency gives rise to delinquency, and the Teddy Boys did not disappoint. They carried flick-knives and switchblades, cycle chains and razors. They started gangs and terrorized the conventional world. Teddy Boy style was a direct ancestor of the leather jacket, t-shirt wearing American bopper look that was eventually preferred over the elegant stylings of the Brits.
Though the Teddy Boy style was inherently male, there were girls who were friends and sweethearts of these new fashion rebels, and they adopted their own look based on the boys’ style. The girls paired the velvet-collared jackets with slim tweed skirts and black stockings, and wore heavy black eye-liner. They too wore winks, and some girls even went so far as to adopt the greased pompadour D.A. for their hairstyle.
The Teddy Boys created the first clique based on fashion: Teddy Boys recognized other Teddy Boys and banded together, leaving the others behind. A strong underground style based on the Teddy Boys still exists in London, and its influence is still felt in American rockabilly style. Teens had discovered the inherent power in expressing themselves through their clothes, and they never looked back.