The British Teddy Boy (also known as Ted) subculture is 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. The subculture started in London in the 1950s, and rapidly spread across the UK, soon becoming strongly associated with American rock and roll. Originally known as Cosh Boys, the name Teddy Boy was coined when a 1953 Daily Express newspaper headline shortened Edward to Teddy.
Wealthy young men, especially Guards officers, adopted the style of the Edwardian era. 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 and fancy waist coats.
Teddy Boy clothing included drape jackets, 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. The clothes were mostly tailor-made at great expense, and paid for through weekly installments.
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.
During the 1970s, 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. Additionally, they were more likely to use hairspray than grease to style their hair. In the late 1970s, the new generation became the enemies of the Westwood and Sex Pistol-inspired punk rockers.
Claiming back the original style
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. The D.O.N.S (Drapes Of Northampton Society) was formed 2005 to promote and unite teddy boys,not only in the UK but the rest of the world where the teddy boy fashion and life style was present.The Edwardian Teddy Boy Association was formed in 2007 and has continued the work of reviving the original 1950s Teddy Boys style. In 2010, a new group of Teddy Boys surfaced in Manchester, known as The Manchester Peacock Society. The group in the main were Teddy Boys during the 1970s, and most were former members of the Salford Bop Cats. The group also have a number of original Teddy Boys in their ranks, who are in their seventies. The principal aim of the Manchester Peacocks is to promulgate the original style of the pre-1955 Teddy Boy and actively promote the ethos and style of the original and authentic British Teddy Boy movement. The group, although growing in numbers are limiting their membership to 100 members as a means of maintaining an authentic image.
Traditionally, Teddy Boy clothing has always been typified with finger-tip length ‘Drape Jackets’, that were worn usually in darker shades in the early 1950′s, with or without a black velvet collar and cuffs and pocket flaps; high-waist ‘stovepipe’ or ‘drainpipe’ trousers, often exposing the socks. As the fifties progressed however, lighter colours for Drape Jackets and Suits such as Powder Blue and other colours started to be worn and become popular.
All of these clothes were mostly tailor-made at great expense and paid for through weekly instalments. Initially, it was difficult to buy a suit in the Teddy Boy style as ordinary tailors did not make them. Montague Burton, supplier of cheap mass produced tailored suits, tended to be much more conservative. Young men had therefore to go to a backstreet tailor or a shop that specialised in Teddy Boy gear.
Moreover, the outfit was expensive. At a time when the average weekly wage was £5 2s 5d., ‘a proper Ted suit would cost between £15 and £20., hand-made by a back-street tailor, and all the accessories would double that. If you wished to make a top Ted, you had to be prepared to stroll into a dance hall with £50 on your back.
The waistcoat,how did it come to be a part of the British attire? Some people say it came from waste material left over after the tailor had finished making a suit…..see what you think.
The waistcoat is one of the few articles of clothing whose origin historians can date precisely. King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland introduced the waistcoat as a part of correct dress during the Restoration of the British monarchy. It was derived from the Persian vests seen by English visitors to the court of Shah Abbas. The most famous of these was Persia’s ambassador to the court of St. James, Sir Robert Shirley. He was an Englishman who had been a traveler in Persia for years. John Evelyn wrote about them on October 18, 1666: “To Court, it being the first time his Majesty put himself solemnly into the Eastern fashion of vest changing doublet, stiff collar, bands and cloak, into a comely dress after the Persian mode, with girdles or straps, and shoestrings and garters into buckles…resolving never to alter it, and to leave the French mode”.
Samuel Pepys, the diarist and civil servant, wrote in October 1666 that “the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how”. This royal decree provided the first mention of the waistcoat. Pepys records “vest” as the original term; the word “waistcoat” derives from the cutting of the coat at waist-level, since at the time of the coining, tailors cut men’s formal coats well below the waist . An alternative theory is that, as material was left over from the tailoring of a two-piece suit, it was fashioned into a “waste-coat” to avoid that material being wasted, although recent academic debate has cast doubt on this theory.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men often wore elaborate and brightly coloured waistcoats, until changing fashions in the nineteenth century narrowed this to a more restricted palette, and the development of lounge suits began the period of matching informal waistcoats.