Teddy Boy  

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"The end of World War II had seen a marked increase in African-Caribbean migrants to Britain. By the 1950s, white working-class "Teddy Boys" were beginning to display hostility towards black families in the area, a situation exploited and inflamed by groups such as Oswald Mosley's Union Movement and other far-right groups such as the White Defence League, who urged disaffected white residents to "Keep Britain White"."

Some Teddy Boys formed gangs and gained notoriety following violent clashes with rival youth gangs as well as unprovoked attacks on immigrants. The most notable clashes were the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, in which Teddy Boys were present in large numbers and were implicated in attacks on the West Indian community. According to reports released decades after the riots, "Teddy boys armed with iron bars, butcher's knives and weighted leather belts" participated in mobs "300- to 400-strong" that targeted Black residents, in one night alone leaving "five black men lying unconscious on the pavements of Notting Hill."

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Teddy boy youth culture first emerged in Britain (starting in London, and rapidly spreading across the country) during the early 1950s, and soon after became strongly associated with American rock and roll music of the period. It was typified by young men wearing clothes inspired by those of the Edwardian period, which Savile Row tailors had tried to re-introduce after World War II: "Edward" being shortened to Ted after a Daily Express headline in 1953 first coined the term 'Teddy boy', which stuck. Clothing consisted of long drape jackets, usually in dark shades, sometimes with velvet trim collar and pocket flaps, high-waisted 'drainpipe' trousers, chunky brogues and later large crepe-soled shoes, often suede (sometimes nicknamed brothel creepers). A high-necked loose 'Mr B' collar on a white shirt (as worn by jazz musician Billy Eckstine) was set off with a narrow 'Slim Jim' tie and a brocade waistcoat. In the main, these clothes were tailor-made at great expense and paid for through many weekly instalments. Preferred hairstyles included long, strongly moulded greased-up hair with a quiff at the front, with the side hair combed back to form a 'DA' (duck's ass) at the rear of the head. Other styles included the Boston, where hair was greased straight back and cut square across at the nape.

'Teddy girls' adopted a style similar to the lads', with drapes complete with hobble skirts. They added their own touches, such as straw boaters, cameo brooches, espadrilles and coolie hats, but later adopted the American fashions of toreador pants, voluminous circle skirts, and hair in ponytails. Film director Ken Russell took a series of photos of such girls in late 1954 and early 1955 around the East End of London, and in Notting Hill.

As with some other youth culture movements, groups of 'Teds' sometimes formed gangs and enjoyed notoriety following violent clashes with rival gangs, seized upon and often exaggerated by the popular press. The most notable was the infamous Notting Hill riot of 1958, in which Teddy Boys were conspicuous within the racist white mobs who roamed the area attacking black people and their property. As with most other youth cults, however, most were attracted by the clothes and music rather than violence. The Teddy Boys made it acceptable to care about what one looked like all the time and dress purely for show, instead of just having one's work or school clothes or Sunday best. This trend arose as the disposable income of young people grew during the post-war years. The Teddy Boys were the first youth group in England to differentiate themselves as teenagers, thus helping to create a market solely targeting the new 'teenage' genre.

In the 1960s, many Teddy Boys became 'Rockers'. Conversely, many Rockers passed themselves off as Teddy Boys by throwing on a drape coat to gain entry into a dance hall where leather jackets were banned.

In 1979, British photographer Chris Steele-Perkins published his classic documentary book on Teddy Boy culture, The Teds, which explored the style and values of which defined the phenomenon.

See also

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