The Teddy Boy fashion of the fifties has its origins in an upper class reaction to the austerity imposed by the socialist government in the years following the War. Wealthy young men adopted the style of the Edwardian era. It was then just over forty years ago. Their grandparents, if not their parents, wore the style the first time around.
The original Edwardian revival was more historically accurate than the later Teddy Boy style. It featured tapered trousers, long jackets and fancy waist coats.
Working class youths adopted this style as their own. They created the classic Teddy Boy look. The classic Ted had a long jacket with a velvet collar. The velvet collar was a particularly important part of the look. The jackets were usually in plain material with blues or greys being common. It was during the seventies revival that the Teddy Boy look acquired the bright shocking pink, electric blue and lime green colour schemes, for example, as is illustrated by the seventies band, Showaddywaddy.
Teds wore drainpipe trousers and narrow ties, often with horizontal stripes. Sometimes they wore an American style bootlace tie as an alternative. Thick crepe-soled suede shoes, known as brothel creepers completed the outfit.
It was difficult to buy a suit in the Teddy Boy style. Ordinary tailors did not make them. Montague Burton, supplier of cheap mass produced tailored suits, was much more conservative. You had to go to a backstreet shop that specialised Teddy Boy gear. A shop such as Kenny's in Leamington Spa, which was down in a basement. A full Teddy Boy suit was also expensive.
"I grew up in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. There used to be a menswear shop on the corner of Navigation Street and John Bright Street called Chetwyns. If you could afford it, they sold imported suits, jackets, shirts, ties etc directly from the United Sates and loose drape jackets cutaway collar shirts etc. Then in the early sixties the fashion changed. Most young guys got their Italian style suits from Burtons or Colliers, although Chetwyns did survive with the American look. I myself couldn't afford to shop there, but would visit the shop to check out the gear." Andrew Eves
See also: Birmingham in the sixties
The Teddy Boy hairstyle
The hair was as an important a part of the look as the clothes. Teds wore hair long, for the era. They used plenty of hair cream to get the style. At the front, a quiff was the favourite style. At the back, the hair was swept back into Duck's Arse or DA. A variation at the front was the Elephant's Trunk: the hair was shaped in to a sausage which sat on the top of the head.
The guy on the left has got the Teddy boy hair, but the suit is conventional for the fifties.
Denson supplied crepe sole and thick sole shoes favoured by Teddy Boys. These Denson, right, from 1953, aren't the classic crepe sole brothel creepers, but show a Wild West influence.
Densons sold for 35s to 60s a pair in the 50s. These cost 49s 9d.
Teds in the fifties had a reputation for violence. They clashed with coloured immigrants newly arriving in 50s Britain.
In the 50s, Teds from Birmingham and Coventry descended in coach loads upon Leamington Spa for "The Lights", Leamington's version of the Blackpool Illuminations, which were held each year from August to October in the Jefferson Gardens. There were beer tents and a band playing in the bandstand. It was a chance for Teds to show off their gear. After a few pints there would be fights between rival gangs.
The Teddy Boy was the first modern youth cult. Teds are associated with Rock'n'Roll, but the style came before the music. Rock'n'Roll was adopted by the Teds from 1955 when the film, Blackboard Jungle, was first shown in cinemas in the UK. They ripped up seats and danced to Bill Haley's music, which was played at the end of the film.
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Your comments on Teddy Boys
"All the pic's I have seen so far may have been how they dressed in Birmingham or up north, but in London it was different. The cloth for a start was stripped as a City gent's suit was. The taylor was for the most part Jewish from the Old Kent road or similar. Three piece, with a waistcoat made from the same cloth, OR Silk, off the peg. I know if you were in the building trade it took two weeks money to pay for it all.The only blue gabardine drape jackets were worn by some coloureds in Lambeth. Hope this helps." John Crouch
"Your referal to a elephants trunk in the hairstyle section is incorrect, and would get you a smack in the face from a Ted is you refered to his quiff as a sausage." Chris
Hi Chris, The reference came from 'Revolt into Style' by George Melly (p1970). The term elephant's trunk is also mentioned in other articles on the web. There is also a film of a barber called Cyril styling and elephant's trunk in 1956, see British Pathe News - Elephant's trunk hairstyle.
However, there is very little material about this subject. I would welcome contributions from anyone who was there in the 50s.Retrowow
"Hi Montague Burton back in the 50s had the reputation as it is said to make mass production suits. However this is not alltogether true, they made a suit exactly as you wanted, but was not broadecast by such as myself. You could go through there massive pattern books and design as you wished pick out style and details as you wanted, they then measured you and all went up to london including the material you chose. (I mostly went for 100 ounce serg) One would go back to the store once or twice to get final size and details sorted. These suits were fantastic in fit and quality together with a great Edwardian look. About two weeks wages." John Gibbs
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All the best,
Otto Fuchs" Otto Fuchs 28/01/2012
Retro furniture, fashion and collectables