Retro-fashion as a lifestyle in Mid-Century Great Britain? It’s the Teddy Boys!
Like the American zoot suit subculture, the Teddy Boys developed in response to the austerity of WWII. The fashion industry looked back to the dandies of the Edwardian era. The style did not take with the upper crust, but resonated with the lower (and at times criminal) classes. It’s as if the toughs took the look and snarled back, “Up yours, toffs!”
Young gangsters known as Cosh Boys were identified by drape jackets with velvet collars, draped pants and thick-soled creeper shoes. A September 23, 1953, Daily Express article shortened “Edwardian” to “Teddy,” and the name was born.
The Teds were part of the flowering of teenage culture. As 1950s youth, they grew up with rock and roll. In 1956, the film Blackboard Jungle premiered. When Bill Haley and His Comets played “Rock Around the Clock,” Teddy Boys and girls (“Judies”) danced, rioted and tore up seats with switchblades. Copycat rioters would do the same at subsequent features across Britain.
Teds were also involved in the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. There was an increase of Caribbean immigrants following WWII. Despite the defeat of fascists on continental Europe, Britain spawned its own right-wing racists. On August 29, Swedish-born Majbritt Morrison was arguing publicly with her West Indian husband, painter Raymond Morrison. A group of white people got involved, resulting in a brief skirmish. Majbritt was recognized the following day by white youths who hurled abuse and milk bottles. That night, a white mob took to Bramley Road and attacked the houses of West Indians. There was a strong Teddy Boy presence. The rioting continued through September 5.
Despite the trappings of working class rebellion, a conservative strain runs through the Teds. Unlike the no-future punk rockers who took a stance against previous generations, Teddy Boys have passed the mantle from father to son to grandson. Teds reacted to 1970s punk rock with violence. Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten and Paul Cook were attacked after releasing the song “God Save the Queen.” Rotten’s face and arms were slashed by razors.
Teds were “punks” only in the sense of “hooligan.” Still, their Edwardian clobber set them apart from the mainstream and developed a class-conscious subculture.