Britain's Teddy Girls

June 26, 2013

During WWII, England was in chaos, many towns, cities, and homes were destroyed, there were food shortages, and and social order was on pause. Once the war ended, people were eager to return back to their lives, but the post-war austerity didn't end until 1954. At this time, the youth subculture of 'The Ted's' (aka Teddy Boys) emerged. By the mid 1950s, second-hand Edwardian suits were readily available on sale in markets as they had become unwearable by the upper-class once the Teddy Boys had started sporting them. Here's what the style of the Teddy Boy's looked like:

The Teddy Girls were the female faction of this subculture, but they were largely ignored by the media who remained focused on creating sensational headlines about troubled young men. The girl's added their own unique spin on the greaser-Edwardian look. They wore handmade pieces of Edwardian suiting, espadrilles, pins, brooches, denim dungarees, etc. 

 

 

The subculture was closely tied to Jazz and Big Band music, so Teddies would go out to record shops, movies, or dances for leisure. However, as the culture evolved, the media's exaggerated coverage of the movement as a blight on Britain's youth meant that soon their presence in certain establishments was prohibited.

There was an element of truth to the accusations levied in the media, however, those petty crimes had more to do with fiscal strain in a post-war economy than the dark ethos of The Teddy's themselves. Ken Russell, the photographer behind these images, recalls the time he spent with the Teddy Girls, and in particular, 14 year old Jean Rayner, “She had attitude by the truckload. No one paid much attention to the teddy girls before I did them, though there was plenty on teddy boys. They were tough, these kids, they’d been born in the war years and food rationing only ended in about 1954 – a year before I took these pictures. They were proud. They knew their worth. They just wore what they wore.”

 

 

 

A major element at play for the Teddies was the rejection of the crumbling British class system. The very fact that these teenagers were capable of acquiring Edwardian suiting is a testament to the changing times. Their choice of clothes wasn’t only for aesthetic effect: these girls were collectively rejecting post-war austerity. They were young working-class women, often from Irish immigrant families who had settled in the poorer districts of London — Walthamstow, Poplar and North Kensington. They would typically leave school at the age of 14 or 15, and work in factories or offices. Teddy Girls spent much of their free time buying or making their trademark clothes. It was a head-turning, fastidious style from the fashion houses, which had launched haute-couture clothing lines recalling the Edwardian era.

 

 

 

The Teddies were the first group to set them selves apart as a culture based on the fact that they were teenagers. This is literally the beginning of youth culture as we have come to know it. Initially, jazz, big band and skiffle music were genres of choice, but once Rock and Roll landed in the UK with the release of the film, Blackboard Jungle, the culture quickly began to realign itself with American Rockabilly.




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