Teddy boys

As you know I love travelling as a learning experience and as a trend forecasting teacher I tell my students that the best skill of a trend forecaster is to explore and observe the world.

That’s what I do while I’m abroad, I observe people, their behaviours, their clothes, their hairstyles. I observe shops and boutiques, products, packaging and furniture.

You can actually live the world, while observing its evolutionary changes.



I was in London last week, a great place to intercept emerging trends, and I found myself in love with the neighborhood of Shoreditch. Everything there has been touched by the Hipster fashion.

From 2010 infact Shoreditch in London, as Belleville in Paris, Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Echo Park in Los Angeles, can be considered one of hipsters favorite hangouts.

This phenomenon has reached, technically speaking, the maturity stadium as a worldwide trend which has affected fashion, interior design and food. Being Hipster is more like a lifestyle and has a specific dress code to adopt.

By now we’ve seen hipsters been all the rage for years, but do you know exactly when the hipster generation was originally born?

It was the 1940s!

Hipster is a neologism created in the 40’s in the United States to describe jazz fans.

Hipsters were typically white kids of the middle class, who emulated the lifestyle of the African-American jazz musicians.

The etymology of the term is uncertain. It is traced to hop, a slang term for opium, or the Wolof word hip, which means see, open your eyes.

In 1939  Cab Calloway published his Hepster’s Dictionary, which defines a hep cat - the original name given to a Hipster- as “a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive”.

The hipster subculture quickly expanded after the Second World War, when the movement joined a thriving literary scene.

Jack Kerouac described hipsters as wandering souls with a special spirituality. They were existentialists, who lived their lives surrounded by death, caused by nuclear war,  and strangled by social conformity. They decided to divorce from society, living without roots.

The hipster man was amoral, anarchist, polite and civilized enough to be decadent.

Hipsters knew the hypocrisy of the bureaucracy of religion. They looked for something that transcended all the nonsense of the world and found it only in jazz music.

Hipster’s features today are not so far from those of 1940′s generation. The need to abandon common paths, to explore new aesthetics, new slow lifestyles, divorcing from the establishment can be considered a new way of decadence which reflects the Hipsters needs of the ’40s.

However the aesthetic is completely different.

1940′s Hipster had an enormous sartorial impact, with their dark-rimmed glasses, trademark berets and pinstripes suits. Their style was inspirational, cool and confident.

The modern Hipster has a bohemian urban approach to fashion. A real love for 80′s silhouettes, retro-inspired glasses, slip-on or hand-made Oxford shoes and of course an obsession for long beard.


Teddy Boys

But as I wrote before, this Hipster trend is going to give way to other form of youth sub-culture expressions. For example the Yuccies. This new generation of Millennias are a natural development of Hipster culture, influenced by other old youth subcultures of the past.

One of those are the strong and remarkable aesthetic of 1950′s Teddy Boys

In the early 1950′s England the first Teddy Boys appeared, as urban, unskilled working class boys, looking for an identity through the clothes they wore.

They pursued gang warfare and vandalism in both the streets and the dance halls, carrying bicycle chains, razors and flick-knives beneath their fine Edwardian style clothes. The 50’s was the first decade when teenage fashion was produced.

Before that, young generations were supposed to dress like their parents.

After the war, while prosperity was growing fast in Britain, these working class teenagers could afford to buy their own clothes. For the first time teenagers were a marketing target, which made fashion companies of the time able to develop the concept of a brand new lifestyle.

The Teds fully embraced the American Rock and Roll music that hit Britain and the British bands that adopted the same style. However their shadowy figures contributed to reinforce their reputation as street thugs.

The clothing that the Teddy Boys wore was designed to shock their parents’ generation.

The Teddy Boy uniform was originally copied from the smart Edwardian gentleman, their social superiors. The style was tailored, and featured long high necked jackets, sometimes made of velvet, or velvet trimmed collar and cuffs, and were lined in either floral or bright colors.

It did act as a badge of recognition and as it was made of wool with lots of pockets, it kept warm and was also good at concealing weapons and alcohol.

The outfit was completed by brocade waistcoats, bootlace or slim ties, sometimes inspired by bolo ties and  narrow ‘drainpipe’ trousers, wing-collared shirts and suede Gibson shoes with thick crepe soles.

04 (1)Creepers were a popular choice of shoes , their first version becoming popular during World War I, as used by soldiers in North Africa, who adopted suede boots with hard-wearing crepe rubber.

The brothel creeper were then developed in England in 1949 by George Cox and sold under the name “Hamilton”, as the second name of George Cox Jr.

It could be possible that the famous “Blue Suede Shoes” sung by Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley are nothing but a pair of classic blue suede brothel creepers.

An essential accessory, along with the cycle chain was the comb.  All teddy boys went to great pain to keep their hair in place. The main hairstyle, called Pompadour hair-cut was greased and usually accompanied by sideboards.

03There are a lot of common dress codes between the new young generations and the Teddy Boys, obviously reinterpreted under a contemporary influence.

Trimmed fitted jackets, cropped and tailored trousers, brothel creepers, absolutely identical to their 1950′s version and statement colored socks.

The new version of Pompadour hairstyle is worn with short sides, with the hair swept upwards and backwards, inspired by the rebellious James Dean.


My final thoughts

It is surprisingly amazing how young people identify themselves with the past generations urgencies and styles, replicating them, according to their contemporary social needs.

However this could also means a lack of creativity among young people.

This is the most evident proof that fashion nowadays is no more revolutionary. On the contrary new fashions tend to be evolutionary, mixing different aesthetics from the past, in a kaleidoscopic way.

And fashion history is one the most powerful and smart tool to understand the fervent scenario of young sub-cultures, trends and styles.

Because all that goes around, comes around!



I do, send me all new stories!