Multimedia Alert! Teddy Girls in Image and Sound

It’s almost Christmas! Let’s not talk about it for once. Instead, let’s talk about how discussing fashion as elitist or frivolous or as a means of oppression by the upper crust is boring. I’m tired of that conversation. It’s an exhasted line of logic. Put it to bed. A few weeks ago, fellow IBC blogger, Matthew Lawrence, mentioned the problematic stance of the likes of Thorstein Veblen, who saw fashion as “a class war wherein the poor attempt to dress like the rich and the rich respond by changing their styles so as not to be confused with the poor.” BOOOORING. Too bad old Veblen didn’t live to see the era of rich kids dressing like paupers, the working class, and “artists” for reasons that remain unclear.

Granted, anything that becomes a self-contained economy brings with it its own set exclusionary associations, but at some point the “fashion-as-elitist-agenda” logic evolved from a frugal argument against the frivolity of  lavish luxury (I’m still unconvinced by even that argument) and somehow entered the realm of general style. Meaning, why do so many people associate attention to style with  snobbery?

It wasn’t always so. There was a time when nearly all people gussied when it was time to gussy. Men shined their shoes, got smart and inexpensive barbershop cuts, and generally paid attention to how they looked even if they ran an auto repair shop (a true story of IBC’s Thomas McBee’s grandpa). Women dressed for dinner, had collections of gloves for different occasions, and wouldn’t have been caught dead walking around in public places in pajamas. Now people assume you’re fancy if you just look like you can figure out how to not to wear ill-fitting pants on a regular basis.

So, in yet ANOTHER attempt to disprove the stance that style and elitism are intertwined, I give you the Teddy Girls. The Teddy Girls were part of a style movement that arose in post-war Britain. Teddy Girls were working class Londoners who worked in the factories by day and dressed in neo-Edwardian fashions by night… or by day when they weren’t working. They were often dropouts, leaving school at 14 or 15 to get jobs. They spent a lot of their time looking badass, smoking cigarettes, dancing, and perfecting their coiffures.

Unlike their boyfriends, the Teddy Boys, documentation of the Teddy Girls is almost nonexistent. The images in this post are taken from a photo essay done by Ken Russell and are nearly all the images that exist of this fashion-heavy working class youth subculture.

BUT WAIT! For this post, I have a treat for you. San Francisco mix master, DJ Bunnystyle, made a soundtrack for the Teddy Girls. I’m going to stop talking and let you listen and learn from the Teddy Girls that ALL people can and should be stylish.

About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.

8 comments

  1. Michael, this post is awesome! I lament daily (and have been for years) about how people put zero effort into the clothes they put on to go out of their houses. I don’t know when this “casual culture” (I think I just coined that) came about. Ok, you don’t like wearing ties to work, but if your office allows you not to wear them it doesn’t mean you have to look like a schlub. What? You’re wearing a football jersey to church?! As a Haitian, this hurts my soul. I was at a Verizon stor yesterday and the young lady in front of me was wearing slippers! For crying out loud, you pay a premium for that smart phone, surely you have actual shoes. Uggs definitely don’t count. I could go on and on. It seems that people think that comfort is paramount and that if you look like you put forth any effort in grooming yourself you’re not comfortable or you’re a snob. I happen to be neither. I– like you– just think a little effort goes a long way.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      Thanks, Reggie! I totally agree. And I think the smart phone example is a fantastic one. You paid $400 for a phone that you’ll replace in a year or two, but you think dressing nice is silly? I’ve had my $400 dollar sweater for 11 years now. I wear it at least twice a week in the winter. The $40 sweater I got from Target when the temperature suddenly dropped while I was out and about lasted me about a year. Over 11 years, one Target sweater a year, comes to $440 and 11 sweaters in the dump. THAT seems silly and frivolous to me.

      • EXCEPT I don’t think people are paying $400 for smartphones, unless they are mugged and T-mobile won’t replace their phone and makes them pay full retail price so they leave T-mobile. Or whatever. But even if you’re paying $50 with your plan, the idea still holds. One $400 sweater = 11 years. 1 smartphone every two years at $50 = bajillion dollars over a lifetime. That was scientific figure, by the way.

  2. My mom always remarked that fashion was much more of a uniform when she was growing up in the ’50s, and her high school yearbook definitely substantiates this. Teddy Girls (and they are gorgeous!) may have been early adopters when it came to the use of fashion to designate subculture. Later, the whole concept of subculture got co-opted by corporations, and now we have Hot Topic. That’s problematic, but it also means we have a lot more choices–everyone can dress to represent a different (now mainstream) “subculture.” Some of us dress up, some of us dress down, with the popularity of each ebbing and flowing. As you’ve said before, the only folks who are really missing out are the ones who don’t seize fashion as an opportunity for self-expression. But if your expression is “I really really really love my football team and I actually consider this jersey holy apparel and am therefore wearing it to church,” I say go for it.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      That’s a good point, but I still say don’t go for it. Unless you’re gonna get that jersey tailored. J/K! Sort of.

      What’s funny, is that most of the time people who decry fashion/style are also people who seem really committed to a particular style. I’m looking at you, anarcho-punks! Y’all invest A LOT of time in your look.

  3. Love the Teddy Girls, it just go’s to show price tag and style are not married, because good taste is priceless!

  4. Briar

    Thanks for the intro to this subculture. I knew about the Teddy Boys, but had no clue about the girls!

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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