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A Brief Fashion History Of England Part 1 - The Fifties
It's just that there have been notable points in England's recent past where fashion has been turned on its head and the ideals and ideas of what had been acceptable scuttled off into ignominy.
Starting here with the 1950's, I will attempt to illustrate how one fashion trend started the ball rolling and gave England its first youth culture.
The Dawning of Teen Fashion
The Teddy Boys grew out of the 1950's when anything and everything had to do with America.
America was viewed as the nation to be. The cars were big and opulent and the austerity by which the English had previously led their lives was something the teenagers of the time were rebelling against.
The name 'Teddy' came from a newspaper headline, which referred to the then King of England, King Edward, as Teddy and so it was. They were Teddy Boys or later, just Ted's.
Their choice of clothes emulated the dandies of the Edwardian era to some degree, as reintroduced by the Saville Row tailors after the war. Prior to this, the only things people wore were work clothes, school clothes or 'Sunday best' and this period was the first time in Britain that ordinary people dressed for show, caring intensely about how they looked.
Their ability to buy clothes like these stemmed from the rise in wages as the economy picked up and weekly payments for items was becoming fashionable too. So people didn't have to save their pennies until they had the money for that suit, the jacket, shoes or anything else, they could go and get them there and then.
More importantly, Teddy Boys had a strict dress code.
For them, the width of the trouser bottoms--known as 'drainpipes' had to be less than fifteen inches, which confused the life out of their parents who often wondered why it mattered. For the lads though, it was all important and often required the trousers to be taken to understanding tailors or seamstresses for them to be altered to the required width.
The drape jackets came in a variety of colours including various shades of blue, plum, scarlet, maroon and in later years all sorts of colours started to appear like pale blue, leopard print, pink and lime green to name but a few, often with a velvet collar and pocket flaps.
The shoes were also important as they were all part of the overall look.
Mostly, these were the styles that were most popular.
They were an important departure from the usual footwear of the time, which was similar to the overall dress code, only for many, it was a case of spit and polish on whatever shoes they did have.
Now, the order of the day was dressing to impress with the thick, crepe soled 'brothel creeper', the winklepicker or chunky brogues.
Trying to find appropriate pictures for this has been a real pain as all those that are of the period are like the one above, but anyway, it gives you an idea...
The trousers were generally high-waisted trousers with a narrow leg and usually black. Jeans were also worn and were often preshrunk in a bath to make them as tight as humanly possible.
The trousers and jeans were either hemmed or turned up to reveal brightly coloured socks between them and the shoes or boots.
Nowadays or at least since the 80's, the fashion would be referred to as 'rockabilly', but back in the day, it was simply known as a DA.
The coif (from the French 'Coiffure') was taken directly from Elvis and his contemporaries. It was often slicked using Brycreem--a hair product invented in 1928 in Birmingham, England and made popular by the RAF--hence the term Brycreem boys, which also sparked a film of the same name.
DA was actually parlance for Duck's Arse (I'm sorry, but it was) and was so coined by the way the hair was slicked back from the sides to the back of the head, leaving the bit at the bottom to curl upwards.
It was all in show only.
Whilst some of the people who liked to dress that way were fine, there were those for whom it was gang related, with rivals regularly beating the good-for-the-roses out of each other.
It was said that Teddy Boys were all you wanted to be, but were too afraid.
Perhaps that sentiment was down to the media of the time reporting that razor blades were sewn in behind the lapels of their jackets, disabling those who would wish to grab them by the lapels during a fight. Indeed, straight or cut-throat razors were also said to have been carried as a matter of course and with the fights that quickly became commonplace between rival gangs, it's hardly surprising really.
But what of women?
I hear you ask.
Well, things did pick up for them too.
Skirts and dresses were tight about the waist, with loose, flowing skirts in bright, bold patterns--at least for the younger generation anyway.
I think the fifties has got to have been pone of the only time in Britain's recent history, where men's clothes have done such an about turn and actually outdid women's fashion. However, whilst Teddy Boys were definitely English, the girls were tending more to the American styles with Doris Day being a prime example of their ideal woman.
In the next thrilling instalment...
We'll look at the sixties.
Then we had hippies, Carnaby street, The Beatles and fashion for both men and women took on a whole new look