Thursday, August 26, 2010

1950s Subculture: Teddy Girls

While I do love the mainstream fashion of the past, (though I will admit I know little about designer wear, past or present) I’ve always been drawn to the fashion of subcultures. Mods, rockers, rude boys, skins, punks, goths, new romantics…I just truly find subcultures fascinating (and definitely need to do more research – as an aside, if anyone has any suggestions for books, etc., on subculture fashion in general I’d much appreciate it!)

I am by no means the first to write about Teddy Girls and I’m sure I have nothing new to say – my only hope is that someone, somewhere will discover something new to inspire them.

Before turning his full attention to the film industry, director Ken Russell photographed these snazzily dressed young women. Taken in London, in 1955, Russell called the series ‘The Last of the Teddy Girls’. He says that no one paid much attention to the teddy girls before he took the photographs though there was plenty on the 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.” (Source)

Many people found ‘ted’ males intimidating but one of the girls photographed by Russell insists that they weren’t violent or trouble-making girls – “…we’d just sit on each other’s doorsteps and play music.”

These were working class girls who left school at 14 or 15 and spent their money on their striking outfits. They rejected the post-war feminine clothes in favour of their customised outfits.

I love the mix of masculine and feminine in teddy girl fashion – they mixed cameo brooches and high-necked blouses with drape jackets and rolled up jeans. Like their male counterparts, the Teddy girls’ fashions were inspired by Edwardian fashion (hence, ‘Teddy’).

Unlike this girl, I wouldn't say I'm keen on seeing a Teddy Girl revival. Much like many songs & films, sometimes the original is the best. And, like with so many subcultures, Teddy Girl style is made more interesting when seen in context – as Susannah Price wrote in her 2006 article “Their choice of clothes wasn’t only for aesthetic affect: these girls were collectively rejecting post-war austerity.” Their style also presented a counter to the often extreme femininity of 1950s fashion.

Subcultures generally exist because of specific social, political, etc. climates…the clothes are reactions to these things, and that is what I find most fascinating.

There is surprisingly (and dishearteningly) little out there about Teddy Girls. If it weren’t for Ken Russell’s beautiful photo-essay would we even remember these girls? Or would they be forever forgotten, leaving us only to remember Teddy Boys?

I won’t go on any longer, but here are a few other write-ups on the photographs (& other things) that I found whilst trawling through google search:

Andi B. Goode

P.S. I made it over 500 followers! Eep. How exciting. I am thinking about doing another giveaway to celebrate - I'll either see if I can buy a gift or maybe see if anyone wants to sponsor one.
P.P.S. Am trying to fix strange changing font size, right now.

Edit: As this is one of my most popular posts, I thought I would add that some of my ideas have changed since first writing it (specifically with respect to the Teddy Girl revival) - I think some of the reasons that young girls turned to this fashion could still be applied to fashion today or turning to these styles could reflect something else. I realise it sounded like I was against anyone taking inspiration from them, too, which I'm certainly not.


  1. What fantastic photographs, thanks so much for posting these!

  2. Penny Dreadful: You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed them! =D

  3. What a great post - thank you!

    I really knew very little about Teddy Girls (or boys, for that matter)...and now I'm completely intrigued. I would never have guessed the connection to the Edwardian era.

    I love the look! Funny, I've been buying old Sears/Wards catalogs lately, and the rolled up jeans from the 50's look so stiff & unsexy - but the teddy girls really knew how to do it with style...

    Thanks for including all those resources - I'll have to do some reading!

  4. I loveeeee the teddy girl and boy styles a lot. I have been trying to find that movie too.

  5. The first window i see when i open my window is the one of the last Teddy boys of Montpellier. So dork !!!
    I try to be cool with him the first years but pffff too much troubles !!! Now it's the war, him, with Crazy cavan music the most loud possible and me with black rock'n roll, all windows open and the volume turn to the maximum ha ha ha ha !!!

    By the way, the pics are fantastic ;)

  6. What a great post! I didn't even realize that Teddy Boy had a female counterpart!

  7. This is fantastic. I hadn't seen any of these awesome photos until now. I love the high collar/cameo/blazer combination, I might have to copy that sometime :)

  8. Fun post, great topic!

    I love it!

    Keep up the good work.


  9. Wow, I've never even see teddy girls before. Thanks for posting!

  10. Wow awesome post. If you're interested in subcultures I'm actually reading a book written by one of my workmates. She was a "Sharpie" which was a 70's Melbourne thing. They had a really unique style and it's all really fascinating.

  11. this was absolutely FASCINATING! I readily admit I knew nothing about teddy girls before reading this post.

    I LOVE their style, though I readily admit that I can see traces of Teddy Girl culture in some of the fashion of the 80s and even in the 90s riot grrrl culture, too. Then, of course, as you note, there may be another attempt to revive and reinvent these looks NOW. SO interesting. I'd like to think that it would be mildly interesting to consider WHY Teddy Girl culture might be coming back today and what it might tell us about gender and fashion in the 21st century? When I think about which style I would prefer women to lean towards--the pornographified aesthetic of modern mainstream MTV culture OR one which might be reacting against it)--I think I'd choose the latter. However, I TOTALLY get your point about copies of any movement being pale in comparison to the original. I am constantly ranting about how annoying it has been this past decade to see all my favourite 70s and 80s tv shows turned into terrible movies. There does seem to be a lack of originality sometimes. Then again, supposedly it's the whole "postmodern" or post-Post Modern state of things...pastiche the past into something new and modern. Okay, I'll stop ranting now;)

  12. I just recently discovered these wonderful girls myself! Great post!!

  13. Loved this post! The photos are great and teddy style never gets old.

  14. Andi, I totally get what you mean about it being beyond annoying to see countercultural fashion movements emptied out and commodified (like punk and like TeddyGirls). These pictures capture the idea that the Teddy Girl style can never be "bought." The girls themselves with their swagger and their confidence show that it's never as simple as just buying goods and wearing's a way of being that the Gap or whatever mass production clothing company will NEVER be able to bottle up and sell. hehe.

  15. This is great!I didn't know about teddy girls either,only the boys.Awesome pics ,i really want to learn more now.I love these girls!Thanks for such an interesting post Andi:)

  16. So glad that others hadn't heard of teddy girls and I gave them something new to discover. Hurrah. Thank-you all! =D
    Baroness: I get exactly what you mean (as I said on your blog) and I'm glad you can understand what I mean, too. =] Also, I love a good rant on my blog (so long as it's not aimed at me;] so rant away! But, yes, exactly - it's not a bought image at all. Then again, true style never is, is it? ;]
    KittyMeow: Oh, awesome! I love sharpies. =D

  17. FYI - A book on the 80s Mod revival in Australia:

    Love the piece on Teddy Girls!

  18. 20thCenturyJoy: Thanks for the link - that's brilliant. And I'm glad you liked the piece! =D


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