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Essay: Exploring How Sub-Cultures Defined Fashion: A Look Back at Tensions in the Edwardian Era and Later

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoighaire,

School of Creative Arts

“The tensions between dominate and subordinate groups can be reflected in the surfaces of sub-cultures – in the styles made up of mundane objects which have a double meaning”


Andrew Woodcock

Class Tutor

Linda King

The essay title that I have chosen is:

“The tensions between dominate and subordinate groups can be reflected in the surfaces of sub-cultures – in the styles made up of mundane objects which have a double meaning”.

I have chosen this essay title because, I find the subject matter very fascinating. I am very intrigued in the fact that groups of mainly teenagers were defined and categorised by the music they listened too, the clothes they wore and the places they would hang out or come from, I want to compare these styles and sub-cultures to those of today.

Sub-Culture would be defined as a “cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture”, and it started out with the white working class youth and Black community. Sub-Cultures start coming out and playing massive roles just after the second world war in the 1970’s when the streets of England were very grey and dull, and before the war there was no such thing really as a teenager, it went from boy to man with no generation in-between, and in Don Letts documentary “The Don Letts Sub-Culture film”, Paul Garman states that “the circumstances that led to teenage as a phenomenon were principally economic and social”. No-one really had to wear a uniform anymore, there was no regime and this led to people being able to create themselves through style.

Teddy Boys were the first youth sub-culture that differentiated themselves as teenagers, helping the development of a youth market, it is a “British phenomenon and pre-dates the introduction of American Rock’n’Roll music into Britain in late 1955 by Bill Haley & his Comets by at least five years or so”. The Teddy Boy took inspiration from America’s Rock’n’Roll music and the style was taken from two forms, the black rhythm and blues movement and then the aristocratic Edwardian Era. The Teddy boys were seen as racists and “were frequently involved in unprovoked attacks on West Indians and figured prominently in the 1958 race riots”.

This movement relates to my essay title because of the fashion of the movement. I am going to discuss how the Teddy Boy style was adopted from the Edwardian era and how its making impacts on mens fashion today.

The “origins of the Teddy Boys actually go back to the late 1940’s when Saville Row Tailor’s attempted to revive the styles of the reign of King Edward VII, 1901-1910”, and this period was known as the Edwardian era. The Edwardian style consisted on long fancy coats, with “drain-pipe” trousers, which were short at the ankles, waist coats, blazers and dress shirts with a long stiff collar and a four-in-hand tie, some accessories were the top-hat, bowler hats, toe cap and lace up boots.

Teddy Boys adopted this style and gave the look a whole new meaning, it was not just for the rich and wealthy, it was now the style of a working class British youth sub-culture but with small modifications, and this was kind of a jab at the upper class. I think this time period was one of the most influential for young people to express themselves through style and style had a massive impact on people at the time, in the Don Letts documentary “Subculture”, we are told that these young men could not change where they came from but they could however make a massive impact with the clothes they wore and the music they listened too. The look consisted on the main elements of the Edwardian era style, they wore long coats, fancy dress shirts and ties with the drain-pipe trousers that went short at the ankles, sometimes they cuffed the bottom of the trousers. The “Teds” would wear their hair almost like a “peacock”, with pompadour hairstyles, slicked back and stuck together with gel and one of the most famous hairstyles from the time was the “Ducks Arse”.

The most interesting part about this essay for me is that I actually find out about some of the history on the clothes that I would wear, I get to compare the fashion from then and now. I would usually visit a shop and see a new piece of clothing just brought into the shop and think that it is new in fashion, but no I’m completely wrong. I would also think this about hairstyles and the little small things that were done to lets say “spice up” the outfit worn and some examples that I will be comparing are shown in this image (Fig.3).

If you look at the image fig.1, you can see many resemblances, one in particular is the trousers folded up at the bottom. Back maybe two or three years ago when I seen people starting to roll up their trousers, I thought that it was a great fashion statement and I felt unbelievably “cool” when I was going out or to a party. This process looks spectacular on the young men in the first image (fig.1) and it was a small gesture that helped differentiate the look from the Aristocratic look. It still has a major impact on people today and its usually pulled off when a person would wear skinny jeans or skinny slacks. You would fold the bottom of the legs and make it tight by overlapping


The next sub-culture that I will be discussing is the Modernist Subculture. The Modernists (also known as Mods) came in at the beginning of the 60s and it was very different from the Teddy Boys that came before them in many ways.

The Teddy Boys were influenced from a time before them, whereas the Mods were more interested in the future, “people started to look forward not back”. Mods were more interested in modern jazz, while the Teds were interested in Rock’n’Roll. Mods would have been described in Dick Hebdidges Book as a “typical lower-class dandy”, and they were “obsessed with the small details of dress”, they were “subtle and subdued in appearance”, and dressed in more conservative suits with respectable colours, they were very neat and tidy.

Their hair was short and didn’t stick out from their heads like the Teddy Boys and Rockers, and they tried to capture a French look, like the actors they would see in films. They created a look that allowed them to “negotiate smoothly between school, work and leisure”, and it “concealed as much as it stated”, and they were also seen as camp and very feminine, unlike the “Teds” and “Rockers”, who were from a more masculine influence.

Another difference between the two was that the Mods were more open to the West Indians that lived amongst them, the Mods “were the first in a long line of working-class youth cultures which grew up around the West Indians, responded positively to their presence and sought to emulate their style” and this introduced the communities to new sounds, clothes and cultures, and this was a major influence on how the Mod style came about.

Skin Heads

When you search up the word “Skin Head” on the internet your met by just disgusting and intimidating images of Neo-Nazi racist images, and its quite unpleasant because thats not how Skin Heads started out at all, and in this section of my essay I will be discussing how the Skin Head movement came from the modernist and became

Punk Rockers

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