London Subcultures 1950-1980
Between 1950 and 1980, groups of young people defined themselves as different through their musical, fashion and lifestyle preferences.
These 'subcultures' usually expressed a deliberate opposition to established ideas of morality and public order. Disenchanted by the staid conventions of the older generation, young people demanded freedom to behave as they wished.
The confidence of youth was partly based on prosperity. Earnings increased by 70% between 1950 and 1970, and young people had disposable incomes to play with.
Teddy Boys and Girls
'Teds' were associated with the rise of rock and roll in the 1950s. Teddy dress was a version of Edwardian-era dress. Teddy boys wore knee-length drape coats with half-length velvet collars, suede shoes and elaborate bouffant hairstyles, a pastiche of the wealthy patrons of Saville Row.
Teddy Girls wore full dirndl or circular skirts decorated with large appliqus, white fitted shirts, and scarves tied around their necks. Along with zoot-suited Hipsters and Greasers, Teds were associated with American-style rock and roll, and the British stars Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Cliff Richard.
'Mods' or Moderns were fashion-conscious sharp dressers of the 1960s. Emerging in part from the jazz modernists of the 1950s, and partly from working-class traditions of competitive dressing, Mods aped the look of middle-class businessmen. They wore Italian-cut, custom-made suits from Cecil Gee and teamed them withpolo shirts and neat Vidal Sassoon haircuts. They rode Vespa motor scooters.
Young Mod women turned towards style icons such as the androgynous model Twiggy for inspiration. Frivolous or ladylike accessories were abandoned in favour of figure-hugging sweaters, mini-skirts and shift dresses.
Mods liked Black music and those who had grown up with newly settled West Indian neighbours adopted elements of Black styling and a taste for Jamaican Ska. London Mod bands of the 1960s included the Small Faces, The Who and The Kinks.
By the 1970s, subcultures had turned more aggressive. Skinheads, or 'Skins', were defiantly working class. The dress code consisted of a shaven head, sta-prest jeans, braces and Doctor Marten boots. Skins listened to Black music, at that time reggae, and used Black slang in their speech. However, as racial tensions increased at the beginning of the 1970s, Skinheads become associated with racism and far-right political parties.
Punks emerged in the mid-1970s as another working-class and outwardly aggressive group. Promoting themselves as the 'blank generation', punks identified with alienation and anarchy.
Jonny Rotten of The Sex Pistols set the tone for punk's renegade attitude and provocative dress: safety-pinned denims, jackboots and spiked-up hairstyles. The band's manager Malcolm Mclaren and his partner Vivienne Westwood, who ran 'Sex', a shop on the King's Road, masterminded the look. Bands such as The Clash and Buzzcocks kept the punk ethic going after the Pistols disbanded in 1977.
From the late 1960s, young Afro-Caribbean Londoners took up the Rasta lifestyle originally practised by Rastafarians from the Caribbean. This was characterised by wearing dreadlocks, listening to dub reggae music, and smoking ganja (cannabis). The lifestyle was an attempt to assert a Black identity distinct from that of earlier generations who had been content to be 'West Indian immigrants'.
The disadvantages encountered by Black youths in the 1970s, combined with mounting racial tension and apparent injustice, made the Rasta lifestyle a political as much as a style statement. Rastas saw London as a place of exile and conflict, as reflected in Max Romeo's 1976 release, War Inna Babylon.
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