Style / May 2017

Street Smarts: Mods, Rudeboys, Teddy Boys and Punks

From mods to rudeboys and teddy boys to punks, British postwar life was bedecked with subcultures using music, attitude and clothes to try to prove themselves special.

Cleancut mods in 1966. Photo by David McEnery/REX/Shutterstock.

Of all the subcultures that have permeated the core of British youth, from New Romanticism to punk, there are a few that stand out symbolically and sartorially. From the teddy boys of the 1950s to the mods of the sixties and skinheads of the seventies, these tribes are intrinsically linked, proving to be some of the most fastidious and aspirational social movements of the 20th century. Members of these distinct clans, almost exclusively young working-class kids, attempted to differentiate themselves from the rest of society in a still recovering postwar Britain through the music they listened to, the attitude they adopted, and the clothes they worshipped. These movements’ attention to detail and dedication to clothing is something The Rake can relate to, and this is reason enough to delve deeper into these unique subcultures, which have never truly left the wider British consciousness.

The modern lounge suit has always been a symbol of masculinity and, throughout its inception and for many decades after, a sign of elegance, taste and a certain level of social standing. Men who wore suits were of a certain ilk: they were respectable, had noteworthy roles in society and were considered gentlemen. According to Eric Musgrave, author of Sharp Suits, “clothes have always been a manifestation of wealth and power” and “for centuries, the social mores and dress codes of the nation had been dictated by the court and then disseminated by the aristocracy, who were, literally, the leaders of men”.

As has been documented in recent issues of The Rake, though, the suit is constantly in a period of transition. It is no longer the coat of armour it once was, and its uniform-like connotations are dwindling thanks to the rise of tailored casualwear and the breaking of dress codes. Today’s man wants comfort, and the fashion world is responding, producing hybrid garments such as blazers made of high-performance jersey fabric and trainers made from exotic leathers. In some cases, all formal connotations have been removed from the suit, and brands are creating completely unlined, unstructured iterations, which are essentially shells of their highly built-up tailored cousins. This allows the suit to be worn in ways it has never been before, lending well to the style-conscious gentleman’s contemporary lifestyle. This isn’t the first time such a sartorial revolution has occurred, however, and the suit been taken out of its original context.

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Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a former staffer at The Rake.