Thursday, 25 February 2010

Constructing the Teddy Boy

One of the most conspicuous aspects of the British Teddy Boy was his hair; that towering quiff carefully and regularly primped with a comb - perhaps a flick knife comb for extra posing points! - and secured with copious fistfuls of pomade.

At least since the nineteenth century, men's hair was simply cut short and combed flat, sometimes slicked with the macassar oil that gave Victorian and Edwardian housewives such headaches worrying about their stained upholstery they were forced to invent the antimacassar. The only possible variations seemed to be in the parting of the hair, and tonsorial exuberance was confined to the moustache.

Given all those long decades of modesty and simplicity in men's hair, it must have been quite a shock in the early 1950s to see young men constructing glossy (and greasy) edifices of hair and quite shamelessly preening in what was seen as an effeminate manner. There can't have been many young men who went quite to this, er, length though:


This 1956 film was shot at Cyril Parker's hairdressers shop in Tottenham Court Road, London. The hair 'sausage' or 'elephant trunk' seems very similar to the postiches used by Victorian and Edwardian women to pad out their hairdos - think of those voluminous bouffant styles as sported by the "Gibson Girls" which often needed substantial postiches to achieve.

There's very little footage of Teddy Boys in the British Pathé archive, although interestingly the two clips I've found focus on their hair. So here's the second film, shot at a hairdressing show in Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1955.

There's some bizarre ladies' hairdos, and a varied selection of men's haircuts including the 'Petronius' (Roman style), the 'Curled Semi-Crew Cut,' the 'Brush Cut' and the 'Tony Curtis.' You can catch a brief glimpse of Lew Starr (finessing the Brush Cut), who was the Teddy Boy hairdresser in Manchester, and - I'm told by one who remembers - always had intimidating queues of scowling, smoking ruffians outside his salon in Charles Street:


And we all know what 'D.A.' really stands for, don't we?!

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