Christian Dior’s Twist on the Teddy Girls

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Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest feminist-forward collection for Christian Dior references the Teddy Girls of the 1950s, celebrating the rebellious spirit that the British youth subculture represented. Like the sense of excess and indulgence that the Teddy Girls wanted to emulate, the Dior Fall/Winter 2019 collection was full of luxe details, including sequins and embroidery. These went along with Edwardian-inspired jackets and full skirts evocative of those of the Teddy Girls.

While it struck a strong feminine chord, masculine ideas were apparent in the trousers, waistcoat-like details, and use of leather in the collection. The juxtaposition of these masculine and feminine elements calls upon the effortless androgyny of the Teddy Girls, who used their clothes to shake up the status quo. Looking back on the history of their style, the Teddy Girls shows another side of sartorial rebellion.

Youth subcultures provide distinct snapshots into history, reflecting the adolescents’ unrest with the current social institutions and expectations. In the 1950s, working class British youth rebelled against the austerity of the postwar era and instead turned towards Edwardian dandy fashion to influence their looks. These trouser and drape jacket-wearing teens took on a smart look mixed with a rock n’ roll attitude, and soon became known as the Teddy Boys or Teds. Their female counterparts, the Teddy Girls, have faded into the background of the subculture’s history as the boys’ sometimes violent and miscreant behavior earned the most media attention. The Teddy Girls, however, are worth remembering for their own spin on the dandy look, as they adopted an androgynous style that turned away from the ultra-feminine New Look popularized by Dior after the war.

Also known as the Judies, the Teddy Girls were identified by their masculine look that mirrored that of the Teds. These young women often dropped out of school and got jobs, giving them a sense of financial independence and some spending money to burn. To acquire their dandy dress, the girls would scour thrift shops for the drape jackets and velvet-collared jackets that would unify their look. With these, they would wear plain shirts, cropped trousers or denim jeans rolled at the hem, and flat shoes. For the more feminine set, some would wear hobble skirts, to reference back to Edwardian fashion, or the more modern pencil skirt. Because the Teddy Girls wanted to defy the austere sensibilities of the time, they opted for accessories that were a bit flashy, including cameo brooches and luxe clutch purses. The small handbags and coin purses were especially a small luxury as they were an unnecessary use of textiles during the war.

Despite looking the part, the Teddy Girls operated within a more limited social space than boys at the time. They were still associated with the domestic sphere and weren’t seen as publicly active as the Teddy Boys. This created a paradox within the subculture, since all genders within the Teddy group already viewed themselves as a misunderstood community. The women, then, became even more alienated in the eyes of society and became largely forgotten in history, overshadowed by the gangs and unrest that the Teddy Boys succumbed to. Now revived by Chiuri, their mark on subculture and style gets written back into fashion.

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