If fashion revivals keep accelerating at the current rate, last year’s hot-pants are going to be a cult by the end of the decade. Who would have dreamed that a Fifties teenager’s wardrobe would be back in fashion by his late twenties? In 1958 Teddy Boys were practically extinct now crowds of Teds and Rockers cram the Fishmongers Arms at Wood Green to hear rock groups like Screaming Lord Sutch and the Houseshakers (above). There are now an estimated 20,000 revivalist Teddy Boys in England, and the drainpipe-trouser trade is booming. These pictures show some of the clothes that you’ve only just managed to forget.
A new and influential shop in the King’s Road is run by an original Ted called Malcolm McLaren. Walking into Let It Rock is like walking into a flashback from the Fifties. James Dean and Elvis posters line the walls; period showcases are filled with hair-cream, plastic combs and sweetheart lockets; the juke-box belts out some of the best rock ever recorded, and the clothes on sale would be a credit to Gene Vincent, Presley, Eddie Cochran or anyone else who made the recordings. Boxes of 45s and old fan magazines litter the floor next to genuine valve radios with a three-month guarantee.
Designers like Stirling Cooper and Mr Freedom have been manufacturing Fifties-inspired clothes for some time, but Let It Rock is the only shop selling the real thing. This particular revival is so premature that there is still a large amount of the original stock around; dirndl skirts, stiletto-heeled winkle-pickers, cotton sweaters and plastic jewellery, not to mention 12in. drainpipe trousers and jeans, bootlace ties, luminous socks and blue suede shoes. This is the only place where Teds can buy off-the-peg ‘drapes’ — their mid-thigh Edwardian velvet-trimmed jackets. The phenomenon of Let It Rock is that it is situated in the heart of Chelsea, which Teds regard as ‘enemy territory’; now they’re selling to the newly converted ‘natives’.
The clothes in Let It Rock are inspired by two groups, the Teddy Boys (and girls) and Rockers (and birds). According to McLaren, Teds like the updated rock styles, whereas the Rockers, especially the girls, prefer ‘strong’ ideas like the characteristic shaggy mohair sweater-dresses and winklepicker boots. ‘Chelsea people’ go more for the authentic stuff . . . if you endorse a revival, you might as well get the real thing Fashion can thank the Fifties for some of the most unglamorous and unflattering clothes we ever knew. That is what makes their unmodified rebirth so difficult to understand.
I’m not sure I can say much more about Vivienne Westwood’s body of work which hasn’t already been said. I always think the best quality in a designer is idiosyncrasy, and Westwood had that by the truckload. Her work didn’t stagnate, but it often referenced her own past and continued to translate the wider cultural past into her own language – and yet never tried to be anybody else. Given my magazine collection covers mainly the Sixties and Seventies, I thought it best to celebrate her by doing what I do best, which is trying to go back and show you the starting point for the things we just take for granted decades later. The origins of what she’s best known for are ultimately in the Teddy Boy revival of the early Seventies and her work for ‘Let It Rock’ with Malcolm McLaren, and this captures that early spark – despite the fact that they don’t mention her at all.
I’ve also been meaning to scan this for a while so, now seemed like a good time. I mean, Pat Cleveland and Screaming Lord Sutch photographed by Hans Feurer? What more could you ask for?
Report by Valerie Wade.
Photographed by Hans Feurer.
Scanned from The Sunday Times Magazine, May 14th 1972.