This is a 'guest' blog; the author wishes to remain anonymous.
The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated—and precisely for that reason—this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalised separation.
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord (1967).
Fashion significantly contributes to the spectacle of society, but is situated outside of the academic discourse, and firmly in the realm of consumerism. Unlike ‘art’, which is regarded as engaging with the world on an elitist level, fashion is considered to be strictly for the masses. Even couture, despite being elitist, is mediated to the masses via mass production of look-a-like items. Museums hold costumes in specialist departments, but art gallery spaces rarely (if ever) hang clothing on display in the manner that they may construct a display of house bricks (Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, 1972), show an unmade bed complete with detritus including used condoms (Tracy Emin’s My Bed, 1999) or plug in strip lighting (Dan Flavin’s Untitled [to you…] series, 2006). Occasionally museums or art galleries stage exhibitions of couture dresses and other one-off outfits created by Designers (always capitalized), who might consider themselves to be Professional Artists, but they are employed by major international corporations (Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton etc.) to produce consumer goods that will be sold in large numbers.
Any concept of the ‘art of fashion’ is constrained by its sole motivation for being to satisfy mass demand and a certain degree of utility. However, in the middle of the last century a spontaneous and non-commercially-driven fashion developed among a working class group of British teenage men that sparked a revolution in fashion—and art. The ‘Teddy Boys’ of south, east and north London were a disparate group of males who took to wearing clothes based loosely on an Edwardian design, but which were amended using items of clothing and adornment adopted from Hollywood Western and Noir movies. The resultant exhibition of found items were arranged and displayed on the bodies of Teddy Boys in a wholly new and artistic manner.
Styles of dress and the addition of purely decorative elements to an outfit have been affected since the Middle Ages, and usually by men. Recent investigation into the history of fashion has led to a reconsideration of a widely held idea that fashion was a largely feminine concern. As Anne Hollander has pointed out, 'for centuries male potency was expressed in erotic and vividly imaginative clothing, and female charm was expressed in much simpler clothing that primarily emphasized modesty. When women wanted to look more interesting, they either cautiously exposed a small area of skin, or imitated men'.Hollander goes on to describe how little men’s fashion needed to change after the end of the 18th century though, because of improvements in the production and quality of lighter cloths, the mechanization of tailoring and growth of the middle class for whom ready made suits were acceptable because they were difficult to tell apart from the hand-made suits favoured by the wealthy and titled—at least at a glance, they were. ‘Fashion is meant to be read, not seen; fit and proportion matter less, signals matter more.’ The aspiring middle class of Victorian Britain could look like they were more affluent and successful than they might actually be.
Brent Shannon’s original research into the growth of the male consumer of the 19th and early 20th centuries cites the spread of the department store, the popular press and advertising, as reasons for a middle class male adoption of fashion as more than a matter of mere functionality. 'Much of the machinery vital to the ascent of a modernized capitalist culture of consumption—the large-scale urban department store, sophisticated advertising and marketing strategies, the mass production of affordable ready-made items—were not possible until the technological and commercial advances of the machine age'.
The flourishing department stores thrived as hetero-social centres in which the sexes could mix and consume in pairs or separately, but always within sight of one other. Tailors ‘ shops were predominantly masculine spaces in which customers were served by male staff. Department stores, points out Shannon, ‘were well-known sites of female employment and activity and therefore already attracted a variety of eager and flirtatious male voyeurs, flaneurs, and suitors.’ Such a point is made by Henry James in The Princess Casamassima (1886) in which its central male character Hyacinth Robinson, who is courting a department store model (Millicent Henning), comes to realise, as he watches her model a dress for a male on the shop floor, that she is having an affair with the customer. Being working class, Robinson only visits the department store to meet Millicent, and when he does, he wears his ‘Sunday suit’.
The working class in Victorian Britain did not shop in department stores, but they aspired to. Without the means (or need) to dress other than for comfort, warmth and protection while at work, workers who wanted to raise their sense of self worth and to make a statement of intent about their social ambitions began to watch their bosses at play, and to develop their own sense of sartorial taste from them. James relates the late Victorian ritual of Sunday courting in the novel, during which shop girls, maids and cooks walked in parks or more often, along high streets to window shop with ‘their’ young men who were similarly employed as bell boys, apprentices, factory hands or footmen. After a morning spent in church, the single suit that the working class male possessed would be retained in order that he could impress in public his respectability as he walked with his partner. They would walk alongside carriages carrying the upper classes, observing their clothes and accessories, enjoying and wanting to be part of the spectacle of their society. They’d look through windows of stores showing new styles of dress for both sexes, getting ideas of how to produce their own versions at home (Robinson’s guardian in the novel is a seamstress who makes items of clothing for girls and women in her neighborhood; her work decreases as ready made clothing becomes cheaper, however).
In the years leading up to WWI the British upper classes enjoyed what would prove to be their last days of social superiority and absolute deference from the working classes. Masculine styles of dress had become both more ornate and more streamlined than in the late 1890s. Top hats were replaced as daywear by bowler hats, morning tails had been replaced by frock coats with tapered waists and flared edges, suits were slim-fitted and three-piece, of which the jacket hung to fingertip length. Waistcoats were decorative rather than merely functional, shirts lost their starched fronts and Eton collars. Pocket handkerchiefs flowed from breast openings, trousers were tapered to the ankle and shoes were elegant and always shone. Even the evening dress for men became less formal, with dinner suits as well as, or rather than, tailcoats being considered de rigeur.
The cut and style of the upper class Edwardian male’s clothes were copied by as many working class males as could afford to pay a tailor, or buy a ready-made version. It was a look that, after two world wars and during a period of austerity and rationing, would re-emerge in Britain, and be modified as fitted the wearer.
It is commonly held that the British couturier Hardy Amies encouraged Horseguard officers and young bankers to adopt the Edwardian dress style in the early 1950s, in order that, ‘the average young man of position try to give an air of substance without being stodgy’. Savile Row tailors recreated suits and coats, hats and accessories for the wealthy and privileged, and the sharp look stood out against the loose, wide-lapelled, dour, demob suits that dominated the streets of the capital at the time. Or, at least dominated the City streets of the capital. In the poorer boroughs of London, a different look was being worn by young working class males, many of whom had been born just before (or during) WWII.
Most commentators on the Teddy Boy phenomenon credit the development of the style to being an aping of those upper class officers by working class males. As Christopher Breward writes, Harry Hopkins’ The New Look: A Social History of the Forties and Fifties (London, 1964), supplied the approved account of the rise of the teddy style for successive generations of academics and researchers. Hopkins ‘traces its origins as a whim of upper class Mayfair playboys, its migration to the deprived boroughs of south and east London, its importance as a mode of social resistance, and its rapid commercialisation at the hands of a growing retail sector adapted to the desires of the teenager, has become an oft-repeated mantra of sociologists and historians of popular culture.’ However, quoting a 1949 Mass Observation study, Breward suggests that by then,
The Teddy Boy was rapidly emerging as a particular working-class London type; Anglo-Irish or ‘cockney’ in his associations in contrast to the continental and American preferences of London’s sizeable Italian and Maltese gang members. Though he drew some inspiration from the ‘spivvy’ style … his look was far more negotiated, deliberately differentiated and consequently more subversive than that.
With their radically different physical appearance, the children of war heroes (or cowards or ‘conshies’) sought to express themselves as individuals, outsiders to society, but as belonging to a new society of their own making; that of the Teddy Boy gang. Teddy Boys—who predated both the import of rock n roll music by at last five years and the emergence of Elvis Presley by seven—adapted and adopted elements of clothing and style from their grandfathers and American cinema, by essentially including a ‘signature’ piece to their outfits. That could be something as small as a ring worn on a finger, a tattoo, a certain colour handkerchief, a delicately brocaded waistcoat or a scarf. The addition of the original and unique item to the standard dress code of fingertip-length ‘drape’ jacket, tapered trousers, brogue or thin crepe soled shoes, bootlace tie and extravagantly quiffed hair enabled the Teddy Boy to be one of the gang—usually defined by the neighbourhood in which members lived—and an artist (without knowing it), utilising the only materials they had. Their look was all-important, a visual statement which spoke far louder and more articulately than they ever could with words.
The group life and intense loyalty of the Teds can be seen as a reaffirmation of traditional slum working-class values … to lads traditionally lacking in status… there remained only the self, the cultural extension of the self (dress, personal appearance).
Certainly some Teddy Boys sought to show off their lack of deference to the upper classes by copying the style and form of the Edwardian look, and by having original suits made by a chosen tailor, to who the Ted would give strict instruction on length, width, materials etc. However, financial restrictions meant that the majority of young men who would and could be a Ted—and many were still either at school or in apprenticeships and so earning little—took to having either their father or more likely their grandfather’s Edwardian suits and coats adapted by mothers, sisters, girlfriends or tailors, in order to fit them.
The important distinction here between fashion as pure consumer product and as art is the individuality of the Teddy Boy’s style—at least until the look was commodified and mass produced to be sold in department stores. Even then, while elements of the style could and were bought from stores ready-made, the accessories applied to them and the meaning with which the wearer imbued them, was a unique expression of what Richard Martin calls, ‘the maverick, bad-boy self-expression that once was the province of the fine arts bohemianism and Existentialist angst.’
The news media of the early 1950s took notice of the emergence of the Teddy Boy after there had been several instances of ‘turf war’ battles between rival gangs and the supposed ‘Teddy Boy murder’ of 1953 in Clapham, south London. Teds were reviled in print as being juvenile delinquents and dangerous to society in general. The idea of the Ted as an outlandishly dressed thug and/or rebel was disseminated across the UK in newsreels, documentaries and made-up newspaper stories. The shock of the new was such that even Americans began to take note, and the first rock n roll musical hero of the era, Bill Haley And His Comets, were re-dressed in specially made Teddy Boy outfits when they arrived in Britain in 1957 for their first tour.
The swift and effective exploitation of the Teddy Boy phenomenon by the fashion industry was the beginning of a turn toward a new generation of consumers hitherto unrecognised by the retail industries; the teenager. The anti-social inference of the look, at least as it was interpreted by the media, was identified by businessmen as being imperative to the success of their products. It was a lesson not to be forgotten by the industry. ‘In our time, fashion strives to provoke as readily as to appeal … In this capacity, fashion seeks to disclaim society and to declaim the individuality of its single or exceptional wearer.’
The spectacle that Teddy Boys created was an unarticulated artistic statement that, because of its swift immersion into general acceptance by society was rendered as invisible. The outline of the Teddy Boy, from his slicked-back quiff, down to his crepe-soled feet became visual shorthand for a time and an attitude that was temporally fixed. A closer examination of any Teddy Boy from 1951-1955 however, reveals something more subtle and complicated: an artist working in unique materials.
 Ways of Seeing, John Berger, p.11 (London, 1972)
 The Modernization of Fashion, Anne Hollander, p.29 Design Quarterly, No. 154 (Winter, 1992), pp. 27-33
 The Modernization of Fashion, Anne Hollander, p.33 Design Quarterly, No. 154 (Winter, 1992), pp. 27-33
 Refashioning Men: Fashion, Masculinity, and the Cultivation of the Male Consumer in Britain, 1860-1914, Brent Shannon p.626 Victorian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Summer, 2004), pp. 597-630
 Ibid, p.611
 Just So Far, Hardy Amies, (Glasgow, 1954) quoted in Style And Substance, Christopher Breward, p.190, Material Strategies: Dress and Gender in Historical Perspective (Oxford, 2003)
 Style And Substance, Christopher Breward, p.194, Material Strategies: Dress and Gender in Historical Perspective (Oxford, 2003)
 Ibid, p.201
9] Cultural Responses of the Teds, Tony Jefferson, p.367 The Men’s Fashion Reader, eds. Peter McNeill and Vicki Karaminas (New York, 2009)
 A Note: A Charismatic art The Balance of Ingratiation and Outrage in Contemporary Fashion, Richard Martin p.310, The Men’s Fashion Reader, eds. Peter MacNeill and Vicki Karaminas (New York, 2009)