Wednesday 24 May 2017

Paul Galvin: Looking dandy

Paul Galvin

It's time to revive your inner rebel and rock the androgynous look, says Paul Galvin, as he goes all sub-cultural with Teddy Boys and Girls

I've often wondered where Imelda May attended charm school. We could send a few more there. It's impossible not to be charmed by the Liberties girl every time she speaks.

She's a chanteuse in the purest sense, unaffected and disarming yet loaded with talent and vivacity.

She's got that teddy-bear quality in that you want to squeeze her when she talks or sings for Ireland.

'Johnny Got A Boom Boom' aside, what about her style?

Rockabilly never seemed so cool. I've been trying lately to find a word to use instead of cool. It's so over-used and uncool. I have yet to find a replacement. As soon as I do, 'cool' is out the door.

Miss May may have a teddy-bear quality but the question is, does she also have a Teddy Girl quality? I've been reading about them.

Rockabilly music is a close relation to Teddy Girl fashion. They're sisters-in-law. I think Imelda qualifies as a modern-day Teddy Girl in the best possible sense.

Let's do a Teddy Girl check. Quiffed hair? Check. Pencil skirt? Check. Suspended skirt? Check. Red lipstick? Check. Curves? Check. Fearless attitude? Check.

This girl is a throwback to throwback. The Teddy Girls followed the Teddy Boys, of course. Sure aren't the girls always following the boys? Some things never change.

I first heard tell of them and their inimitable style movement in Maidhc Dainin O Se's 'A Thig Na Tit Orm'. He lived in London in the 1950s and 1960s and saw the first stirring of a sub-culture that had its roots in Edwardian England.

The dandies of the Edwardian period were the original of the species. That's where they got their name: Edward, Teddy -- geddit?

These were teenage boys and girls with a rebel spirit in their souls. James Dean was their idol and fashion was their cause.

After the Second World War, Savile Row tailors wanted to revive the look and began a movement based on looking and dressing differently. They found a teenage audience waiting to embrace the look and the lifestyle.

The clothes didn't work without the attitude. It was two fingers to how things were supposed to be in London and the clothes were a central symbol of the movement.

Of course, music, film and fashion are always agents of change in cultural or sub-cultural movements. They identify what is hidden or about to happen.

In the Elephant and Castle district of London, Maidhc Dainin saw his first Teddy Boys. They had a look of their own.

Maidhc Dainin describes this look in his own words: "Bristi caolchosacha a bhi go mor sa bhfaisean na laethanta sin go mor mhor ag na Teddy Boys. Drainpipes a thugaidis orthu."

This translates as: "Narrow-legged trousers were very much in fashion those days, especially among the Teddy Boys. Drainpipes they called them."

This was the part of the Teddy Boy look. I love a good sub-culture, so I investigated further.

You had the drainpipes with the socks showing. The rest of the look was made up of drape jackets, velvet collars, brocade waistcoats, slim ties, crepe shoes, chunky brogues and often expensive, tailor-made suits.

This was serious stuff. Their fashion marked them. Identified them.

Trousers would be bought and tailored to fit. Jeans were 'baptised' -- worn sitting in the bath so they shrunk to the perfect size.

Hair was big: long, moulded, greased up, quiffed at the front and side-combed at the back for a look that was christened the 'duck's arse'. Teddy Boys liked their hair.

Fashion will always embrace a sub-cultural movement. It loves to discover. It also loves to forget.

But fashion loves nothing more than revivals. And thus I remember crepe shoes were big in my school in the early 1990s. Everyone wore them. And yes many, maybe too many, wore them with white socks.

Teddy Boys' style did nothing for the South Kerryman in London, but lots for the young North Kerryman in Kerry.

Paul Smith is fashion's ultimate Teddy Boy. He has championed the look for years. At London Fashion Week 2010, he sent his female models gender-bending down the runway in brogues, ankle-cropped trousers, shirts and Teddy Boy hair-dos.

Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Isabel Marant have done likewise.

When most designers were following a minimalist lead last spring, Balenciaga went big on Teddy Girl references. Creepers, biker jackets with velvet lapels and oversized blazers all featured.

Marant has championed Teddy jackets in silk and denim in many collections. The Teddy Girl look is close to her own aesthetic.

And so it should be. After all, there's little difference between a Teddy Girl and a Tom Boy.

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