A Brief Guide to the British Subcultures

The music and fashion of the British youths from the '50s to the '80s.

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A Brief Guide to the British Subcultures

The ‘50s:

The Teddy Boys and Judies

The origins of the Teddy Boys go back to the late 1940's when Saville Row Tailor's attempted to revive the styles of the Edwardian era into men's fashions. The Teddy Boy fashion of the fifties has its origins in what was an upper-class reaction to the austerity imposed by the socialist government in the years following the World War II.
Teddy Boys became associated with rock 'n' roll music, even though they mainly listened and danced to jazz and skiffle music. A well-known dance that the Teddy Boys adopted was The Creep, a slow shuffle that led to their other nickname, Creepers. From 1955, rock 'n' roll was  adopted by the Teddy Boys when the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’ was first shown in cinemas in the UK.

Some Teds formed gangs and gained notoriety following violent clashes with rival gangs which were often exaggerated by the popular press.

The Teddy Girls (or Judies) were young working class women from the poorer districts of London. They would typically leave school at the age of 14 or 15, and work in factories or offices.

The Teddy Girls are considered to be the first British female youth subculture. Not many photos of them were taken, and the only article on the female representation of Teds was published in the 1950s.
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The ‘60s:

The Mods

Mod is a subculture that began in London in 1958 that spread throughout Great Britain and other countries. The subculture has its roots in a small group of stylish London-based young men who listened to modern jazz. Significant elements of the mod subculture include fashion (often tailor-made suits), music ( soul, ska, and R&B), and motor scooters (usually Lambretta or Vespa). The original mod scene was associated with amphetamine-fuelled all night dancing at clubs.
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The Rockers

Rockers (or leather boys, ton-up boys, cafe racers) were members of a biker subculture that originated in the UK during the 1950s. It was mainly centered on British motorcycles and rock 'n' roll music. You can read more about mods and rockers in our previous article.
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The ‘70s:

The Glam Rockers

Glam rock was a theatrical, bi-curious creation. It emerged from the English psychedelic and art rock scenes of the late ‘60s. Its origins are associated with Marc Bolan (T. Rex). From late 1971, David Bowie developed his Ziggy Stardust persona, incorporating elements of professional makeup, mime, and performance into his act. Glam became dominant in all other aspects of British popular culture during the '70s.
Visually it was a mesh of various styles, ranging from ‘30s Hollywood glamor, through ‘50s pin-up sex appeal, pre-war Cabaret theatrics, Victorian literary and symbolist styles, science fiction, to ancient and occult mysticism and mythology. Glam rockers wore outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots.
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The Hippies

The hippie movement of the ‘60s based itself on the concept of not conforming to socially approved patterns of behavior. Nakedness was celebrated and shopping for pre-worn items at jumble sales, and charity shops were commonplace with long-discarded military uniforms and ethnic dress mixed and matched to create a unique style. The music was heavily folk inspired, peppered with political messages promoting peace and love.

The Punks

In the late ‘70s, punk created a DIY revolution that allowed a generation to express themselves through self-cut and dyed hair, artistically ripped T-shirts, jewelry made from safety pins and dog collars and charity shop trousers made into bondage strides.

The punk subculture emerged in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States in the mid-'70s. Exactly which region originated punk has long been a major controversy within the movement.

The big moment in British punk rock's history is a 4 July 1976 concert by the Ramones at the Roundhouse in London. Many of the future leaders of the UK punk rock scene were inspired by this show. By the end of 1976 such bands as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, Generation X, The Slits, X-Ray Spex and others represented the British punk.
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The Skinheads

The first wave skinheads (or skins) were working class youths motivated by an expression of alternative values and working class pride in the late ‘60s. Skinheads were drawn towards working class outsider subcultures, incorporating elements of mod fashion and black music and black fashion, especially from Jamaican rude boys.
Both first and second generation skins were influenced by the heavy, repetitive rhythms of dub and ska, as well as rocksteady, reggae, bluebeat, and African-American soul music.
The second generation were the ‘70s and ‘80s working class kids, closely aligned with the first wave punk, working class Oi! and street punk, ska, reggae, 2 Tone ska, ska punk, dub music, anarchists and anarcho-punks, and hardcore punk. Skinhead fashion ranged from clean-cut mod-influenced styles to less-strict punk-influenced styles.
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The Soulboys

Soulboys were a working class English youth subculture of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They were fans of American soul and funk music.

The subculture emerged in North-West England as northern soul event attendees began to take more interest in the modern funk and jazz funk sounds of artists such as Lonnie Liston Smith and Roy Ayers, instead of the ‘60s soul records that characterized the northern soul scene.

There was a simultaneous development of the subculture at nightclubs in South East England, such as The Goldmine in Canvey Island and The Royalty in Southgate. DJs involved with the scene included Chris Hill, Robbie Vincent, Froggy, Greg Edwards, Pete Tong and Chris Bangs. Caister Soul Weekenders became one of the main features of the scene and still exist today.
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The ‘80s:

The New Romantics

New Romantics (also called Blitz Kids) was a pop culture movement in the UK that began as a nightclub scene around 1979 and peaked around 1981. Developing in London and Birmingham, at nightclubs such as Billy's and the Blitz, and fashion boutiques such as PX in London and Kahn and Bell in Birmingham, it spread to other major cities in the UK and was characterized by flamboyant, eccentric fashion.

Several music acts at the start of the ‘80s adopted the style of the movement and became known to epitomize it within the music and mainstream press, including Visage, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, A Flock of Seagulls and Boy George (of Culture Club), Ultravox, Adam and the Ants, Japan.

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The Goths

The goth subculture, which began in England during the early ‘80s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The goth subculture imagery and cultural proclivities indicate influences from the 19th-century Gothic literature along with horror films.
The scene continues to draw interest from a large audience decades after its emergence.

The music of the goth subculture encompasses a number of different styles, including gothic rock, industrial, deathrock, post-punk, darkwave, ethereal wave and neoclassical.

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The Casuals

The casual subculture appeared in the UK in the early ‘80s when many football fans and hooligans started wearing designer clothing labels and expensive sportswear (‘clobber’) such as Stone Island, CP Company, L'alpina, and Lacoste in order to avoid the attention of police and to intimidate rivals. They did not wear club colors, so it was allegedly easier to infiltrate rival groups and to enter pubs. Some casuals have worn clothing items similar to those worn by mods.

The casuals (also called ‘lads’ in the ‘90s) listened to such bands as Sham 69, Cockney Rejects, Madness, and many others.

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35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Well, the Judies at least looked kinda hot. Our culture could use some of that classy / yet seductive look these days
    This should be called The White Cultural History of Britain. For example, your segment on skin-heads is pathetically white-washed, indicating a profound lack of historical knowledge. Consider researching the Caribbean culture in its development. Erasing people out of history spreads knowledge among masses who are not particularly motivated to do their own legwork. You are doing a disservice to those who are rely on articles such as this to educate them, and violence to the actual people of history. 
    My god, even here we have to read such PC bullshit. write your own article then and stop talking shit about others work as if an simple article on a guitar website would 'rewrite history'.  PS: Black person here. so you can take your "white trash" insults(racist much?) and go to hell. 
    Two points: 1) No one said anything about being politically correct. The discussion is about accurately depicting history. The modern British, music scene has always benefited from the fusion of cultures.  2) No one used the term "white trash", so perhaps you may accuse me of classism? I'd suggest you review your trolling terminology and reading skills.
    Right, but this is a (very) brief guide. I think I inclueded the core info. I was planning on writing a separate article on Carribean music.
    The titles is "A Brief Guide to the British Subcultures", which seems to indicate that you were intending to provide an accurate picture, or at least snapshots, of a culture with is anything but homogeneously white. Your article, and the picture adorning it, should at least try to account for the multicultural aspect of the working of class of which most of these genres came out of. Hopefully, the following article presents a more accurate picture of reality.
    You must be fun at parties.
    Yep, I care about facts. Further, cultures are not necessarily exclusive: the Caribbean contribution to the British music scene can be given credit in the same breath as the British culture. When enjoy The Specials as brit-pop, not a series of exclusive genres. 
    What would you add to the article, in particular? 
    I would integrate what you have to write about the Caribbean influence in the relevant sections here. This would help to give a sense of the plurality of the scene. Further, I would choose pictures and clips more representative of the British culture. I understand this is a quick, introductory article, but I'm of the opinion that it can be improved. Do we even agree that the aesthetics of the article alone are mostly white males? 
    Ok, thank you for the feedback! I'll think what I can add
    And thank you for your patient reception. Once you become a writer, every asshole on the internet is your critic. It takes grace and character to be open to criticism. Cheers.
    86% of the UK today is white. I imagine in the earlier decades mentioned above it was a higher percentage. No need to be rustled, how on earth are you surprised that it's the whites creating the larger sub-cultures? This is like someone chatting shit about there being a lack of white blues players in the southern states in the 19th century. People like you talking shite about political correctness are ruining it for everyone else.
    A larger demographic statistic doesn't necessarily indicate that every social organization would also be dominated by a particular race. For example, while whites make up a majority of the US, there are areas which are largely constituted of other races, or even share a statistic equilibrium of many. Further, sub-cultures don't develop separately from each other, there are always intersections which assist in the growth. Again, this is not about being PC, but rather include all participants in the narratives of our histories. Sorry if honorable scholarship triggers your sensibility. 
    In what way was the Skinhead culture white washed? He openly says that they drew influence from the Jamaican Rude Boys and black fashion and music.
    Except the latter is not a footnote to the former, rather a major contributor to its manifestation as a cultural phenomenon to begin with. 
    The issue here is that this is a brief overview of all these subcultures. You could dedicate an entire paper to the Skinheads alone. So if the main focus of this article is to give a brief overview of the subcultures, why would they dedicate an exuberant amount of time to the influences of one subculture? This isn't whitewashing, this is a short glimpse at something. They mention that the Skinheads took a lot of influence from the Jamaican Rude Boys, black soul music, reggae, and other black culture. And on your point, a person who's trying to educate themselves on something like this should not stop at this article. They should take this article as a guide and learn more and more about how all these different influences contributed to the subcultures.  Face it, you got triggered. 
    If you read my previous remarks, you see a clear acknowledgement of the difficulty of the task. However, I insist that this subculture itself is constituted of multiplicity of other cultures, often to equal amounts. Of course, when Skinheadism becomes a racist, white nationalist movement, then one could perhaps separate it from what it is actively negating. Although, there were still skinheads who attempted to reclaim the culture. The brief mention here doesn't do the brief presentation justice, and add the images, majority depicting white males, and you have a problematic presentation. Sure, the audience bares responsibility, but when you take the mantle of the writing as a vocation, I believe, you are simultaneously take an oath of intellectual integrity. If being sensitive to these issues earns me the label of "triggered", then be it.
    And if you read my previous comments, I say that the author did acknowledge the influences. But it's not an article about the influences. It's an article about the subcultures themselves. Why would you write 10 pages about a the Jamaican Rude Boy culture, when it's about British subcultures? Yes you can acknowledge them and then discuss them further in a later article, but you don't seem to grasp the concept that a writer, particularly on an internet entertainment/ music website needs to be brief and to the point. This is a guitar website, not an anthropological study of subcultures.
    There was no claim for 10 pages or rigorous, anthropological methodology. Simply an attempt for truthful representation, with which the author seems to be in agreement with. We seem to not share the same standards of authorship, so I suggest we leave the back and forth here. I understand your frustration.
    So they are almost identical to American sub cultures except across the ocean... cool.
    Da fuck, where is the NWOBHM subculture?
    Fair point! Probably needs to be added
    OK, cool. Also, what subculture would one belong in if they were heavily into Zeppelin, The Who, Sabbath, Bad Company, UFO and all the other English hard rock bands of the day? The Hippies maybe?
    C-C Beatroot
    Good article! I assume from the comments I've read the updated version including the Caribbean influences, it would be weird not to include that when talking about skinheads
    Thank you! No, it's the original version) i am considering making an update tomorrow