With a leather jacket draped over their shoulders, loud American rock n’ roll tunes playing in the background and a widgie on their arm, bodgies were well-known as the Australian bad boys of the 1950s. These teens walked around town without a care in the world but, on their path of destruction, they eventually became public enemy number one to the law-abiding citizens who saw them as simply juvenile delinquents.
Following the stress of World War II, teenagers were finally given the freedom they craved, and once they had a taste of the real world post-war, a sense of rebellion and a disdain for authority formed a subculture of teenagers that went by the name of bodgies and widgies. They were known for lacking manners, fighting the power and breaking laws – and apologising for absolutely none of it.
The trend kicked-off when Australia began to see a heavy presence of American military enter the country, bringing with them their own pop culture and consumerist ideals. A generational head-to-head was then ignited between the youngsters who wanted to embrace and follow the way of the Yanks and the more conservative adults who fought against the societal change.
It was the age of Elvis and all things provocative, and through this heavy influence, American rock n’ roll became a major driving force behind the every day activities and overall style of bodgies and widgies. Some of their favourite bands of the time included early rock legends Bill Hayley and the Comets, Johnny O’Keefe and of course the classic Little Richard.
Style was a major factor for teens back then who used it to define their brand and separate the goody-two-shoes students from the bad kids. Bodgies could usually be found wearing black or white singlets, flannelette shirts, tight jeans, heavy work boots and, of course, the iconic leather or denim jacket.
Their long, unruly hair was usually styled completely slicked back or shaped into a tall quiff, but often it could be formed into what was known as racks which is where the hair is curled into two waves which meet at the forehead with slicked back sides. Most bodgies owed all of their iconic styles to a whole bunch of hair gel (usually Brylcreem) to help them out.
Widgies on the other hand generally sported a short and fuss-free hair cut that was usually paired with a bright pair of sunglasses and a chiffon scarf that was strategically tied around the neck. They loved a good tight sweater with three-quarter-length pants or – if they were going for a more girly look – a fully flared skirt with complete with a petticoat underneath.
With their quickly declining reputation, bodgies and widgies weren’t exactly welcomed into many places with open arms. So, many of these teens found solace in dancing the jive to loud rock music in milk bars or loitering on street corners to ward off adults.
They were always on the look out for kicks and somewhere to cause trouble which unsurprisingly caused a panic in other members of society. And while it was the minority that was actually partaking in criminal activity, it was the entirety of the group that took the blame.
Bodgies and widgies were Australia’s answer to American greasers or British teddy boys with their similar fashion styles and habits for disrupting the quiet lives of every day citizens. But once they reached a certain age, it was time for many of them to grow up.
After the age of about 22, it was time to hang up the leather jackets and wash the grease out of the hair as they stood down from their rebellious pedestals and came back to reality. Most went on to university, some got full time jobs and many others settled down with their new families.
But no matter what, the self-assured attitudes and care-free nature of these teens is something that has become a staple of Australian history. And while there have been plenty more trends floating around since then – there’s nothing quite as cutting edge as the classic bodgies and widgies!