I suppose I am very fortunate to still have a reasonable head of hair at 83, although it is snow white now, rather than black, as it was when I was young. My friends and I, all teenagers just after the war, were very vain about our appearance, especially as, due to the war, the previous four or five years had been a period of great austerity, when things like smart clothes and a decent haircut were memories, or ideas we had been too young to encompass yet, so when the world started to move again we were ready — and how!
First came the clothes — the smart bunch, which we liked to think we were a part of, always wore a Trilby hat and large raincoat of the ‘trench-coat’ style, a large colourful, square scarf just showing over the top of the jacket collar, and under the rain-coat. Shirts were plain, but often coloured and it was mandatory to wear what we would now call a spiv’s tie, you know, those brightly coloured things with naked girls or broad stripes printed on them, the knot a different colour to the rest of it. Shoes were another mandatory item, known as ‘brothel-creepers’; a reasonable sport shoe type top nestled into a natural-coloured off-white crepe rubber sole about 25mm thick. Under the mac, if you could afford it, was the ultimate in classy dressing, the ‘Teddy Boy’ suit, a brightly coloured item comprising narrow trousers, looking as if they had been painted on rather than pulled off, topped by a jacket that came nearly down to the knees and had a black velvet collar!
You can just imagine what that looked like can’t you. People would fall about laughing if you went out in that ensemble today; something that applies to the young and fashionable of almost any age I suppose, but you had to be ‘in it’ if you wanted to be ‘with it’. Just look at some of the men’s fashions being demonstrated in fashion shows now — the designers are obviously trying to make us all look like women; not bad in itself, but it does tend to look better on women!
That’s not the end of the adventure. We’ve clothed the boy (who thinks he’s now a man), but there are still the personal touches to be taken care of, most important of all — the hair! Numerous styles erupted onto the fashion scene just after the war, as both men and women went crazy trying to have a good time while also looking good. One of the most popular for men was the DA (the initials of ‘ducks ass’), which it somewhat resembled, with the side hair on each side being grown slightly long and combed round towards the back of the neck where it met the hair from the other side in a sort of valley, just like the back of some ducks.
In order for this style to work it was necessary to plaster copious amounts of Brylcreem on the hair, which then gleamed like an old fashioned 78rpm record! Everyone carried a comb because it was extremely bad to allow as much as one hair to be out of place, and it was used frequently. I dread to think what sort of a mess it was causing in the breast-pockets of those Teddy Boy suits, especially as modern plastic fabrics had yet to arrive, so you couldn’t just chuck the suit in the washing machine and wear it again the next day, looking like new!
I don’t have such intimate knowledge of what the girls were doing in those days, though I do vaguely remember something called the ‘new look’; a really gorgeous fashion style, looking even better due to the fact that it used generous quantities of cloth, after the years of austerity. The girls who wore it looked really great! Soon after this period Mary Quant appeared on the scene with the ‘mini’, just about as far away from the new look as you could get, and very popular with the lads because you could see so much more of the girls than the new look allowed! I seem to recall that the girl’s most popular hairstyle of the day was the pageboy, first introduced by Vidal Sassoon, if my memory serves me, though as I say, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on that score.
I think we’ve come a long way from those early post-war experiments — in most cases, anyway; I wonder where we’ll go from here.