When you look back at Britain’s past, it can be easy to associate entire decades with just one style or sound – for example, the 1960s with Hippies, the 1970s with Disco and the 1980s with Glam Rock. However, the reality wasn’t quite so simple. British culture has never been uniform, but rather comprised of numerous different overlapping and continually evolving subcultures.
Here, we take a look back at just eight of the subcultures that have shaped modern-day Britain.
The Teddy Boys are generally regarded as the original youth subculture, emerging in 1950s post-war Britain. As an act of rebellion against the gloom and social conservatism of their elders, young men began to rebel by listening to jazz and, later, rock and roll. Even more rebellious than their music sense, however, was their dress sense, which revived the eccentric fashions of the Edwardian upper-classes. The look was characterised by long drape jackets, brocade waistcoats, high-waisted drainpipe trousers (often with visible socks) and an elaborately coiffed quiff.
While once rebellious, Teddy Boy style is nowadays well suited to adding a sharp look to your everyday working wardrobe. Get the look with slim fit chinos, a freshly ironed Oxford shirt and pristine Derby shoes.
Hot on the heels of the rebellious Teddy Boys came the Greasers. Strongly influenced by American culture, they embraced motorbikes and rock and roll, and as such caused moral panic up and down the country. Greaser, also known as Rocker fashion was well suited to their predominant pastime – motorcycle racing – and included thick leather jackets, sturdy jeans, thick-soled ‘brothel creeper’ shoes and greased back hair.
While the greaser style might have earned you dirty looks back in the day, nowadays incorporating elements of Rocker style into your weekend wardrobe is more likely to earn you admiring glances. Get the look by pairing a plain white t-shirt and jeans with a modern leather jacket – topped off with a pair of aviator sunglasses, of course.
The Mods came into being in the early 1960s, emerging out of beatnik coffee house culture and the sound of jazz and blues. Ultimately, however, Mods went on to become associated with all-night clubbing, the sound of British bands such as The Who and The Small Faces – and their longstanding rivalry with the rough and ready Rockers. While the Greasers looked to the US for fashion inspiration, the Mods turned instead to Europe, opting for sharp suits and Italian scooters over leather jackets and motorbikes. The result was a metrosexual, well-groomed and fashion-focused look characterised by narrow lapels, smart shirts and the best British and Continental brands.
Mod fashion is so versatile that it’s easy to see why it remains popular to this day, adding a smart edge to any man’s casualwear. Give the look a 21st century spin by pairing a crew neck t-shirt with dark slim fit jeans and smart Oxford shoes.
Skinheads grew out of the Mod subculture, splitting off in the late 1960s. Originally, Skinheads were known as ‘hard mods’, and were strongly influenced by the fashion, music and lifestyle brought over by immigrants from the West Indies. Predominantly working class, the original Skinheads sported close-cropped hairstyles well-suited for industrial work and street fighting – a look that instantly differentiated them from the rising tide of middle-class hippies. In addition to their trademark short hair, the Skinhead look was characterised by Fred Perry polo shirts, steel-toed ‘bovver boots’ and long sideburns.
Today, elements of the skinhead subculture can add a macho, rough and ready edge to a weekend or evening outfit – we’d recommend pairing the skinheads’ trademark tartan with a smart suede bomber jacket and dark denim jeans.
Reggae combined elements of traditional Caribbean music with American jazz and rhythm and blues to create a new genre of Jamaican dance music. Reggae music gained prominence in Britain from the late 1960s onwards, when musicians such as Bob Marley gained international acclaim. When you think of Reggae fashion, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the bright red, yellow and green tones of the Rastafari flag. What you might be surprised to learn, however, is that Clarks shoes have an iconic place in Jamaican culture, and were a mainstay in many Reggae stars’ wardrobes.
Therefore, if you want to channel the Reggae look today, we’d recommend donning the iconic Clarks desert boots with some relaxed straight fit jeans and a bold gingham shirt. It’s a versatile look, that can be dressed up or down for any occasion.
The Casuals were football fans who swapped club colours for designer clobber in order to ‘one-up’ and intimidate their opposition. The trend’s origins can be traced back to Manchester football fans, who earned themselves the nickname ‘The Perry Boys’ thanks to their love of Fred Perry clothing.
In the beginning, the Casual look was mostly associated with exclusive British sportswear brands. However, over the years, European labels became increasingly popularity, thanks to the influence of Liverpool F. C. supporters who toured the continent watching their beloved team and picking up foreign brands along the way. The Casual look is ideal for lazy weekends and – of course – watching the football. Bring the style up to date by donning clothing from the new spring/summer season of the Casuals’ beloved brands, such as Fred Perry, CP Company,Diadora, Stone Island and Lacoste.
In the 1990s, Grunge was taking off across the Atlantic – but it was a little gloomy for many Brits’ tastes. From this, Britpop emerged: a subculture that embraced regional accents, laddish style and a sense of ‘Cool Britannica’. And, with musicians such as Oasis, Pulp, Blur and Supergrass at its helm, Britpop soon entered the mainstream.
As you would expect, this patriotic subculture favoured British brands, with Doc Martens, Fred Perry polo shirts and bucket hats leading the way in the style stakes at the time. These style mainstays were usually paired with a shaggy haircut, Parka or Harrington jacket, and – of course – the prerequisite Union Jack to create a uniquely British look. While many associate Britpop with some of the dodgier elements of ‘90s fashion, a modern take on the style has much to recommend it, being casual enough for a day about town yet still smart enough for an evening out. Pair comfy plimsolls with a canvas shoulder bag and warm hooded jacket to bring the look firmly into the 21st century.
In the early 2000s, the Grime subculture was born. Popularised by pirate radio and Channel U, not to mention to growing success of Grime gods such as Dizzee Rascal and Skepta, the scene soon found its way from the producers’ inner-city bedroom studios on to national airwaves. However, even when Grime hit the bigtime, it stayed true to its roots. Born out of frustration with the flashiness and excess of the UK Garage scene, Grime eschewed designer labels and favoured everyday streetwear – think baggy tracksuits, a New Era 59Fifty hat (with the tag and Hologram sticker left on, of course) and the essential Nike Air Max trainers.
The great thing about Grime fashion is its versatility – you can go from the corner shop to the basketball court to the club without having to change once. To get the look today, slip into your favourite bomber jacket and jeans combo, then top it off with a cap and some Timberland boots.
This is only a snapshot of some of the subcultures that have shaped Britain – we haven’t even touched upon other major players, such as the Punk, Goth or Hippy movements. Nevertheless, we hope it gives you a taste of the fantastic diversity that British culture has experienced over the years.