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British Youth Culture

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History

What do the Beatles and the punks have in common? Among many other influences and cultures, they were an integral part of British youth culture in the 20th century; many of the youth tribes that emerged in post-war Britain shaped and defined the country.

Origins of the British youth culture

While most people believe that British youth culture suddenly began in the 1950s, there were some signs of youth cultures as early as the Victorian era, with specific trends targeting youth. However, British youth culture as we know it today began in the 1920s. Cultural, social, political, and economic events shaped the youth culture.

The rise of the youth market

In the 1920s and 1930s, the earning power of youth began to grow. Although there was still some youth unemployment in some areas during the interwar period, young workers were in high demand because they were relatively cheap. This meant that youth now had an income and could spend more money than before.

Changes we see in the 1920s and 1930s:

  • The flappers (Figure 1): women, especially single women, were employed in factories during World War I, earning a wage and gaining independence. Women showed their newfound confidence and independence with a new fashion style: the flapper, a style that shocked society, with short haircuts and short skirts.
  • More emphasis was placed on appearance, physique, and hygiene for both boys and girls.
  • Hollywood in Britain: films from early Hollywood were shown in British cinemas, influencing the language and behaviour of youth. The films also led young people to take up smoking.
  • Dance halls provided perfect opportunities to meet the opposite sex and dance in a wild, animalistic way imported from the US.

The (increased) wages of the youth made the above changes possible.

British Youth Culture Flapper StudySmarterFigure 1: flapper Louise Brooks by Bain News Services, Beyond My Ken, Wikipedia

Post-war changes

As mentioned before, there has been a change after the First World War, and after the First World War, there have been even more changes II. These changes are:

  • Economic change: a decline in heavy industry and an increase in assembly-line technologies meant that workers no longer had to be skilled labourers. Young people were thus well suited for this type of work and cheaper to employ, resulting in a high employment rate among young people. Consequently, their purchasing power consumer spending increased.
  • Changes in education: the 1944 Education Act expanded secondary education and raised the school-leaving age to 15 in 1947. This, along with an increase in youth employment, paved the way for the emergence of youth tribes in postwar Britain.
  • Windrush migrants: entire communities from the British Empire and the Caribbean came to Britain to help rebuild the country after World War II. These people brought new cultures, music, and fashions that would help shape the youth cultures that began to develop in Britain.
  • ‘The wild ones’: during this time, youth were referred to as ‘the wild ones’. The immature teenagers rebelled and often disobeyed their parents.
  • The mass media also played its part in creating a separate teenage culture. They focused more on their friends than their family.

America, particularly its music scene and Hollywood, had a major influence on British youth culture. While the influence on youth was small in the first half of the 20th century, it grew in the following decades, with movies, movie stars, and music showing the continuing influence on British youth ages 14 to 25.

In this decade, the UK imports the term ‘teenager’ from the US. Youth are becoming more affluent, mass media and consumerism are rising, and American music influences Britain. Adults panic about juvenile delinquency, and the so-called ‘generation gap’ emerges.

Traditions still influenced Britain. Classes were still visible, and it was relatively easy to identify people’s origins and social class by their accent or clothing style, as people rarely left the place where they had grown up. Class stereotypes were also clearly visible in films and television, which began to change in the 1950s.In this period, teenagers, supported by the mass media, got a bad reputation, mainly due to juvenile delinquency, which was quite exaggerated.

World War II still had a major economic impact on many people in Britain, both because the war itself and the reconstruction of Britain were expensive and because of austerity measures. Among teenagers, on the other hand, we see an increase in leisure-oriented consumerism. Teenagers who had an income spent a lot of money on clothes, records, concerts, makeup, and magazines.

Due to labour shortages in the UK, people from other parts of the British Empire were encouraged to come to Britain to work. As mentioned earlier, these people brought their own culture, fashion, and music with them, influencing teenagers and even forming their subcultures later on.Also, we see that the US pop culture brought an exotic and exciting style to the teenagers, which was welcome since Britain was a dark and dreary place at that time. Rock ‘n’ roll was the new musical sound. Another example of ‘Americanisation’ is the jukebox. In 1945, there were fewer than 100 jukeboxes in Britain, but by 1958 there were over 13,000. At the same time, more young people were hanging out in casual venues like cafes, listening to American jazz and rock ‘n’ roll.The influences from the US offered teenagers an individual identity and self-confidence that allowed subcultures to flourish in the following decades.

  • Teddy Boys were the most distinctive youth style of 1950s Britain, with influence coming from the US. The ‘Teds’ wore long, draped jackets, usually in dark tones, sometimes with pocket flaps and velvet trim, and the trousers were narrow and worn high on the waist. These suits were usually tailored and made of high-quality fabrics, which made the suits expensive. They could afford them because of their employment.

    Along with the clothes, different haircuts became popular, especially the ‘Tony Curtis’ and the ‘Boston’, both haircuts that used a lot of fat.As rock ‘n’ roll took hold in Britain, the film Blackboard Jungle, shown in the UK in 1956, sparked some violence from the Teddy Boys, who tore up the cinema seats and danced in the aisles. This happened all over the country. The media exaggerated these and similar incidents, which gave the Teddy Boys a bad reputation. The Teds frequented cafes, dance halls and cinemas. Stars like Elvis Presley were all the rage.

    By the late 1950s, the Teddy Boys’ reputation began to fade.

  • Hipsters and ravers: this new subculture took place in jazz and folk clubs across Britain, bringing a new style and values. This was a time and place where the upper class mixed with the middle and lower classes. With the spread of pop culture and the influence of the welfare state, the walls between classes were slowly starting to fall.

    Although there was a lot of racism in Britain, with many migrants coming into the country, jazz brought black and white youth together. It was a place where different races and ethnicities could cross paths.

    In addition to jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, young people were also geared towards folk music. This so-called revival folk music was brought to Britain from the US thanks to new forms of media.

    The fusion of folk with US jazz and blues was the first ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic that became so central to British youth culture.

    Hipsters and ravers took inspiration from the beatniks in America and roamed the coffee shops and jazz bars.

  • Dissidence is an act of public rebellion against or criticism of authority (e.g., the government).

British Youth Culture CND protest StudySmarterFigure 2: CND protest by Chris Morris in 1970, Museum of Youth Culture

A sharp clothing style inspired by the Italian dress style now replaced the Teddy Boy drape jacket. This style was associated with the modernists or ‘mods’. With the mods came the rockers, the mods’ rivals, the skinheads, and the beginning of the hippie culture. Britain finally left behind the dark days after World War II and moved into a world of freedom and hope.

One of the biggest social changes in the 1960s was the end of conscription. Young men were no longer required to serve their time in the army and could now do as they pleased. The parents of these teenagers had fought in World War II and wanted their children to have more fun and freedom, which led to a significant change in the teenagers’ social behaviour.The other major formative change was music. British groups like the Beatles led to revolutionary changes and influenced and changed the lives of young people in Britain. Their influence made young people stand up for their own beliefs and individuality.It is also the decade that saw an increase in recreational drugs, especially marijuana and LSD.In this decade, the older adult generation panicked about youth culture.

This decade saw an increase in youth employment, which led to the rise in youth spending. Young people spent their money on clothes, nightclubs, and drugs.With the mods and rockers, many youths also spent their money on scooters and motorcycles.Rockers wore leather, which was expensive to import from the US. This prompted British manufacturers to start production in Britain. This not only led to more employment opportunities but also made leather goods cheaper.

Counterculture was an anti-establishment cultural movement that first emerged in the US but quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. There were widespread social tensions around issues such as human sexuality and women’s rights that were addressed in the counterculture.The UK Underground was a counterculture movement that emerged in the UK in the mid-1960s and was linked to the hippie subculture in the US. It was centred on Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill and spawned its own magazines, newspapers, bands, clubs, and alternative lifestyles. It was a socio-political revolution in creating an alternative society.The beatnik ‘beat’ generation influenced the counterculture in Britain.

The Beatles, formed in 1960, were instrumental in the development of the counterculture and were also considered leaders of the youth and socio-cultural movements of the time. Their musical genres were rock, pop, beat, and psychedelia, and their popularity grew throughout the 1960s.They were especially popular with female teenagers who spent money on their music and concerts. They also publicly displayed sexual desire, defying their parents’ moral codes. Their constant screaming at concerts and other events led to the Beatle era being referred to as Beatlemania. The popularity of the band can be seen as a symbol of the socio-cultural movements of the decade. It showed activism in various social and political fields and strengthened movements such as women’s liberation and environmentalism.

  • Mods were a generation of youth that helped define teenagers. Both boys and girls dressed smartly and rebelled against the frugality of their parents’ generation. Mod culture began in the late 1950s but gained momentum in the 1960s.This was a generation with more disposable income and more leisure time. The US and Jamaica influenced the clothing and music of the British youth, who put in every effort to make that style their own.The Mod subculture travelled abroad, where the term became associated with the Beatles, the miniskirt, and ‘Swinging London’ culture.The Mods spent their weekends in dance clubs and danced all night, aided by drugs.

  • Rockers (Figure 3): they wore heavy leather and chains and had bigger bikes. For rockers, their motorcycles were more than just a means of transportation; they were a statement and an extension of their personalities. Their appearance, including their motorbike, was influenced by the American bikers epitomised by the 1953 film ‘The Wild One’ directed by Marlon Brando. Although the film itself was banned in Britain until 1968, the iconography reached across the Atlantic in film stills and features in magazines.

    The rockers imitated the style of the Teddy Boys in terms of clothing and hairstyle.

    Rockers often spent their time in coffee bars, where they hung out and listened to music.

    Although rockers were considered rivals of mods, the media exaggerated most clashes between the two groups, which gave rockers, in particular, a bad reputation.

British Youth Culture Rockers StudySmarterFigure 3: rockers, Triton Rocker, Wikipedia

  • Hippies: Britain was not directly involved in the Vietnam War, but British artists such as John Lennon brought attention to it in Britain by protesting the conflict. A good example is the song ‘Give Peace a Chance’, which highlighted how pointless wars were and the horrors they caused. The fans were striving for peace and freedom, which became the biggest aspect of the hippie movement. This was the first time people began to question authority.

    The hippie movement was based on not adhering to social norms and behaviour.

    The hippies had their own style of dress, or rather, in many cases, the absence of clothing, because nudity was celebrated. If they wore clothes, they were pre-worn pieces found in flea markets and charity stores. Folk music heavily inspired their musical taste, which contained many political messages promoting peace and love.

  • Skinheads: this subculture emerged among working-class youth in London in the late 1960s. Social alienation and solidarity with the working class motivated the skinheads, who were recognisable by their shaved heads, working-class clothing and shoes. This was the so-called first wave of skinheads, or Skins as they were also known. They rejected austerity and conservatism. The Skins adopted elements of the mod subculture, the Jamaican British, and the subculture of Jamaican immigrants’ (‘rude boy’) subcultures. Their biggest influences were the ska, rocksteady, reggae, and sometimes African American soul and rhythm and blues. In the 1970s, skinheads got a bad reputation because right-wing racists copied their appearance.

British parents became increasingly concerned with the hippie morality of freedom, love, and drugs. Things were not to get any better with the rise of the skins, the punks and the glam rockers.

In the 1970s, we see the arrival of ‘teeny-bop’ bands like The Osmonds and the Bay City Rollers. Pop bands paved the way for young women and men to form a pop fan base that provided friendship and communal solidarity opportunities.In addition, bands such as the Sex Pistols created controversy and helped raise the profile of punk as a youth culture. Punks, however, were perceived as politicised youth culture, with political signifiers such as swastikas and anarchy symbols. Bands like The Clash referred to racial tensions, unemployment, and the socioeconomic environment.This decade also had a dark side. Rising unemployment combined with urban unrest and strained labour relations led to violence that spiralled out of control.Nonetheless, the clubbing scene was still one of the good times and good vibes. The late 1970s saw a huge disco boom.

The 1970s was a time that saw an economic downturn that led to a recession. While there was great youth employment in the 1950s and 1960s, the exact opposite was true in the 1970s. Youth unemployment increased significantly, with nearly one-third of all unemployed being youth. Youth either lost their jobs or were funnelled into low-paying or part-time jobs.

  • Skinheads gained a bad reputation in the 1970s. They had a reputation for bigotry and were responsible for a wave of racist attacks. Even though there were racist attacks, the Skins felt very much like the style of black youth in terms of music and certain clothing styles.

    They were also responsible for violence during and after football games.

    The clothing style of the Skins changed over time and went into the ‘smoothie’ style with long hair, bell-bottoms and sleeveless tank-top pullovers, which became the hallmark of British youth fashion in the 1970s.

  • Punks surprised the youth culture movement in 1976 with their colourful spiked hair, piercings, and dog collars turned into ankle socks. Punks expressed themselves through style, popular music, and the music media.

    Punk rock bands like the Sex Pistol spread punk culture throughout Britain. The development of punk rock only seemed to reinforce the image of a crisis in Britain. The Sex Pistols’ foul-mouthed appearances on breakfast television did not help the public’s perception of punks.

  • Glam rockers had an outlandish and extravagant fashion style, wearing jumpsuits and high platform heels. A famous example of a glam rocker is David Bowie, who used his ‘glam’ persona to explore sexual identities and gender fluidity, something that became a distinct feature of youth culture in the following decades.

  • Soundsystem culture became big in the 1970s with artists like Bob Marley and British reggae bands like Aswad. In addition, the iconography and beliefs of Rastafarianism emerged. The Rasta style became popular in Britain, and many young people adopted dreadlocks, reggae, and Ethiopian colours as a symbol of resistance to the society from which they felt alienated. However, the black community did not accept this, which eventually led to the Notting Hill Carnival riots.

Rastafarianism is a religious movement among Black Jamaicans that teaches the ultimate redemption of Black people and their return to Africa, practises the ritualistic use of marijuana, bans hair cutting, and worships Haile Selassie as a god (Merriam Webster).

Romance style of the 1980s

The 1970s was a bleak decade when the punks discredited the British youth culture. There was a great recession, followed by the ‘winter of discontent’, during which young people had little to no job prospects. In the 1980s, however, a new, optimistic movement called ‘New Romantics’ emerged, based on a London club called the Blitz.In 1981, punk rock with bands like Blondie and Duran Duran gave way to the ‘New Wave’ and the ‘New Romantic Movement’.

Social changes

The ‘swinging teenager’ made way for the yuppy, the young urban professional who embodied the ‘good times’ of the 1980s.The downside of the social scale was high unemployment and inner-city deprivation. Black British youth were hit hard, and the heavy policing and racism did not help matters, leading to several riots.Other youth groups rejected materialism, and while the counterculture declined in the 1970s, some elements remained that eventually led to a distinct cultural group known as the ‘New Age Travellers’. This group participated in protests against road building and the stationing of American nuclear weapons in the UK. Their lifestyle and political activism led to vilification in the media and condemnation by the authorities.Public concern about the youth increased over the decades and did not disappear in the 1980s.While life was difficult for young people due to high unemployment, there were significant changes in gender norms, radical sexual politics, rapid technological changes, a thriving youth culture, and a growing club scene.We also note that the last baby boomers were not just about music. They expressed talents such as leadership, adaptability, and focus. They were a new class, becoming more confident and ready to enjoy the personal freedom and social mobility hinted at by their parents in the 1960s.

Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. The last of the Baby Boomers are those who were teenagers in the 1980s, which means they were born in the early 1960s.

  • The New Romantics wore distinctive clothing and had theatrical hair and makeup; they were a mix of neoclassical and glam rock. They began in the late 1970s but did not become a distinct youth culture until the 1980s. With their androgynous and glamorous appearance, these youngsters turned conventional notions of gender and identity on their heads. The New Romantics used bars, pubs and nightclubs for their leisure activities

  • Punks continued to exist in the 1980s, albeit fragmented into different groups. One of these groups is the Oi!

  • Goths were a subculture with a diverse following. It is a music category, a fashion style and a lifestyle associated with a dark aesthetic. Its beginnings are in the late 1970s, but it was not until the 1980s that this subculture really developed. This youth culture represents repressed teenage rebellion, outsider culture, and a dark alternative to punk. While there are different types of goth styles, our traditional view is that goths like to dress in neo-Victorian style, wear lots of eyeliner, and dress in all black. This youth culture was exactly the opposite of being part of the ‘cool kids’ club or being on the cutting edge. It was about showing that they did not conform to society.

  • Casuals (Figure 4) were a youth culture associated with football. They were called casuals because of their casual but elegant style of dress. While football mainly engaged the British working class in the 1970s and early 1980s, the more fashion-conscious football fans began to appear in stadiums in the 1980s. This well-dressed youth is characterised by hooliganism.

Androgynous means neither female nor male (Merriam Webster).

British Youth Culture Casuals StudySmarterFigure 5: Casuals, John Ingledew, Museum of Youth Culture

Generation Y & Z

Rap and hip-hop, combined with graffiti, dance and fashion, had a great impact on youth. It influenced the club cultures and dance music genres that became the centre of British youth culture in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Social changes

The 1990s became a decade of new forms of dance music such as house and techno spreading across UK dance floors. We see music and dance being mixed with the drug MDMA. Another name for MDMA is ecstasy, or ‘E’, which sometimes earned this generation the nickname Generation’ E’.This generation often met at so-called ‘acid houses,’ which were unlicensed, often illegal warehouse parties or raves. Although illegal, they were often huge open-air events with large sound systems, light shows, smoke machines, and sometimes even amusement rides. These raves provided a relaxed environment for the youth and even featured childish symbols everywhere like the big yellow smiley face.The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 changed things. Licenced events and venues replaced the unlicensed acid houses.In addition, there were changes in the job market, which became more flexible: careers became less secure, the risk of unemployment increased, neighbourhoods became less of a tight-knit, and communities and families became less stable. All of these factors affected the youth of the decade.

Cool Britannia

Cool Britania was a period in the late 1990s that saw a renaissance or rebirth of British art, fashion, design and music. In 1997, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to create a ‘New Britain’ and he sought to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of contemporary youth culture. He connected with the inspirations of youth by, for example, having his picture taken with the Spice Girls, the ‘Girl Power’ movement of the time, and by inviting Noel Gallagher, the frontman of the band Oasis, to a prestigious reception in Downing Street.While this initially proved to be a good move as British youth culture became big business, by the late 1990s it had collapsed again. The big names of British pop culture had expressed disappointment with the government’s promises to help the young and the poor. The government’s ‘Cool Britannia’ movement was short-lived, and in its wake the government adopted a more authoritarian stance when there was an apparent rise in gang culture and gun crime, attributed to the influence of rap bands.

The British youth cultures of the 1990s

In the 1990s, acid became rave and proper shoes replaced the trainers. We also see the so-called ‘Girl Power’ movement, started by the popular British all-girl band, Spice Girls. Apart from that, however, not many youth cultures are as distinct as they were in the decades before. Some groups, such as the goths, live on, but no new subcultures have emerged.The exception is the so-called ‘lad culture’, which emerged in the early 1990s and created an image of the ‘lad’ or ‘new lad’. In this lad culture, middle-class boys adopted working-class attitudes. These attitudes included masculine pastimes such as drinking and watching football. Young men felt the need to show their masculinity after seeing the androgynous style of the New Romantics.Youth cultures were still there but in a different way. Where before it was about creating an identity or finding ‘your people’, in the 1990s subcultures were more about leisure. For example, these young people would attend a death metal concert on the weekend looking the part, but only for that particular event. It was more an act rather than them expressing their true selves, and they would not dress in death metal style in everyday life.

British youth culture in the early 21st century

In the 1990s and 2000s, the media and politicians criticised British youth culture, who received a bad reputation. This was the decade of the ‘hoodie’, becoming synonymous with youth crime in the eyes of the public. The fact that the hoodie was an item the violent youth wore did not help the perception of both the hoodie and the youth. But that was not all.

Social changes

A significant shift in ‘youth thinking’ occurred. Many Millennials share the same values, beliefs and norms as their parents. Although youth are trying to be individuals, they do not feel the need to join groups.Most young people are now looking for a meaningful job or quality education, reducing student debt, finding a decent place to live, and starting a family, just like their parents.The downside was that violent crime seemed to rise, and the term ‘gang’ was used frequently. Gang crime did seem to be on the rise, but it was mainly concentrated in the most deprived areas of Britain. The decay and disorganisation of certain areas seemed to fuel violence, resulting in a chaotic and unstable lifestyle for the youth living there. The media disseminated this image of more gang-related crime and violence in a way that made it look like a plague was ravaging the entire country, not just these disadvantaged areas. They also blamed much of the gang-related deaths on so-called grime and drill music.

Millennials rising

The baby boom and economic prosperity of the time may have laid the groundwork for the teen revolution, but now times were tougher and more unpredictable. The 2007/2008 international financial crisis hit hard the youth around the world, and youth unemployment grew exponentially. Although it seemed that the impact on Britain was less severe than on other countries, young people were burdened with student loans but zero-hour contracts, which meant they had no financial security to both pay student loans and save money for their future.Although the outlook was bleak, there were some positive changes for Millennials. These young people were more media savvy and embraced digital technology. This digital technology significantly impacted youth culture, music, and style. Through the internet, youth cultures became more global and spread much faster than before when there were ‘only’ televisions and radios. Young people became acquainted with other influences than just those of the (mass) media, influences they might not have come into contact with before.

Millennials are the young people born between 1982 and 2003.

British youth cultures of the early 2000s

Similar to the 1990s, we do not really see the emergence of new youth cultures, but rather a continuation of cultures like the mod, punk, and rave that were still very influential. The biggest change we see is that the boundaries of youth cultures began to disappear as subcultures transitioned into adulthood. The subcultures seem to be less age-specific but were either picked up or adopted into adult lives. It took longer to become an ‘adult’ as educational careers lengthened, which meant that entry into full-time employment was delayed and the average age for starting a family increased. The term ‘youth’ was now part of people’s lives for much longer than the original age of 14 to 25.One exception is the ‘chavs, also known as ‘neds’, which were an anti-social subculture. The term chav is a derogatory term for lower-class young people who behave brashly and uncouthly. They often wore real or imitation designer clothes. We can consider this as the last subculture of the early 2000s.

Summary

  • As you can see, there have been many youth cultures in Britain over the decades, and it is a topic with a massive amount of information. All youth cultures have something unique about them, while at the same time, in many cases, drawing inspiration from another contemporary or earlier youth culture. Youth cultures represent different ways for youth to express themselves, to break away from mainstream society and find their own way and individuality.
  • Many youth cultures have emerged as a result of societal changes that have been supported by fashion and music. Americanisation, especially as (mass) media became big, greatly influenced British youth culture, with most youth cultures originating in the US.

  • Not all youth cultures were welcomed, and some gained a bad reputation. In the latter part of the 20th century, we see politicians and (mass) media alike blaming crime and (gun) violence on youth and especially on influences like rap music. However, this is a gross vilification of youth in general. Youth have been stereotyped, while within various subcultures there were only a few groups of people who were prone to violence.

  • Nevertheless, all the different youth cultures over the decades gave people their own identity. This identity was evident in their clothing, hairstyle, accessories, language, and musical tastes, many with international influences. In the last part of the 20th century, we find many British youth no longer forming full-time youth cultures, but more leisurely youth cultures.

  • At the beginning of the 21st century, we find that gang violence does occur, but it is not placed in the proper context. We also see that young people are starting to have the same values as their parents.

  • We see the rise of Millennials and their tech-savvy talents.

  • Also, longer education meant getting a job and starting a family later in life. Youth became adults later in life.

British Youth Culture - Key takeaways

  • The rise of the youth market took place in the 1920s and 1930s as youth gained higher incomes.
  • In the postwar period, there were five major changes:

    1. Economic change: the purchasing power and consumer spending of youth increased.

    2. Changes in education: the school-leaving age was raised to 15, which, along with increasing youth employment, paved the way for the emergence of youth tribes in postwar Britain.

    3. Windrush migrants: Immigrants brought new cultures, music, and fashions with them and influenced youth culture. Migration also led to unrest and tension between the black and white communities, resulting in other, less positive youth cultures.

    4. ‘The wild ones’: during this time, youth were referred to as ‘the wild ones. Teens rebelled, were immature, and often disobeyed their parents.

    5. Mass media also played its part in creating a separate teenage culture. They focused more on their friends than on their families.

  • Americanisation was a big deal for youth cultures in Britain. American (youth) cultures influenced many of the British youth cultures.

  • Several youth cultures have emerged over the decades:

    • The Flappers (1920s).

    • Teddy Boys (1950s).

    • Hipsters and ravers (1950s).

    • Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1950s).

    • Mods (1960s).

    • Rockers (1960s).

    • Hippies (1960s)

    • Skinheads (1960s).

    • Punks (1970s).

    • Glam rockers (1970s).

    • Soundsystem culture (1970s).

    • The New Romantics (1980s).

    • Goths (1980s).

    • The Casuals (1980s).

    • The Lads (1990s).

    • The Chavs (2000s).

  • In the 1990s, the emergence of true British youth cultures as subcultures is no longer evident. Some subcultures of the previous decades still existed, but the subcultures were more about leisure than expressing your individuality or identity for the majority. The exception is the ‘lad’ subculture.

  • In the early 2000s, we find that youth are growing up later than they used to; their education took longer, which means they got a job and started a family later. We also see some youth cultures transitioning into adulthood, blurring the lines between youth and adulthood. One exception is the subculture of ‘chavs’, considered the last true subculture of the early 2000s.

British Youth Culture

The chavs in the early 2000s.

In a sense, yes. Patriotism means you associate with other citizens who share the same sentiments to create a sense of unity among people. Subcultures may not be about being patriotic to Britain as a whole, but subcultures banded together because they shared the same feelings and had a sense of belonging when they were part of that subculture.

It started in the 1920s and 1930s, when the youth got more purchasing power. This continued for decades when youth had more money to spend and more freedom to do what they wanted. Later there were crises and unemployment, but these also led to subcultures, although not positive ones. In the later decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, more violent subcultures emerged.

Glam rockers had an outlandish and extravagant fashion style, wearing jumpsuits and high platform heels. A famous example of a glam rocker is David Bowie, who used his 'glam' persona to explore sexual identities and gender fluidity, something that became a distinct feature of youth culture in the following decades


  • The Flappers (1920s).

  • Teddy Boys (1950s).

  • Hipsters and ravers (1950s).

  • Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1950s).

  • Mods (1960s).

  • Rockers (1960s).

  • Hippies (1960s)

  • Skinheads (1960s).

  • Punks (1970s).

  • Glam rockers (1970s). 

  • Soundsystem culture (1970s).

  • The New Romantics (1980s).

  • Goths (1980s).

  • The Casuals (1980s).

  • The Lads (1990s).

  • The Chavs (2000s).

Final British Youth Culture Quiz

Question

When does the British youth culture as we know it today start?

Show answer

Answer

In the 1920s.

Show question

Question

What made the youth market rise?

Show answer

Answer

The increase in spending power of the youth in the 1920s and 1930s. Youth were in demand for jobs as they were relatively inexpensive.

Show question

Question

What are the four changes in the 1920s and 1930s?

Show answer

Answer

  1. The flappers (Figure 1): women, especially single women, were employed in factories during World War I, earning a wage and gaining independence. Women showed their newfound confidence and independence with a new fashion style: the flapper, a style that shocked society, with short haircuts and short skirts.
  2. More emphasis was placed on appearance, physique, and hygiene for both boys and girls.
  3. Hollywood in Britain: films from early Hollywood were shown in British cinemas, influencing the language and behaviour of youth. The films also led young people to take up smoking.
  4. Dance halls provided perfect opportunities to meet the opposite sex and dance in a wild, animalistic way imported from the US.
  5. The (increased) wages of the youth made the above changes possible.

Show question

Question

What are the five post-war changes?

Show answer

Answer

In the postwar period, there were five major changes:

  1. Economic change: the purchasing power and consumer spending of youth increased.

  2. Changes in education: the school-leaving age was raised to 15, which, along with increasing youth employment, paved the way for the emergence of youth tribes in postwar Britain.

  3. Windrush migrants: Immigrants brought new cultures, music, and fashions with them and influenced youth culture. Migration also led to unrest and tension between the black and white communities, resulting in other, less positive youth cultures.

  4. ‘The wild ones’: during this time, youth were referred to as ‘the wild ones.” Teens rebelled, were immature, and often disobeyed their parents.

  5. Mass media also played its part in creating a separate teenage culture. They focused more on their friends than on their families.

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Question

Why is Americanisation important?

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Answer

Many youth cultures in Britain had its origins in American youth cultures.

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Question

What economic changes do we see in the 1950s?

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Answer

World War II still had a major economic impact on many people in Britain, both because the war itself and the reconstruction of Britain were expensive and because of austerity measures. Among teenagers, on the other hand, we see an increase in leisure-oriented consumerism. Teenagers who had an income spent a lot of money on clothes, records, concerts, makeup, and magazines.

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Question

Name the three youth cultures from the 1950s.

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Answer

  1. Teddy Boys.
  2. Hipsters and ravers.
  3. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

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What was one of the biggest social changes in the 1960s?

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The end of conscription. Young men were no longer obliged to into the army, meaning they had more free time.

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What is the economic change of the 1960s?

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Answer

There was a big rise in youth employment, meaning more youngsters had money to spend.

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What is the counterculture?

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The counterculture was an anti-establishment cultural movement that first gained momentum in the US but quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. There were widespread social tensions regarding issues such as human sexuality and women's rights, which were addressed in the counterculture.

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What are the four youth cultures of the 1960s?

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  1. Mods.
  2. Rockers.
  3. Hippies.
  4. Skinheads.

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What were parents concerned about in the 1970s?

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British parents were getting more concerned with the hippie morality of freedom, love, and drugs.

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What was the economic change in the 1970s?

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Answer

The 1970s saw a recession that led to massive youth unemployment.

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What are the four youth cultures of the 1970s?

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Answer

  1. Skinheads.
  2. Punks.
  3. Glam rockers.
  4. Sound system culture.

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Name a darker side of the social scale in the 1980s.

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The darker side of the social scale was the high levels of unemployment and inner-city deprivation. Black British youth were hit hard, and heavy-handed policing and racism did not help matters, leading to several riots.

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What are the four youth cultures of the 1980s?

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  1. The New Romantics.
  2. Punks.
  3. Goths.
  4. The Casuals.

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What is a nickname given to the Y and Z Generation, and why did they get this nickname?

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They were nicknamed Generation’ E’ because the drug ecstasy (MDMA), also known as ‘E’ spread across Britain’s dance floors.

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What is 'Cool Britannia' and was it successful?

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Answer

Cool Britania was a period in the late 1990s that saw a renaissance or rebirth of British art, fashion, design and music. In 1997, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to create a ‘New Britain’, and he sought to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of contemporary youth culture.


While the British youth culture became big business, it was not successful. The reason was that many of the big names in British pop culture backed out due to the government not fulfilling its promise to help the young and the poor.

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Question

While there was one youth culture in the 1990s, namely the Lads, what was different about the youth culture in the 1990s compared to previous decades?

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Answer

No other youth cultures emerged in this decade. Some youth cultures continued, but the majority of the youth cultures were now about leisure rather than an act of expressing oneself.

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What was the last youth culture of the early 2000s?

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Answer

The Chavs.

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