Wide Boys and V-Girls: A Glossary of Historical Teen Personas

ImpurdentsLes Apaches

Pioneers of juvenile delinquency.  In Paris, no less. Urban, working class and young, they were known for their flamboyant dress, black jackets over bright colored shirts, with a silk scarf, and “tummy-ache” pants. The name was attributed to a French journalist, reflecting the European perception of the savagery of the Native American tribe. French historian Michelle Perot described the Apache as “an intellectual anarchist, he considers theft to be fair restitution and practices ‘individual recovery’ on the bourgeois.”

Biff boys

Britain’s men in black of the 1930’s. They were the militia of Oswald Mosley’s New Party of the early 1930’s. Originally founded by former Labour Party members as an answer to the Depression, Mosley eventually gravitated toward fascism. Dressed from head to toe in black, the biff boys, recruited mostly from among the disaffected young in London, were charged with “maintaining discipline” at Mosley’s fascist gatherings. This often involved clashes with protesters.

Bobby soxers

Teenage girls who were fans of swing and big band music in the 1940’s. These girls were regulars at dances and since many of those dances happened in gyms where you had to take your shoes off they danced in their bobby socks. In addition to the socks these girls likely wore skirts and sweaters and the footwear they discarded were most often saddle shoes. Frank Sinatra could make a bobby soxer swoon.

Boxcar boys (and girls)

The kids who left home during the Depression and started riding the rails. Mostly they were boys and of the girls who joined them, many would dress as boys. They were a product of the Depression. With no job, no food and a family that might have lost their homes and moved into increasingly cramped quarters, these teens hopped freight trains in hope of finding some work picking fruit, harvesting grain or chopping lumber.

FlapperFlappers

The feminine persona of the Roaring 20’s. Flappers listened to jazz. They also drank, smoked, drove cars and wore a lot of makeup. Short skirts and bobbed hair was the signature style of the flappers. Author Jon Savage (Teenage) calls flappers the “first mass female adolescent generation.” They were sexy and flirtatious and as such represented something of a liberation from the traditional perception of the female teenager.

Ickies

The term was part of the jive language for the 1940’s version of hipster. An icky was someone who wasn’t very hip. Someone who just doesn’t get it. Getting it involved being a part of swing culture with its zoot suits and bobby socks and jitterbugging. The icky was perhaps a predecessor of the modern day nerd.

jitterbug contestJitterbugs

One who did the jitterbug, which was the dance you did to swing music. You might wear a zoot suit to jitterbug or you might wear bobby socks. Variations of the jitterbug included the Lindy Hop, the Jive and the East Coast Swing. The term jitterbug was popularized by Cab Calloway. He issued a recording called “Call of the Jitterbug” and later a film titled “Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party.”

Neo-Pagans

Today Neo-Pagans are associated with spiritual movements, usually involving some type of magic or witchcraft. In the early 20th century, the neo-Pagans were a group of privileged young British intellectuals whose distinction was in defying Victorian customs. For example, male and female neo-Pagans freely intermingled, although they preached abstinence. They were socialist, some were vegetarian and they espoused a sort of Peter Pan like forever young philosophy. Apparently the movement died before it got old.

Pachucos and Pachucas

Latino zoot suiters of the 40’s. But since they were mostly Mexican-American youth who were the children of poor immigrants, the public perception was of a gang of dangerous delinquents. Boys and girls alike donned zoot suits. The Pachucos added triple sole shoes and sported a long slicked back duck tail. Pachucas went for a heavy dose of dark red lipstick and black mascara.  They were also the primary victims of the 1943 zoot suit riots in which servicemen would attack, beat and “depants” pachucos in Los Angeles, Oakland and Venice, Calif.

Sub-debs

Members of Sub-Deb clubs, social groups of teenage girls that were popular in the middle of the decade. You might think of them as a high school version of sorority sisters. They set the standard for high school style and behavior and focused on the achievement of popularity. You would likely find them hanging out at the drugstore. They were generally an upper middle class group that were heavily into consumption.

V-girls

Short for Victory Girls. During World War II with men off to war and women off to the factories these often unattended teenage girls made their contribution to the war effort by entertaining soldiers and sailors. That might not have always involved sex, but usually it did. An organization called the American Social Hygiene Association described V-girls as “sexual delinquents of a non-commercial character.” Countries in Western Europe experienced some of the same resulting increases in venereal disease and out-of-wedlock births as the U.S. did during the war years, but only the Americans tried to frame it in a veil of patriotism.

Wide boys

The Cambridge dictionary defines wide boy by as “a man who is dishonest and decieves people in way he does business.” The British term was first used in a 1930’s novel “Wide Boys Never Work.” That is, of course, because they were crooks of one sort or another. Wide Boys were most likely found in the Soho and Paddington sections of London and they included racetrack gangsters, prostitutes and the gay and Jewish undergrounds.

Zazous

French zoot suiters. Came into being during World War II. Like their American counterparts they had a distinct style of dress including garish and oversized clothes. The women wore short skirts, striped stockings and carried umbrellas. And, like the zoot suiters they danced to swing. The zazous are viewed by historians as a way that young people in France expressed their resistance to the Nazi occupation. As the war years went on they became the targets of attacks by fascist youth organizations.

Zoot suiters

Folks who wore zoot suits. That includes the Pachucos, the Jitterbugs, the Zazous and the bobby soxers’ dates and dance partners. It was the preferred uniform of swing music afficionados. The zoot suit included an oversized jacket called a king coat, and wide legged, pegged pants and it was often topped with a fedora. The style originated in America’s black and Latino communities and went mainstream along with the music it is associated with.

Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway performing in a zoot suit

 

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19 Responses to Wide Boys and V-Girls: A Glossary of Historical Teen Personas

  1. Phoenicia says:

    How interesting. I enjoy learning about the lifestyle and fashion of the 19th century ; 1920’s and 1960’s being my favour decades due to the amazing clothes and hairstyles. It appears back then, young people were trying to find their place in society. Such a difficult phase.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great pictures and interesting information about how people dressed and danced in various parts of the world. Can’t help wondering how those that are young today will be remembered?:-9

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lenie5860 says:

    Ken, I have truly enjoyed this entire series about teenagers. It’s interesting how each generation has their own way of showing ‘independence’. Some of the terms you’ve come out with here I’ve never heard of. The biff boys, the zazous, sub-debs are all new to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love getting these mini-educations from you, Ken. I always liked the flappers and probably would have been one back in the day. Anything to set my Mom’s hair on end. When I learned about the Zoot suiters, I was amazed–wouldn’t it be better for our youth to dress that way than with all their undergarments sticking out? Yeech.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Donna Janke says:

    This was a fascinating look at teen personas across the years. There was a lot here I’d never heard of. I have heard of zoot suits but didn’t really know what they looked like. It was good to see the photo.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lots of great new terms here as well as I handful I was already aware of. What comes to mind after reading your post is that we are almost coming into the twenties again. Part of me really hopes a lot of the style comes back into fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Andy says:

    So, is that a zoot suit that David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense?

    BTW, Mosley’s first name was Oswald – Elvis Costello mocks him in the song “Less Than Zero”.

    Like

  8. When I read this what popped in my mind was how they groups were displayed, especially in cartoons (mostly Looney tunes)
    Often if a pretty woman walked by a man, he magically turned into a wolf, wearing a zoot suit and then howled at her.
    Boxcar girls were often seen as wide eyed, innocent poor, usually portrayed a matchstick girls, selling matches on the street. Bobbysoxers were always seen dancing on a flag pole.
    I just think it is unique how these groups were presented to the public, especially to the young.
    thanks for sharing such a great informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Ken; yet another well researched and interesting post. am sure the images are really cool too. is this going to be a series? are you going to cover some similar groups from later generations? thanks max

    Like

  10. heraldmarty says:

    Never ceases to amaze me this need we have to affix labels to things and people. I do like the various clothing styles, especially the “flapper” era. On a completely different and unrelated note, always loved Cab Calloway’s electric smile and energy.

    Like

  11. Erica says:

    I’m glad we transitioned from the work Icky to the term Nerd. I sometimes call myself a nerd, but I would never want to call myself an Icky. That just sounds horrible. There were quite a few other terms I had never heard of. I know very much about pop culture before Elvis so this was very enlightening.

    Like

  12. Jason @ TheButlerJournal.com says:

    Seems like Zoot Suits were very popular to a lot of different groups.

    Like

  13. graceyb says:

    Thanks for the interesting look back in history through the culture of youth. It will be fascinating to look back and see how today’s youth are characterized

    Like

  14. Kire says:

    Love me some Cab Calloway and Louis Prima. As a young man in the 90’s, the resurgence of swing music was a gift I still enjoy today. the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra never fail to please.

    Like

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