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Greasers were a working class youth subculture that originated in the 1950s among teenagers in northeastern and southern United States. Rock and roll music was a major part of the culture, and styles were influenced by singers like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, Vince Taylor and Ritchie Valens, but the two main figures of the look were Marlon Brando and James Dean. In the 1950s, 1960s, these youths were also known as "hoods". This may be due to the fact that the style was more popular in poor neighborhoods that had higher crime rates than upper-class neighborhoods.
The name "greaser" came from their greased-back hairstyle, which involved combing back hair using hair wax, hair gel, creams, tonics or pomade. The term "greaser" reappeared in later decades as part of a revival of 1950s popular culture. One of the first manifestations of this revival was a 1971 American 7 Up television commercial that featured a 1950s greaser saying "Hey remember me? I'm the teen angel." The music act Sha Na Na also played a major role in the revival.
Although the greaser subculture was largely a North American youth phenomenon, there were similar subcultures in the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Japan, France, Sweden, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa. In Sweden they are called raggare. The 1950s and 1960s British equivalent was the rocker, also known as a ton-up boy. Unlike British rockers, who were exclusively bikers, North American greasers were known more for their love of hot rod cars, kustoms and vans, not necessarily motorcycles. Both subcultures are known for being fans of 1950s Doo Wop, Rock and roll, and rockabillymusic.
During the 1950s, women also became a part of greaser culture. Like men, they joined motorcycle gangs and wore jackets displaying their group's or gang's name. Latina women involved in gangs typically did not fight side-by-side with male gangs, but they did fight rival female gangs in the 1950s. Women were often depicted as the property of male motorcycle gang members.
Clothing usually worn by greasers included:
- Fitted T-shirts in white or black (often with the sleeves rolled up), ringer T-shirts, Italian knit shirts, Baseball shirts, bowling shirts, "Daddy-O"-style shirts
- Denim jackets, leather jackets, bomber jackets, letterman jackets
- Black or blue jeans (with rolled-up cuffs anywhere from one to four inches)
- Baggy cotton twill work trousers, khaki pants
- Black leather pants or vests,
- Tank tops
- Simple suits
Common accessories included:
- Black leather gloves
- Motorcycle helmets
- Vintage leather caps, stingy-brim hats, flat caps
- Chain wallets.
Common footwear included:
- Motorcycle boots (such as harness boots or engineer boots)
- Army boots
- Winklepickers, brothel creepers
- Cowboy boots
- Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
In England the greasers are called teddyboys and they wear drape jackets, creepers and ducktail hairstyles. Typical hairstyles included the pompadour, the Duck's ass, S-Curls, Finger Waves, Afros with parts or shaped like pompadours, and the more combed-back "Folsom" style. These hairstyles were held in place with pomade like suavecito and layrite, wax, or hair creams such as brylcreem.
The leather jacket, as popularized by pilots during World War II, became an icon of greaser culture. Compared with the previous decades, the 1950s were considered dull and the youths craved a new sense of adventure. The leather jacket marked greaser youths as daring and adventuresome young men, like the pilot heroes of the recent war.