Rocker fashion is a style of dress associated with motorcycling and rock and roll subcultures in the United Kingdom and United States during the 1950s. Stylistically, rocker fashion shares many common elements with greaser fashion in the United States and Kaminari-zoku in Japan.
- Pudding basin helmet, leather caps
- Leather jacket
- Jeans, leather pants
- Aviator goggles
- White silk scarf
- Motorcycle boots, brothel creepers
- Metal studs, patches, pins
- Skull and crossbone symbols
- Pompadour hairstyle (with Brylcreem)
Until the post-war period, motorcycling held a prestigious position and enjoyed a positive image in British society, being associated with wealth and glamour. Starting in the 1950s, the middle classes were able to buy inexpensive motorcars so that motorcycles became transport for the poor.
The rocker subculture came about due to factors such as: the end of post-war rationing in the UK, a general rise in prosperity for working class youths, the recent availability of credit and financing for young people, the influence of American popular music and films, the construction of race track-like arterial roads around British cities, the development of transport cafes and a peak in British motorcycle engineering. The name "rocker" came not from music, but from the rockers found in 4-stroke engines, as opposed to the two stroke engines used by scooters and ridden by mods.
During the 1950s, they were known as "Ton-Up boys" because doing a ton is English slang for driving at a speed of or over. The Teddy Boys were considered their "spiritual ancestors".
The mass media started targeting these socially powerless youths and cast them as "folk devils", creating a moral panic through highly exaggerated and ill-founded portrayals. From the 1960s on, due to the media fury surrounding the mods and rockers, motorcycling youths became more commonly known as rockers, a term previously little known outside small groups.
Members of the rocker subculture are also known as leather boys, Ton-up boys and café racers. The term café racer originated in the 1950s, when bikers often frequented transport cafés, using them as starting and finishing points for road races. A café racer is a motorcycle that has been modified for speed and good handling rather than for comfort. Features include: a single racing seat, low handlebars (such as ace bars or one-sided clip-ons mounted directly onto the front forks for control and aerodynamics), large racing petrol tanks (aluminium ones were often polished and left unpainted), swept-back exhaust pipes, rear-set footpegs (to give better clearance while cornering at high speeds) with or without half or full race fairings.
These motorcycles were lean, light and handled various road surfaces well. The most defining machine of the rocker heyday was the Triton, which was a custom motorcycle made of a Norton Featherbed frame and a Triumph Bonneville engine. It used the most common and fastest racing engine combined with the best handling frame of its day. Other popular motorcycle brands included BSA, Royal Enfield and Matchless.
The Rocker subculture was associated with 1950s and early-1960s rock and roll music by artists such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry, music that George Melly called "screw and smash" music.
Largely due to their clothing styles and dirtiness, the rockers were not widely welcomed by venues such as pubs and dance halls. Rockers also transformed rock and roll dancing into a more violent, individualistic form beyond the control of dance hall management. They were generally reviled by the British motorcycle industry and general enthusiasts as being as an embarrassment and bad for the industry and the sport.
In the early 1970s, the British rocker and hardcore motorcycle scene fractured and evolved under new influences coming from California: the hippies and the Hells Angels. The remaining rockers became known as greasers, and the scene had all but died out.
The term café racers is now also used to describe motorcycle riders who prefer vintage British, Italian or Japanese motorbikes from the 1950s to late 1970s. These modern café racers do not resemble the rockers of earlier decades, and they dress in a more modern and comfortable style, with only a hint of likeness to the rocker style, nor do they share the passion for 50s rock'n'roll. These modern café racers have taken elements of the American greaser, British rocker, and modern motorcycle rider styles to create a look of their own. Rockers in the 2000s tend still to ride classic British motorcycles, however, classically styled European café racers are now also seen, such as Moto Guzzi or Ducati, as well as classic Japanese bikes, some with British-made frames such as those made by Rickman.
The rockers' look and attitude influenced pop groups in the 1960s, such as The Beatles, as well as hard rock and punk rock bands and fans in the late 1970s. The look of the ton-up boy and rocker was accurately portrayed in the 1964 film The Leather Boys. The rocker subculture has also influenced the rockabilly revival and the psychobilly subculture.
Many contemporary rockers still wear engineer boots or full-length motorcycle boots, but Winklepickers (sharp pointed shoes) are no longer common. Some wear brothel creepers (originally worn by Teddy Boys), or combat boots. Rockers have continued to wear leather motorcycle jackets, often adorned with patches, studs, spikes and painted artwork; jeans or leather trousers; and white silk scarves. Leather caps adorned with metal studs and chains, common among rockers in the 1950s and 1960s, are rarely seen any more. Instead, some contemporary rockers wear a classic woollen flat cap.