What is the Greaser Subculture?

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  • 0:00 Definition of Greaser…
  • 0:42 Greaser Subculture History
  • 2:00 Greaser Appearance & Fashion
  • 2:55 Famous Greasers
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn about the characteristics, history, influences and appearance of the greaser subculture. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

Definition of Greaser Subculture

Greased hair. Leather jackets. Denim jeans. White or black fitted t-shirts. Motorcycle boots. These descriptors can paint the picture of a typical greaser. The greaser subculture was a subculture that originated in the Southern and Eastern United States in the 1950s and was comprised of working-class street gang youth. Another nickname for greasers were 'hoods,' as in the poor neighborhoods of where they hung out. Have you ever seen the movie Grease or the play it was based on? Danny Zuko and his sidekick, Kenickie, were typical greasers. They fit the greaser profile in terms of fashion, their nature of rebellion and their work in auto mechanics.

Greaser Subculture History

After World War II, American culture was all about conformity. Traditional roles (women taking care of the home and children and men in the workplace) were resumed. The greasers, however, rebelled against conformity. Their rebellious style of leather jackets and tight-fitting t-shirts were a sharp contrast to the style of professional working men in the 1950s who often wore suits, ties and suspenders.

The name 'greaser' derived from the mid-19th century and refers to Mexicans living in California who greased carts for a living. It was the only job that they could get to support their families because of California's enactment of the Greaser Act in 1855. This act allowed Americans in California to oppress Mexicans due to their poor, homeless and possibly dangerous nature. Therefore, greaser had a negative connotation, and that is exactly why greasers in the 1950s took on that name - to be seen as disobedient, defiant and dangerous.

We see street gangs now that commit crimes, kill others and use illicit drugs. Even though most greaser teenagers were not at that level of corruption, they were one of the first street gangs to infiltrate the 'hoods' in in the Eastern and Southern United States in the 1950s and '60s.

Greaser Appearance & Fashion

Greasers valued and took pride in their tough guy image. Although leather jackets were a popular fashion icon of the greaser subculture, some greasers wore less formal jackets, like denim or khaki, to work in the car mechanic shops. Many greasers wore ringer t-shirts. What are those, you may ask? They are fitted t-shirts that are one color but the collar and sleeve ring are a different color.

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