The Teddy was named after the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt: in 1902, the former president participated in a bear hunt in Mississippi and refused to kill a bear caught by some hunters in his group, declaring that the action was “unsportsmanlike.”
The incident attracted national attention and was the subject of political cartoons starring “Teddy”-the name by which Roosevelt was commonly called-and “the bear.”
Inspired by the cartoon, a New York shopkeeper named Morris Michtom and his wife Rose made a stuffed cloth bear and displayed it in the window with a sign, “Teddy’s Bear.”
Photo: Fragment x Steiff Bear
After receiving permission from President Roosevelt to name their creation after him, the Mictoms started a teddy bear company, making their fortune.
The English version, Paddington, is a children’s literary character who first appeared in 1958, dressed in tailored suits or raincoat and hat; symbols of elegance and kindness, typical of the English attitude.
The iconic Teddy bear-and its elegant English version Paddington – was first taken up by Ralph Lauren, considered by many to be the “godfather of American fashion.” Lauren’s intent was to express through a stylish and reassuring character, the high social status of his garments, originally aimed at Polo players or fans.
The Polo Ralph Lauren line not only built a financial empire around the Teddy character, it especially contributed to the birth of one of the most impactful American trends in the history of costume: the Lo Life aesthetic.
The Teddy, from being a child’s toy and a symbol of romance, was transformed into a symbol of luxury and opulence: what the black community in NY had been waiting for, to prove with such a powerful status symbol that they had made money and succeeded in redeeming themselves from poverty.
The Lo Life style is adopted religiously by the black and Hip Hop community in NY, and the teddy bear becomes an inescapable sign of this Style.
Soon, in the wake of Polo Ralph Lauren’s fame, others will repurpose the Teddy here and there on tees and sweaters, or by creating branded versions of the plush: throughout the 1990s we more or less witness various representations of Teddy, some successful, some less so.