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1950’s Pop Culture (Fashion) Source Citation "Youth-Centered Fashion in the 1950s, 1950-1959." DISCovering U.S. History. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center - Gold. Thomson Gale. Cook Memorial Public Library. 5 Feb. 2007 The "Greaser" Look "Greasers," by contrast, were the all-American rebels. Inspired in part by movie star Marlon Brando in "The Wild One," the idea, Horn says, "was to look poor, tough, and hard—cold as ice, angry as hell, macho, arrogant, and dressed to kill." Tight black jeans, black boots, shiny shirts, black leather jackets, and T-shirts with rolled-up cuffs (for storing cigarettes) constituted the greaser look, as portrayed years later by Fonzie in television's "Happy Days." Boys' hair was worn long and greased with Vaseline, molded into a ducktail like Elvis Presley's. (A Massachusetts school banned the D.A. in 1957, fearful that it was fostering rebellious attitudes.) Tough Girls Their girlfriends were a tough group, too, wearing heavy makeup, tight sweaters, short skirts, and stockings. Some girls wore their hair greased into ducktails, and some smoked cigarettes, too. The dress of both male and female greasers screamed rebellion, and society heartily disapproved. Accessorizing Couples, of both styles, also made fashion statements. Preppies exchanged class rings, which girls wore on necklaces, and had matching ID tags. When in college, this group's fraternities sponsored elaborate pinning ceremonies. Greasers, by contrast, rarely bothered with class rings; they sported tattoos and heavy ID bracelets, instead, and girls wore their boyfriends' leather jackets. But whether you were a preppy or a greaser, by mid decade the youth culture and its fashions reigned supreme. Preppy on the Dance Floor Preppy girls wore sweaters, poodle skirts, bobby socks, and saddle shoes. The dirndl dress (sleeveless, or with puffed sleeves, and plenty of petticoats underneath) became the first popular fashion designed strictly for youth. Billowing circle skirts and cinch belts were perfect for rock 'n' roll dancing or the Bunny Hop. Baggy pants were also favored by girls, as were long, pleated, plaid skirts. At night teens glittered with paste-on rhinestones. Hair was cut into short, curly "poodle" cuts or shaggy Italian styles, or it was swept back into a ponytail or teased and sprayed into an elaborate bouffant. The "Preppy" Look Quant's more radical designs became widely popular in America in the 1960s. But in the mid to late 1950s both boys and girls had their own versions of the "preppy" look. Preppy boys wore baggy pants, V-necked sweaters, and Top Siders or dirty white bucks. They sported crew cuts or else, in Horn's words, "the long-but-not-too-long carefully combed and parted, wholesome-looking rocker hairstyles favored by such teen trendsetters as Ricky Nelson of `Ozzie and Harriet' fame." For dressy occasions they donned a sports jacket and slacks, with loafers or white bucks. Born to Spend But children and teens of the 1950s identified with a fifteen-year-old Los Angeles girl quoted in a 1957 Newsweek article: "We just find it neat to spend money." In 1957 teens' disposable income was estimated at $9 billion. Intensive research into this "hitherto untapped teen market" began after World War II, and by the mid 1950s fashion manufacturers were masters at manipulating teens' tastes. Not like Their Parents On the other hand, young people in the 1950s did their own manipulating by deciding to reject their parents' styles and make their own mark. Vogue commented on the trend in November 1952, when it described a "blueprint teenager" complete with bobby socks, ponytail, and the boyfriend's sweater. Young fashions became a regular feature in that magazine in 1953. Harper's Bazaar started a regular section called "The Young Outlook" in 1958. England's Mary Quant began making youth- centered fashions in 1955 and had a successful trip to America in 1959. Announcing that "snobbery has gone out of fashion," Quant offered kicky outfits specifically for women under twenty-five, rather than popular fashions that had been designed for film stars. Women’s Fashion By 1950 women were long gone from the factory jobs of World War II and were back home (usually in the kitchen and wearing aprons, to judge from advertisements of that era). Domesticity and femininity were the watchwords, and women wore wasp waists, voluminous skirts, and pearls by day and clingy, sequined gowns by night. The "New Look" Christian Dior's "New Look" took the fashion world by storm in 1947. Emphasizing the natural curves of the female figure, the shape of Dior's fashions resembled an hourglass. The bosom was emphasized by skintight tailoring; hips were padded; the skirt was midcalf in length, full, and "extravagant in its use of fabric"; the waist was slender, or "wasp." By 1950 the sensuous Dior designs and the hourglass figure reigned supreme in the postwar United States, where, as sociologists have noted, sexuality and maternity were the way to restore the population. Women by Day Career women in the 1950s (and there were not many of them) wore wool suits with slim sheath skirts and straight, short jackets over silk blouses. The ideal silhouette was long-legged and shapely. Dresses hung at midcalf. Gloves were a must: a woman dressed in a suit always wore them. Hats, too, were essential, although less so than they had been in the 1940s. According to a 1959 survey the average American woman owned four chapeaus. Some were large, although most were small pillboxes or berets. Handbags in brightly colored lizard skin were favored. Shoes, usually with impossibly high stiletto heels, matched the outfit. All of this would be encased in a clutch coat, often of mohair or textured cloth, that had no buttons—hence the name clutch. Work Clothes Less formal working women donned "separates" (originally designed by American designer Claire McCardell), consisting of skirts and tops that could be interchanged at will, giving women a variety of outfits at a lower cost. Pop-it necklaces, which could be lengthened from choker to waist- length by snapping on extra beads, were a favorite with this group (and with teenagers, too). The Sack and Other Fashion Ideas The chemise, also known as the "sack" dress, made the biggest fashion splash in women's day wear in the 1950s. This type of dress, which looked like a bag, was not popular for long, since the hips and bust were completely hidden. After a year, says author Richard Horn, "the sack was sacked." The hooded dress made of a single tube-shaped length of hip- clinging knit also caught on in the 1950s. Housewives in the 1950s wore shirtwaist dresses (often with pearls), housedresses, slacks, and dungarees. The theme was comfort. Women by Night Women wore essentially simple clothing in the daytime; nights were different. Evening dresses in the 1950s were either full-skirted, ethereal, and romantic—in exotic hues and materials such as silk and taffeta—or they were narrow, clinging sheaths, often slathered with the shimmering sequins popularized by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Colors Colors varied, with black and white particularly favored for fall and winter. Synthetics, which are viewed as somewhat tacky today, were not thought so then. Rayon and rayon blends were particularly popular in evening frocks. Accentuating Curves All evening styles emphasized women's bodies (the "ideal" woman in the 1950s was curvier and considerably less angular than today's ultrathin, waiflike models). Most dresses were tightly fitted, sleeveless, and strapless. They also sported plunging necklines and back lines yet concealed elaborate foundations that enhanced a woman's figure. Accessories and Cosmetics Fur stoles and capes were popular. Handbags and satin pumps matched the dress. Gloves were always worn. Hair was short and swept back off one's face, and really adventurous women colored their hair so that it matched their evening clothes. Arched eyebrows and dark lips completed the look. Don't Forget the Makeup Makeup was an essential part of a woman's appearance in the 1950s There was an excessive emphasis on painted lips and eyes, and those lips were usually colored fire-engine red. Charles Revson, president of Revlon, said in the 1950s that "most women lead lives of quiet desperation. Cosmetics are a wonderful escape from it—if you play it right." Men’s Fashion Conform—Or Else In the 1950s conformity was the password of men's fashions. And as long as "conformity was the order of the day, there was a uniform to go with it," according to author Richard Horn: "a three-button, single-breasted, charcoal gray flannel suit, with narrow shoulders, narrow, small-notched lapels, flaps on the pockets, and pleatless, tapering trousers. A white or pale blue cotton broadcloth shirt with a button-down collar and button cuffs, trim ties with regimental stripes and small knots, and trim black leather shoes that rose at the ankle and the toe..... A drip-dry beige raincoat, a Chesterfield with black velvet collar, or a single-breasted, straight-lined tweed overcoat with raglan sleeves was donned upon stepping out of corporate headquarters and onto the street. Any hat would have been narrow-brimmed and worn brim up or brim down, sometimes with a pinched crown. Hair was worn in a crew—or semi- crew—cut. Jewelry was minimal—no more than a wristwatch and, if the man was married, a wedding band." Alternatives Not every man wore gray flannel suits, of course. Corporate types sometimes wore dark blue suits. And blue-collar laborers did not wear suits. By the mid 1950s, suits made of "miracle" synthetic fabrics such as Dacron blends that were lightweight and spot- and wrinkle-resistant were gaining popularity in colors such as beige, blue, and brown. Nonetheless, men's formal fashions in the 1950s were generally somber. Sports Clothes Men's clothes for leisure time, on the other hand, were more fun than work outfits. Bermuda shorts made a big splash in the 1950s, with some men even wearing them to parties and the country club with sports jackets and knee-length socks. Though tweed jackets with gray flannel slacks were standard among conservative dressers, sports jackets came in a variety of casually festive styles for more adventuresome men. They boasted colorful madras plaids, large bright checks, or smaller hounds tooth checks. Continental jackets had lightly padded shoulders and hung straight in the back. Slim-cut slacks were sometimes worn cuff less and with a trim belt often in a bright color. Long- or short-sleeved sport shirts came in lightweight, washable synthetics such as Dacron; as a bonus they were wrinkle-free. Gaudy Hawaiian "aloha" shirts were popular during the 1950s, too, particularly at the ubiquitous backyard barbecues. Outerwear Heavy duffel coats held together by wooden toggles and hemp loops rather than zippers or buttons came into fashion in the 1950s. So did the thigh-length car coat. But the best-known outerwear of this era was the Eisenhower jacket, named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower: it was "jaunty, blousy, and waist-length." Who Cares? Perhaps because their range of fashion choices was so limited, men in the 1950s did not care as much about clothes as women did. As an article in Newsweek in 1957 put it, "men prefer to spend the extra money they're earning on things other than clothes," that is, on their homes and growing families. Probably because of the relative disinterest from men, styles did not change measurably from year to year in the 1950s as they did for women 1950’s Designer’s Postwar Style Before World War II American fashion had little sense of national identity or style. Since the nineteenth century, in fact, Paris couturiers had set fashion trends for women in both Europe and America. Before the 1950s America's only distinctive contribution to international fashion was via Hollywood movies. This situation changed in the 1950s with the emergence of more than two-dozen energetic and imaginative young men and women on the American fashion scene. The "American Look" "The `American Look' is a young look because it comes from young minds," said a 1955 Look magazine article. "It's an American look because these designers are independent and free-wheeling, wary of imitating, anxious to create. They share a pox-on-Paris spirit." These young American designers ranged in age from twenty-four to thirty-five in 1955, and they included such names as Anne Klein, Claire McCardell, Kasper, Rudi Gernreich, and James Galanos. They had a common purpose: to give American women comfortable yet chic sportswear that fit their active lifestyles and complimented the wearer, not necessarily the designer. Simple and Comfortable American women in the 1950s were busy wives and mothers. Backyard barbecues, weekend car trips, get-togethers in front of the television, chauffeuring children to school, sports, and parties— this active life required relaxed, comfortable, yet sophisticated clothing. As a young New York mother told Time magazine (2 May 1955), "When I get dressed up, I have little time to make up to the dress; I want the dress to make up to me." Leisure Wear American Look clothes were intended not so much for work as for leisure, but a leisure, as a cover story on McCardell said, "of action." They were mass-produced, simply made, of clean lines, durable (especially those made of synthetics), and easy to wear. No Need to Break the Bank American women loved the fact that this comfortable, functional clothing was inexpensive. Almost everyone could afford McCardell's creations, for example, which ranged from bathing suits and play clothes ($10 to $50) to dresses ($20 to $100) to suits and coats ($89 to $150). "The best-dressed women in the world are to be found on almost any street in America," said Lifemagazine in 1956. "Without the small fortune it takes to outfit a fashionable woman abroad, women across the U.S. can out-dress all others because of a unique $8 billion ready-to-wear industry which puts no price barriers on style." What Was Popular Jersey jumpers, tailored slacks, play shorts Bermuda shorts, housedresses, and short-sleeved golf dresses were popular. So were mix-and-match separates—a madrs skirt "topped, perhaps, with a simple tailored blouse boasting a Peter Pan collar, or a dirndl skirt worn with a peasant blouse," according to Richard Horn. Dungarees were worn only around the house. Ponchos and shawls were worn in cool weather, along with a short- sleeved sweater with a matching cardigan, in cashmere or angora. International Influence The American designers of the American Look were considered trend- setting revolutionaries. The look was influential abroad, particularly in Italy, where it influenced the designers of sportswear. Paris also tried the style with no less a master than Dior declaring that la mode sport in America is "beyond doubt excellent.
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