1950S Pop Culture by jermainedayvis


									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

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.

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

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 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

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."

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.

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

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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