1950's Teenagers

  • Numerous new fashions became popular among teenagers during the 1950s. Some of the most commonly recognized trends are hot pants and poodle skirts that were worn. Of all of the youth fashions in the 1950's, the miniskirt was the most famous, with its hemline rising throughout the decade to about eight inches above the knee. Mary Quant, a British designer, designed the miniskirts solely for a teenage clientele. Miniskirts were not to be worn at schools, though, and neither were jeans. As teens attempted to assert their own styles and independence, jeans gained popularity among the youth. Both males and females wore the dungarees as casual wear. The popularity of jeans was inspired by the films The Wild One and Rebel without a Cause, along with celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.
  • In a search for entertainment that they could relate to, teenagers turned to the rebellious, new-found genre of rock 'n' roll. In 1951, Alan Freed coined the term "rock 'n' roll" when he played the music of black R&B performers on an experimental late-night radio show for teenagers. Rock was primarily written and performed by and directed to young adults and teenagers, giving them something to relate with. Elvis Presley was the first white artist to combine the black and white sounds successfully in 1956. With his overt sexuality, he was condemned by many adults for undermining the moral values of American youth. Many parents did not approve of the songs' content, which carried sexual overtones and suggested drinking and smoking to be socially acceptable. Dancing to rock 'n' roll was banned, records were banned and smashed, and it was seen as listening to the "Devil's music."
  • During the 1950's, there were dances designed specifically for teenagers, known as proms and "sock hops." Proms, usually held in the high school gymnasium, were a formal affair to end the school year. Close dancing was not allowed and rock 'n' roll music was usually forbidden. Sock hops or record hops were dancing held in the school gymnasium throughout the school year. Music was usually provided by bands composed of their peers. Record hops were teenage dances in the gymnasiums in which local radio celebrity DJ's were hired to spin the latest hit records. The teenagers' dancing was inspired by television, when the first influential dance craze was the Bunny Hop in 1953. The dance was similar to a Conga line, and some adults actually took liking to it.
  • The two main styles of teenagers portrayed in the 1950's were greasers and preps. Greasers began as a working class youth subculture and emerged as an expression of rebellion. The greased back hair style led to the name greasers. They were known for their love of hot rod cars, which were considered dangerous, and classic motorcycles. They are known for wearing black or white t-shirts, leather jackets, and denim jeans. Preps, on the other hand, wore things such as cuffed Oxford cloth shirts, argyle sweaters, cuffed chinos, and boat shoes. They had a different subcultural speech, vocabulary, accent dress, mannerism, and etiquette.
  • Advertising in the 1950's came to be aimed towards teenagers. It peddled televisions, music records, trendy fashions, and automobiles to teens with newfound allowance money. The social and economic autonomy of teenagers coincided with increasing juvenile crime, sexual experimentation, and other forms of rebellion. Teenagers could now escape the control of the parents easier with the new availability of cars. Advertising strategists and Hollywood filmmakers helped to popularize dark and brooding rebels, such as James Dean, who would influence teenagers. They marketed automobiles to American teens.

Primary Sources

Recommended:
  1. Dress shirt and tie or conservative sport shirt and tie with suit jacket, jacket, sport coat, or sweater
  2. Standard trousers or khakis; clean and neatly pressed
  3. Shoes, clean and polished; white bucks acceptable
Not Recommended:
  1. Dungarees or soiled, unpressed khakis
  2. T-shirts, sweat shirts
  3. Extreme style of shoes, including hobnail or "motorcycle boots"
-This is an excerpt from the Dress Code for High School Students in New York in the year 1956, administrated by Buffalo, New York's Board of Education on January 24, 1956. This portion of the dress code particularly pertains to boys in academic high schools and Hutchinson-Technical High School. Dress codes, such as the one above, were designed to discourage delinquency and gang-related behavior, which adults feared that teenagers were adapting to. By instituting these dress codes in schools, they hoped to encourage conformity and adherence to proper social roles. In addition to these dress code guidelines, boys whose hair touched their ears could be punished by expulsion from school. Girls could not wear any type of slacks, for it was viewed as unfeminine. These dress codes were among the many restrictions set upon teenagers in the 1950's in an effort to push conformity and maintain innocence.

Fashion Trend for Teenage Girls in the 1950s
Fashion Trend for Teenage Girls in the 1950s

-This photograph, taken in 1953, shows a popular fashion trend of the year in which girls wore dog collars fastened around their ankles over their socks. Girls who had a boyfriend wore the collar on their left ankle, and girls who were single wore them on their right ankles. This shows some of the new fashions that arose during the 1950's, including the poodle skirt. This was one ways girls chose to express themselves while still conforming by wearing only skirts, jumpers, suits, or conservative dresses in public and at school. The collars on their ankles also indicated their relationship status at the same time that rules and restrictions were made against dating and "heavy petting." In ways such as these, teenagers changed modern culture while still confirming to the expectations of adults.

Conclusion

The 1950s was a decade of definite expansion for teenagers, as they lost innocence and emerged into a new identity. New fashions and trends were brought up and some, such as the miniskirt, are still worn today. Groups known as the greasers and preps were established. With the upcoming of rock 'n' roll, teenagers listened and danced to the new, rebellious music. They drifted away from their homes as access to automobiles increased, spending time away from their parents. Teenagers in the 1950s took part in sexual experimentation, as well. A form of slang, known as hipster talk, became popular during this time, too. From the new promiscuity and freedom in advertising, marketing, fashion, and entertainment, teenagers in the 1950's expressed a loss of innocence and emergence of identity.

Work Cited

Board of Education, Buffalo, New York. "Dress Code for High School Students in New York." American History Online. Facts On File, Inc., 15 Nov 2011. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=E14091&SingleRecord=True__.

Brenner, Sarah. "popular culture, post–World War II." In Winkler, Allan M., Charlene Mires, and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Postwar United States, 1946 to 1968, Revised Edition (Volume IX). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. 13 Nov. 2011. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHIX198&SingleRecord=True__.

"Fashion Trend for Teenage Girls in the 1950s." Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc., 14 Nov. 2011. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=AHI2568&SingleRecord=True__.

Giordano, Ralph G. "Sock Hop." Daily Life through History. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. http://dailylife.abc-clio.com/Search/Results?q=1950s+teenagers__.

Goldberg, David E. "teenagers, post–World War II." In Winkler, Allan M., Charlene Mires, and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Postwar United States, 1946 to 1968, Revised Edition (Volume IX). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc., (14 Nov. 2011) http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHrIX260&SingleRecord=True.

Gómez, Andrea. "fashion, post–World War II." In Winkler, Allan M., Charlene Mires, and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Postwar United States, 1946 to 1968, Revised Edition (Volume IX). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc., 13 Nov. 2011. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHrIX091&SingleRecord=True.