What we wore during the 50s


By Jo Gray

Nothing characterizes the 50s better than the poodle skirt.

The poodle skirt was a swing skirt with a poodle appliqué or some other appliqué on it. It was worn over plenty of petticoats to hold the wide skirt out. Think of square dancing with the layers of petticoats.

Other styles of skirts included the pleated skirts, swing skirts and skirts with gathering at or below the waist. There was also the slim skirt and everyone had to have at least one pencil skirt… a very slim skirt with an open slit in the back seam to allow for easy movement.

The teenage girls seldom wore jeans (They were called dungarees during this era) outside the home. When worn at all, they were rolled to display the white ankle socks and worn with an oversized long-sleeved white shirt (usually borrowed from a brother or dad). 

School attire demanded skirts well below the knee, and blouses or sweaters that were never hinted of sexuality. 

Girls wore the letterman jacket or sweater of their boy friends to let everyone know they were dating a jock.

While the style of the day was soft and feminine, it was never revealing. Halter tops were allowed at home or at very informal functions, such as family picnics. Capris and pants were other items to be worn at home.

The most popular swimwear was one piece with a boned and/or padded bra. The skirt style swimsuit was still worn. When the two-piece swimming suit became the one of choice, it was also modest, never revealing the wearer’s belly button.

For the most part, teenage girls wore the saddle shoe, a still black and white oxford that required frequent polishing. These were worn with white, rolled cotton socks. 

The ballet slipper offered an alternative for casual foot ware. These were also worn with white socks but usually a thinner variety. 

While it was considered inappropriate for young women to wear anything revealing or sexy, the school prom was one exception…with limitations. The prom allowed the girls to dress like a princess. Long, strapless dresses made of layers of chiffon over taffeta or satin were worn with net and nylon hoop crinoline style petticoats. The gown usually had a matching shawl. 

It wasn’t just the young women who had fashion dos and don’ts.

No one went anywhere without first getting “dressed”. 

The housewife wore simple button-down-the-front cotton dresses or wrap around dresses while attending to house work. But, when she went to town, she changed into something nice, put on stockings and high heels. If the occasion demanded it, she also wore a hat and gloves. And, there was the girdle. It was a mainstay that women found necessary when wearing the slim pencil-style dress or skirt. 

The working man had little choice when selecting his wardrobe.. He wore a suit and tie if the job demanded it. The color choices were limited… usually brown, blue, or gray. If he were a blue-collar worker, he wore khakis or coveralls. But, regardless of the working attire, all men wore hats – all the time. And a suit was always worn to church, funerals and weddings.

TV shows such as “Happy Days” portrayed teenage boys wearing leather jackets left opened enough to reveal a white T-shirt. But most boys didn’t dress like the Fonz. They were much more conservative, wearing slacks with skirts neatly tucked in. The look might be compared to the “nerd” of today.

Tennis shoes or gym shoes were not worn except when used in the sport for which they were designed. The young men wore lace-up oxfords.

Movie stars were having an impact on the fashions and the end of World War II brought about a market for change. The fashion industry filled a need by creating soft, romantic wear for women and introducing men to more colors and designs. For a short period of time, young men wore pink in an effort to express individuality.

The fashions of the 50s will always be around as long as people try to re-create an era that has been impossible to forget.

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