The 1950s were an interesting decade, stuck between another World War and a looming new era of nuclear and atomic energy. This period saw roots stitched together for the carefree generation of the 60s, as the ‘Beat generation’ saw no hope and thus began to rebel against social conventions.
The classical musical Fat sums up many of the stereotypical fashions, lifestyles and attitudes of the 1950s. Young men in leather jackets combed their hair back with a comb that they kept in their upper pocket and called the girls “dolls” and ” baby”. Rock ‘n’ roll was born, with Elvis Presley as one of the main protagonists. His signature dance is still parodied to this day.
Other big names in the rock ‘n’ roll music scene include Buddy Holly, famous for his thick-rimmed ‘nerdy glasses’, Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash.
In cinema, European cinema experienced a renaissance as resources became available again. Due to the threat of television, producers sought new and innovative ways to bring audiences back to theaters. Large production films and shows gained popularity, with titles such as ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Happy Men’, ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’. The 1950s were labeled a golden age for 3D cinema. Will it live up to the latest incarnation of this technology?
Japanese cinema also reached its zenith during this period, with notable directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Kenji Mizoguchi.
Beatniks and polka dot skirts
The 1950s also saw the ‘return of fashion’, following the lifting of the austere measures applied during World War II. Many Parisian fashion houses reopened and there was a flood of synthetic fabrics and easy-care processes; Drip-dried nylon, orlon, and dacron became immensely popular, while acrylic, polyester, and spandex were also introduced in the 1950s.
‘Teddy Boys’ wore an exaggerated version of Edwardian fashion, sporting tight ties and skinny pants that revealed garish socks. In America, the ‘Greasers’ were the closest equivalent, similarly rebelling against their parents’ styles.
In fact, as usual, America was very influential in popular culture, with the idea of the ‘Beat Generation’ introduced by author Jack Kerouac. The ‘beatniks’ were a nonconformist, underground youth gathering that emerged in New York. A typical look included a beret, a pair of sunglasses, and a black turtleneck. Jeans and leather jackets were also popular.
Specifically for women, hair was often worn short and curly in a ‘New York style’. Hats were essential for all but the most informal occasions. Later in the decade, the curly ‘poodle cut’, the ‘bouffant’ and the ‘beehive’, made famous today by Marge Simpson and Amy Winehouse, became fashionable. The Beat girls obviously had long straight hair; the direct opposite of these styles.
Increasing factory production made the 1950s an era of mass-produced clothing and standardized sizes. The ‘ready to wear’ industry was born. The ladies wore very feminine styles, with bows, ruffles and ruffles. Halter neckline and strapless dresses were a big trend, and the skirts were very full, often accompanied by petticoats to give more body.
Still, nothing says more of the 50s than a circular skirt. These were worn by the younger generation (as ‘teens’ now established themselves as a sort of main subculture), always on top of petticoats. They were often homemade and while they featured a variety of designs, poodle skirts and polka dot skirts are the most iconic.