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Fashion in the 1950s - Introduction

Teenagers were the driving force behind fashion in the 1950s. Up until that time, clothing trends had largely been set by fashion houses that catered to the adult market and the dress style of young people had simply followed adult fashions. As cinema, television and rock 'n' roll swept the world, however, the youth market clambered to copy the 'style of the stars'. Teenage fashion quickly developed into a huge industry in its own right.

During this period, teenagers also had increased buying power. Newly-affluent parents could now afford to give their teenagers generous pocket money, much of which was spent on acquiring the latest fashions.

The 1950s were a transition from the conservatism, restraint and formality of the 1940s, to a freer, looser, more informal style. Throughout the decade it became much more acceptable for males to dress 'for show' and both sexes became much more fashion conscious.

Cinema, music and young men's fashion

The influx of American cinema and television brought many new fashion ideas to the masses and prompted many young people to copy the fashion of their favourite movie stars.

Marlon Brando starred as a misunderstood motorbike punk in the film The Wild One (1953), dressed in blue jeans and a leather jacket. James Dean was similarly dressed in his film Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Together, Dean and Brando inspired a generation of young men to emulate their attitude and style. Jeans, leather boots and a white t-shirt fast became a symbol of teenage rebellion for boys everywhere.

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Not all teenage boys adopted this look, though. Towards the end of the decade, many young men adopted the more tailored, British-influenced Teddy Boy style of dress - high-waisted, narrow 'drain pipe' trousers, long jackets, slim ties and large, shiny pointed shoes called 'winklepickers'.

Elvis Presley's style also struck a chord with the teen market. Youth everywhere began sporting his slicked back 'duck tail' hair style and long sideburns. Young men in the 1950s began to wear brighter colours and sharp, flashy suits were very trendy. Loose, unbuttoned shirts with upturned collars also became fashionable.

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Young women's fashion in the 1950s

Throughout the 1950s, young women's clothing was also influenced by the rock 'n' roll craze. Full skirts in bright colours become popular for dancing and skirts and pants were pinched in at the waist to emphasise the waist and bust. Young women also wore tight-fitting blouses tucked into slim-line calf-length trousers called 'Capri' pants or 'pedal pushers'. Short ankle socks, scarves tied around the neck and cropped cardigans were also popular.

Menswear in the 1950s

Adult men's fashion in the 1950s was largely quiet and conservative, which somewhat widened the generation gap between older men and the daringly dressed younger generation. Mature menswear in the 1950s mostly featured plain fabrics in dark, muted shades like blue, brown and grey.

Ladies wear in the 1950s

Movie star fashion influenced the clothing styles of ladies in the 1950s. Screen goddesses like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly inspired tiny waistlines and full skirts and busts. Slim pencil-line skirts were also popular. Stiletto-heeled shoes emerged in the early 1950s and shoes could be bought in a variety of colours to match any outfit.

New materials in the 1950s

The 1950s saw the introduction of a new range of synthetic clothing materials like nylon, acrylic polyester and vinyl. These fabrics were especially appealing to women because they were easy to wash, dried quickly and did not crease or require ironing.

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