Have you ever flipped through an old photo album from the 50s, or watched a family video of the decade’s well-known sock hop? Surely you’ve caught Mom trying on her now-stained poodle skirt, or seen Dad snuggled up in his cobwebbed letterman jacket? Imagine an overload of hairspray, high-waist bikinis, cherry-topped chocolate milkshakes, and swing dances in the high school gym. Well, clichés exist for a reason, and the 50s-era stereotypes couldn’t be more accurate! Here are some of our favorite trends from this memorable decade:
The first drive-in opened in June 1933, but the concept didn’t gain popular attention until nearly 20 years after. At the same time that American car culture was booming, so was the movie nightlife. The two trends intersected at the iconic drive-in, where friends would pile into fancy convertibles and watch Hollywood hits projected on outdoor screens. Here, movie-watchers also had access to hot dog stands, endless buckets of popcorn, and playground swing-sets.
Nothing says 50s quite like a poodle skirt-wearing woman rotating her hips in circles with a hoola-hoop. The massive plastic ring was a classic toy used in synchrony with twisting dance moves—from hips, to neck, to arms, and legs. The ultimate goal: keep the hoop off the ground!
Red pleather booths, juicy burgers, Coca Colas, jukebox tunes, and a dance floor. This is the scene of a 1950s-era soda fountain. At first, the soda shop as set on the corner of a drug store or pharmacy, where carbonated drinks were offered as medicine. Sodas were mixed with plant extracts and syrups to help with certain sicknesses. But over time time, drug-store soda fountains shifted focus from medicine to food and drink service. Throughout the 50s, the fountains became popular hangout spots for dancing—where friends or romantic dates could gather around milkshakes and French-fries in between songs.
Still relevant today, the sock hop—or school dance—was a teenager’s first taste of romance in the 50s. Middle and high school teachers would decorate entire gymnasiums, hire a DJ, serve fruit punch, and chaperone the behavior of promiscuous 13-year-olds doing the twist. A number of other popular dances defined the 50s decade sock hops, including the jive, stroll, and box step. These choreographed, partnered moves trickled into other settings, including soda fountains, where the chaperoning teachers were out of view!
Throughout the 50s, the fluffier the chops, the better. Beards and mustaches weren’t as well liked, but hair grown from the temple down to the jawline was surprisingly good lookin’! At this time, a male’s sex appeal was completely dependent on his squirrely facial hair, letterman jacket, and how big he could blow a bubble from Bazooka gum.
Contrast to males of this time period, a woman’s sex appeal was defined by curves—mainly her breasts, which were enhanced with an ice-cream-cone-shaped piece of lingerie dubbed the “conical bra.” Also called the torpedo or bullet bra, this piece of apparel was made famous by renown pin-up girls such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Created with satin or nylon materials, stitched in a circular pattern, the conical bra was essentially the push-up bra of its time, before padding and underwire support emerged in the 60s.
The poodle skirt was a true icon of the 50s. This bubblegum pink swing skirt was made of felt, flaunting a coiffed poodle dog design attached to the bottom corner. The skirts were hemmed at the knee and worn primarily to sock hops.
This popular candy was created long before the 50s, but during this decade, a newly created, pocket-sized dispenser caused a total comeback for the rectangular peppermints! After the space gun dispenser came about in 1956, the Pez machine was found in backpacks and jean pouches around the country—resulting in regular confiscation and trips to the detention office. In 1957, the Halloween Witch became the first 3D character head added to the top of the dispenser. Today, infinite character options are available!
These now-retro glasses were once a must-have item for American women. The upward curling glasses were normally paired with a tight-fitting knit sweater, poodle skirt, leather jacket, pearl earrings, and a scarf.
The varsity jacket, or letterman jacket, was all the rage among teenage and college-age male athletes in the 50s. Traditionally, the outer layer was made of wool or leather and displayed its wearer’s name, a varsity letter, and the school’s mascot. The piece of clothing was considered a sign of esteem, worn mainly among top and team captains athletes (namely those who played basketball or football). Made popular by stars like James Dean and Elvis Presley, this piece of clothing is still worn today—mainly among “jocks.”
Next time you catch Mom in her poodle skirt, pair up with her for a swing dance lesson. Or if you come across Dad in his letterman jacket, ask him about his glory days on the field. Turn your Spotify to “Jailhouse Rock” and “Tutti Fruitti,” fluff up your hairdo, and grab a milkshake. The past is always worth remembering—and sometimes re-living!