Due to an expanding economy, the 1950s marked a new era of choice and self-expression for the American teenager. In fact, the very term ‘teenager’ was invented on the 1950s! Many notable fashion trends were born in the 1950s and 1960s. Most popular among the styles were the “preppy” and “greaser” styles. The 50s fashions held on until the mid-1960s. The 60s however, saw the advent of many new fashion trends, like the miniskirt and the famous “mod” shift dress for women and the polyester suit and nehru jackets for men.
1950s Preppy Style
The preppy style was worn by both sexes, and was characterized by a neat, clean-cut look.
Preppy girls’ skirts and dresses typically rested at the natural waist, and flared out to help achieve the look of a tiny waistline with the help of multiple net petticoats hidden underneath, stopping at ankle length. Skirts were often made of heavier materials–such as felt or wool–and often featured applique details, like the popular “poodle skirt” that has come to be an icon of the 50s era.
Teen girls typically wore short or three quarter-sleeved blouses with a tight polo neck or a scoop neck, and cardigans with skirts for everyday, and donned cocktail dresses with sweetheart necklines for entertaining in the home.
Preppy teenage boys were most often seen in button-down, collared shirts tucked into loose-fitting slacks. At school, those who’d earned letter jackets wore them. For more formal occasions, teen boys wore ties, single-button suit jackets and nicer slacks with their button-down shirt.
1950s Greaser Fashions
A smaller, more rebellious element of the teenage population was called “greasers.” In today’s pop culture, the most popular examples of greaser fashion can be seen in the aptly-named musical “Grease.”
Greaser boys modeled their clothing after Marlon Brando in the cult film “The Wild One.” These teenage boys wore heavy black motorcycle boots, tight-fitting blue jeans and white or black cotton T-shirts under black leather motorcycle jackets, which were always worn with upturned collars.
Greaser girls dressed similarly, in tight jeans or capris and T-shirts, with daring heels for evening. Many greaser girls wore tight blouses with collars turned up, accented by small scarves knotted around their necks.
1960s Fashion Trends
Teenage boy’s fashion saw a renaissance on the 60s. The polyester pants suit–often worn with a nehru jacket over a turtleneck–was in vogue with the vast majority of the male teen population. The neo-Edwardian look, featuring longer length velvet jackets, tight pegged trousers, and pointy-toed short boots was also popular.
Prior to 1966, teenage girls typically wore knee-length sheath dresses, but when Mary Quant began producing miniskirts (typically about 6 to 7 inches above the knee in length) in London in 1966, a revolution in teenage girls’ fashion began. Never before had so much skin been put on display in public! The shift dress quickly followed the miniskirt. Often paired with go-go boots and a five-point haircut, the shift dress is today an icon of the “mod” movement in fashion.
References and ResourcesFashion Era: 1950s Teenage Fashion History
Fashion Era: The 1960's Mini Skirt Fashion
Lone Star College: American Cultural History 1960-1969