The 1950s was a time that was defined by conservatism and classiness. It was the period following the Second World War, and contrasting trends emerged for people of different age, gender and social groups. During the Cold War era, a number of people were working in blue-collar manufacturing jobs, many teenagers listened to developing styles of rock-and-roll music and some younger kids were playing with toys such as hula-hoops and cowboy guns. This was a diverse era in which different forms of fashion emerged.
One popular item of clothing, especially for teenage girls, was the poodle skirt. This was a long, wide felt skirt that usually came in lighter colors such as pink and white and had designs such as poodles appliquéd to the fabric. These modest skirts, which reflected the conservative era, were often worn with cardigan sweaters. In the 1950s, tailored fashions were very popular, and this pleated skirt has become a symbol for the times. The skirts, which were often worn with petticoats underneath, were also popular for dancing, especially to rock-and-roll songs, because they emphasized young women’s movements when they spun around.
Although fashions for women in the 1950s were often very conservative, young females did sometimes wear jeans, shorts and swimsuits that differed from what their mothers wore. Often during the '50s, teenagers were rebelling from the styles of their parents, and they would wear jeans called dungarees or longer shorts similar to capris that would create a sailor-type look. Shorts would often feature tapered legs that would show off the hourglass figures that were common for women of this period. The ambiguity of the time period could be seen in the bathing suits, which were often one piece but haltered or strapless. Although young women could be highly conservative, they were beginning to show more of their bodies during this time period.
Two different styles of formal dresses were widely worn in the 1950s that were popular among older women. One type of dress was made with a longer flowing bottom, similar to that of a poodle skirt, and was known as a swing skirt. This style was sometimes worn by teenage girls but more often donned by their mothers. The other style of dress had a pencil style, which was more provocative and emphasized the hour-glass figure of the woman wearing it. With both types of dresses, women usually wore girdles, heels and gloves. Some would have wide collars, known as peter pan collars. These dresses were often worn on formal occasions, and homemakers often wore simpler wrap or shirt dresses when they needed to do housework.
For men in the '50s, conservative styles were often the norm. Although there were teenagers who dressed in leather jackets, young men more often wore preppy clothing such as cardigan sweaters. These were popular among teenagers, as athletes often wore “letter sweaters.” Younger and older men also wore button-down shirts as well as ties, often in pink, which was a popular color for men at the time. When they wanted to be more formal, they wore suits, often in more subdued black or gray colors, or sport coats. An accessory that was necessary to complete any ensemble was a hat, which was especially worn by white-collar businessmen but also part of the wardrobes of blue-collar workers.
Along with clothing styles, there were also distinct types of shoes that children, men and women wore. Among younger generations, Converse sneakers were popular, especially black and white ones. Older women wore tennis shoes, as well, but they were often light in weight and white. Stiletto heels, with very small heel tips, were popular among women of different ages, but they were often worn by those attending more formal events. These heels were popularized by stars such as Marilyn Monroe, and they were created in order to emphasize women’s calves. Many women wore shoes with more solid heels or flats when they were performing everyday activities, such as shopping. Flats and ballet slippers were usually worn with jeans or other types of pants. For men, formal shoes such as loafers and wing-tipped shoes complemented their conservative styles.
Many of the styles of the 1950s were influenced by the fashions of film stars, singers and others who were popular among the general public. This included Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Sandra Dee, George Reeves, Pat Boone and Bridgette Bardot. A number of men wore twill trousers, open-neck shirts and white buck shoes similar to those of Pat Boone or loose, longer, colorful jackets with no ties similar to Elvis. Many younger and older women dressed in flared skirts similar to Sandra Dee or capris and scarves similar to Annette Funicello.