Clothing styles for boys and young men in the 1950s were conservative, more like the styles Wally and Beaver wore in "Leave It To Beaver" than those Fonzie wore in "Happy Days," or in other accounts of young rebels donning unusual attire to rile their parents. Boys in the 1950s were more likely to want to emulate their fathers in their clothing. Although many families got television sets in the 1950s, shows entertained rather than globalised the world, so fashions in America and Europe remained very different.
War's Influence on Clothing
Emerging from World War II, Americans had greater prosperity with more money to spend. They indulged more than they had in the previous decade on clothing for the family. Families were purchasing automatic washers and dryers that made it easier to care for their clothing. The war had also brought synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester and rayon. People preferred the feel of their former, natural fabrics, however, so manufacturers compromised with natural and synthetic blends. The term "teenager" was coined in the 1950s as manufacturers marketed to this new group of consumers with money to spend.
Shorts or Pants
While some boys up to age 11 or so still wore short trousers, most boys wanted to wear long trousers, as their fathers did, as soon as possible. They sometimes still wore shorts for summer playtime or scout camp, but otherwise preferred long trousers. Jeans did not come into fashion until the later 1950s. Trousers were cuffed at the bottom.
Clean-Cut College Look
Boys wore collared shirts in solid colours, such as white or blue, with a T-shirt underneath, cuffed trousers, white socks and shiny shoes. The shoes could be loafers, saddle shoes or plain brown shoes with laces. Boys sometimes wore a tie with the shirt, though usually not to school. Vests were losing favour to sweaters worn over the shirt. This was called the "preppy" or "Ivy League" look.
If you wore a short jacket in the '50s, you had it "made in the shade." In other words, you were a success. This style was an outgrowth of the war's bomber jackets. Jackets were not necessarily leather; they could be cloth or wool, and might or might not have leather sleeves.
Although some boys wore jeans in the early 1950s, they became especially "cool" after James Dean wore them in "Rebel Without a Cause." Jeans were bought long so they could be cuffed. T-shirts began to be worn with jeans instead of the long-sleeved, collared shirt. White socks and shiny shoes still completed the look. Young boys wore jeans to school before older, high school boys were permitted to do so.
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