Dance Fashions of the 1950s

Written by nancy hayden
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Dance Fashions of the 1950s
1950s teens learnt new dance crazes from TV shows like "American Bandstand." (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Dances were among the most exciting social events for young people in the 1950s. New music styles such as rock 'n' roll emerged onto the scene, and the dance crazes inspired by new songs seemed to pop up overnight. Teens wanted to show off the newest fashions at dances, whether they were dancing at a basement party or at the prom.

Formal Dresses

For formal dances such as the prom, there was no shortage of glamorous, feminine formal dresses for young ladies to wear. Most teen girls opted for ballerina-length gowns, which fell between the knee and ankle. Floor-length gowns were usually reserved for older women and the most formal events. Party dresses had narrow waists and wide skirts with crinolines and petticoats beneath to make them stand out. Their necklines ranged from strapless to spaghetti straps, or even square-cut with puffy, short sleeves. They were often soft pastel colours and came in a range of feminine fabrics such as chiffon, satin or taffeta.

Casual Dresses

Most dances, however, were not as formal as a prom. Girls still wore party dresses to school or community dances, but they were less luxurious. Rather than a taffeta dress with layers of tulle over the skirt, a girl usually wore a knee-length dress made of cotton or nylon. These dresses often had squared or scoop necks with cap sleeves. They were narrow at the waist and often belted. These colourful, more casual party dresses sometimes came in patterns such as floral, stripes or polka dots. They often had built-in crinolines attached to the skirt that allowed it to twirl and move during dancing.

Skirts and Blouses

Dances were such a craze in the '50s that young people often had dance parties in each other's homes. They would gather in the basement or move the furniture in the living room and cut a rug. At a casual gathering like this, young girls often wore skirts with blouses or sweaters. Poodle skirts were a huge trend at the time; the bell-shaped skirts were made of felt or wool and had a felt cutout of a poodle on the front. They came just below the knee and were cut wide at the bottom to swing naturally while dancing. Girls wore them with buttoned blouses or short-sleeved, fitted sweaters.

Men's Styles

Young men of the '50s dressed like gentlemen for dances. For proms, some wore tuxedos with bow ties, others wore dress suits in conservative colours such as grey or navy blue. For other school dances, guys wore jackets, dress slacks and ties, but not necessarily matching suits. As the decade progressed, colourful suit coats came into style, and young men wore jackets with shawl-style lapels in colours such as powder blue and sometimes even coloured shoes to match. At casual dance parties, guys wore dress slacks with button-down shirts and cardigan sweaters.

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