What clothes did the teens wear in the '50s?

Updated February 21, 2017

In the 1950s, fashion was more conservative and gender-specific than it is today. Teenage girls were expected to wear skirts and dresses in all but the most casual circumstances. Teenage boys had a little more freedom to be casual, wearing dungarees (or jeans) in the style James Dean and Marlon Brando, popular screen actors of the day. The 1950s marked the first decade that teenagers were called teenagers, and companies increased their marketing of clothing to that demographic.

Typical Teen Girl Attire

Teen girls in the 1950s often wore petticoats under gathered skirts with cardigan sweaters. It was common to wear cardigans backwards so the buttons were not visible from the front. They wore bobby socks and saddle shoes or, for the more grown-up teens, stockings and modest low heels. For casual situations, teen girls wore pedal pushers or dungarees rolled up to mid-calf with ballet flats, according to Head Over Heels History.

Typical Teen Boy Attire

Most teen boys in the 1950s dressed in preppy styles with cardigan sweaters, button-down shirts and thin ties. The pullover tank top was a popular item. The rebels, inspired by their film idols, wore dungarees, T-shirts and black leather jackets. The "Teddy Boy" trend (epitomised by the band the Stray Cats) involved single-breasted jackets worn long with velvet trim. Teddy Boys often wore their hair greased and swept back with long side burns.

Fashion Idols

Famous young movie and rock stars became teen idols in the 1950s and inspired teen fashions. These stars included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Connie Francis. Pat Boone and Frankie Avalon inspired the conservative preppy look for boys, with sweater vests and suede shoes (also made famous by Elvis Presley). Lucille Ball, Annette Funicello and Connie Francis inspired high-waisted, full skirts and backwards cardigans, while Marilyn Monroe pushed cultural boundaries with her sexy versions of conservative classics.

Cultural Expectations

The 1950s was a conservative era with much more prescribed fashion expectations than we see today. The role models for girls were mostly homemakers, and for boys they were mostly clean-cut family men--with the exception of the "cool" film stars. A lot of time and effort went into getting ready and looking polished, and gender stereotypes were stronger and more prevalent, especially for women.

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