What Did People Wear in the 1950s and 1960s?

Updated April 17, 2017

The 1950’s and the 1960’s were two decades that experienced a large amount of cultural and political changes. In the 1950’s, World War II had just ended and the threat of Communist expansion loomed in the public mind. In the 1960’s, counter-cultural groups experimented with art, drugs, music and free love. Fashion between these two decades differed drastically, each representing the rapidly changing times in its own way.

Men's Styles in the 1950’s

Many men in the 1950’s dressed more conservatively than today. Adult men often wore more-formal clothing for the workplace, including flannel suits in greys, dark browns and dark blues. Men’s ties tended to be worn in darker colours as well, and skinny belts and ties were the popular style. For a more relaxed look, wearing cardigan sweaters with khaki trousers was common and most men wore a hat whenever leaving the house.

Among teenagers, fashion was often pulled from popular movies and TV shows. Jeans and T-shirts with sneakers, like those worn by James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause," was a style sported by less-conservative boys.

Women’s Styles in the 1950’s

Women’s clothing in the 1950’s reflected the conservative morals of the times. Modest dresses with cinched waists were common for adult women and teenagers. High heels and gloves for grown women were common, and pearl necklaces and fur stoles were luxury items.

Teenage girls commonly wore poodle skirts and saddle shoes. Poodle skirts were circular skirts made of felt with poodle appliqués and sequins. Saddle shoes were flat shoes worn for dancing. They were white with black, patent-leather sides and white shoelaces. More-rebellious girls defied the gender norms of the day and wore blue jeans like the boys. Girls often wore their hair in ponytails or with waves. Little girls often wore dresses and their hair in curls.

Men’s Styles in the 1960’s

Men’s styles in the 1960’s reflected the cultural changes of the times. Instead of conservative and traditional business attire, men’s suits started coming in a wider variety of bright colours, worn with floral shirts and bright ties that were wider than those worn in the 1950’s. For weekend wear, sports shirts became increasingly popular, with many men donning polo shirts. Geometric patterns and bright colours arrived as the Mod look and became part of everyday wear.

Rebellious and counter-cultural youth, known as hippies, sought freedom in dress. With an anything-goes mentality, they commonly wore flared jeans -- known as bell bottoms -- and vests with fringe and beading. Some boys began wearing their hair long, a style made popular by the rock band, The Beatles.

Women’s Styles in the 1960’s

Women’s fashion underwent drastic changes in the 1960’s. In the beginning of the decade, new styles like the miniskirt, go-go boots and bouffant hairstyles were increasingly popular. Women showed off more skin than in the past, wore more-flamboyant make-up, including eyeliner and light pink lipstick, and incorporated bright colours and whimsical patterns into their wardrobes, such as the paisley print. The British model Twiggy represented the Mod look, with her cropped hair, waifish looks and short skirts.

Later in the decade, a more-natural look became popular as feminism entered public consciousness. Many younger women wore their hair long, without dyes or styled up-dos. Peasant skirts with free-flowing and deconstructed forms became popular among the less-conservative youth. Bell bottoms were also common. Sunglasses, belts and large and chunky jewellery were piled on as Bohemian accessories.

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About the Author

Erica Varlese began her communications career in 2005. She served as the assistant news editor and arts and leisure editor at "The Acorn," her campus newspaper, and has been published in "BUST Magazine," "Education and Outreach in Evolution" and "Monkey Puzzle Press Magazine." Varlese has a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and French from Drew University.