Crazes & fads in the 1950s

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When people think of 1950s fads, they think of pink Cadillacs and poodles, of drive-in movies and hamburgers -- things that were light and fun and youthful - and more than a little bit silly, too. After the wartime 1940s, people in the United States had entered a decade of peace and prosperity, and were ready to relax a little with some crazy fads.


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If you liked funny hats, the 1950s were the time for you. Walt Disney's TV show featuring Davy Crockett revived interest in the coonskin cap, and millions of these were sold and worn -- mostly by young men. Fraternity boys preferred the round, multicoloured beanie hat, with or without pinwheel atop. Girls wore their athlete boyfriends' letter sweaters or jackets, which had their team numbers on the back.

Women also wore circle skirts and the ultimate '50s fashion fad -- the poodle skirt, which was usually black and featured a light-coloured poodle applique. Poodles were popular motifs in fashion. Ankle socks and two-toned, laced saddle shoes were often worn by both sexes.


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Once you were dressed up in the latest fashions, it was time to hit the drive-in movie, where you could order a burger and fries from a roller-skating waitress. You could watch a 3D movie while enjoying the novelty of eating dinner right in your car. Hunkerin' was a fad started at the University of Arkansas, inspired by a lack of student chairs. So people squatted on the floor or on top of cars or phone booths. Or perhaps you'd prefer the fad of stuffing yourself and your friends in the phone booth instead. This fad started in South Africa, but like hunkerin', became popular across the U.S. The panty raid was another college fad. College boys would march into a women's dorm or sorority house and demand samples of everyone's underwear.


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Fad toys of the 1950s that are still around today are the hula hoop, invented in Australia in 1957, and the Slinky, a coiled toy invented in the 1940s but which really became popular in the next decade. But the most enduring fad toy of the 1950s has to be the frisbee, a must-have at summer gatherings in parks or beaches. Ant farms were popular with children, who ordered them through the mail. They were flat glass terrariums in which you could watch the ants working and building things in the sand.


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On ordinary nights, fad-loving '50s folk might be eating TV dinners, or dishes made from the new convenience foods that came in packages and cans -- how about a little Spam with some gelatin salad? But if you had company coming over, you might make a trendy "easy" version of a fancy foreign dish like Hamburger Stroganoff. Or you might have a barbecue in the backyard, with the man of the house presiding over the grill. And if you wanted to honour two fads at once, you'd make your barbecue a Tiki party. Tiki-themed South Seas decorations and luau foods (heavy on the pork and pineapple) were all the rage in the 1950s.

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