If you were alive in 1950s America, you surely recall McCarthyism and the Korean War. But there are more exciting things to see on Memory Lane. The fads craze, and pop sensations of the time when supper was served to the entire family every night and having a car with fins might score you a date still have a fascination for contemporary society. But the 1950s were more than just sock hops and drive-ins; some fashions and social movements that emerged during that time, including the invention of rock ‘n’ roll and the widespread use of TV, still have an impact on our lives today.
The following is a list of some of the most decade-defining fads and trends of the 1950s. Some were forgotten when the 1960s arrived, while others are still well-known today.
Dancers desired loose attire that would let them move more freely to the rhythm as rock ‘n’ roll music erupted into the social scene in the 1950s. This gave rise to one of the era’s most enduring fashion trends: the poodle skirt. The poodle skirt was a colorful, full, swingy skirt that typically hit just below the knee. The term comes from the fact that it was frequently constructed of felt cloth and appliquéd with poodle pictures. The skirts also included other symbols that came to symbolize the era, such as 45 rpm records, dice, hot cars, and musical notes. A crinoline net petticoat gave the skirt its distinctive swish, and they were easily made by following a straightforward design. Girls frequently wore poodle skirts with sweaters, neck scarves, white bobby socks with cuffs, saddle oxford shoes, and other casual, comfortable items to form the classic expression of femininity and individual style of the 1950s. Even today, a Halloween party would not be complete without at least one if it was self-respecting.
In the 1950s, a typical high school dance was an unofficial, school-supervised affair where obedient teenagers danced in their socks to protect the gym floor. These dances, known as “sock hops,” proved to be more than simply a distraction for a generation of teenagers. A new style of rowdy pop music called rock ‘n’ roll, combined with the liberating freedom to remove their shoes while dancing, gave teens the inspiration to jitterbug, shake, rattle, and roll in ways that went far beyond the dance moves from their parent’s generation. Many rock ‘n’ roll performers booked guest appearances on the TV dance show “American Bandstand,” hosted by Dick Clark. Teenagers rapidly embraced early rock ‘n’ roll tunes like Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” The show, which debuted in 1957 and was broadcast statewide, showcased young dancers using the newest techniques. Millions of devoted spectators physically took what they saw back to school, thus extending the influence of these fresh genres of music and dance.
The Twist, a song by Hank Ballard that is often linked with the time, didn’t become popular until 1960 when singer Chubby Checker, then 17 years old, recorded it and Dick Clark, the music mogul, published it. The rest, as they say, is history. Checker sang the song on Clark’s program “American Bandstand,” and it quickly rose to the top of the charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The song proved to be a star-maker for Checker, who went on to star in Twist-themed movies and release a follow-up single, “Let’s Twist Again,” which earned him a Grammy. Dancers who were born decades after the song’s premiere are nevertheless likely to burst out into its trademark dances when the classic is played on the radio since the original song was re-released in 1962 for a second wave of mainstream success.
The 1950s 3-D explosion may have rescued the movie business. Studios of the time created a distinctive cinema experience that was successful in luring viewers away from their living room sets as television shows began to take crowds away from theaters at an alarming rate. With the debut of “Bwana Devil” in 1952, the first significant box office hit to employ the technology, the so-called “golden era” of 3-D movies started. Vincent Price’s horror classics “House of Wax” (1953), “It Came from Outer Space” (1953), and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) are a few more noteworthy movies from the era. Using a technique called stereoscopic linear polarization, cameras filmed the action from two slightly different angles with filtered lenses. The movies were shown in theaters on two different reels that were pointed toward the screen. Movies appeared to fly off the screen when viewers wore glasses with red-and-blue or red-and-green filters that combined the double picture. In 1953, there were more than 5,000 theaters in the United States equipped to show 3-D movies. Later in the decade, the craze lost its appeal as viewers complained about eye fatigue brought on by improperly oriented projectors. The issue is now solved by modern digital 3-D movies, and the recent influx of 3-D movies in theaters shows that this craze is currently seeing a high-tech revival.
The Conical Bra
In any era, certain items of clothing become synonymous with sex appeal. The conical bra influenced the ideal of what made a woman attractive in the 1950s. The conical bra, also known as a torpedo or bullet bra, received its name from the cone-shaped support it provided for Hollywood glamour actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Jane Russell pin-up proportions.
The satin or nylon bra cups were sewn together in a circular design. It was popular with the sweater girl crowd and was referred to be the push-up bra of its day. Early in the 1960s, manufacturers began creating underwear with greater padding and underwire support, which caused the style to lose popularity. However, this unnecessarily elaborate undergarment has sometimes made a comeback, most notably when Madonna wore it in the 1990s as part of her Vogue-era stage outfit.
Every generation has its counterculture. A group of people who read poetry and wore all black throughout the 1950s represented this: the Beatniks. Beatniks were generally urban literary intellectuals who performed and wrote in spur-of-the-moment creative bursts, frequently putting music to the spoken word. They supported individuals’ right to openly express their convictions and goals. To the dismay of the ruling class of the time, these ideas frequently encouraged anti-conformist behaviors including drug use, mysticism, and sex experimentation.
The arts and literature in America have been profoundly influenced by the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (1957), Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1956), and William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” (1959) are a few of their most well-known literary works. These writers avoided utilizing conventional forms of grammar, subject matter, and terminology instead choosing to experiment with language by employing street slang and creative free-form poems that flouted accepted literary norms. Some historians credit the Beat movement with sowing the seeds of the flower power generation of the 1960s. The long hair, vibrant clothing, and psychedelic consciousness that came to characterize the period that followed the 1950s were a far cry from the dark berets, sunglasses, and goatees worn by the beatniks. However, the Beatniks’ advocacy of subversive creativity served as an inspiration for the alternative, rebellious lives that the hippie age embraced.
The 1950s combination of booming American car culture and the renewed popularity of a night out to the movies meant this next fad was almost a logical step. Why not combine the two to create the drive-in theater, an enduring symbol of the 1950s? The first drive-in cinema debuted in New Jersey in June 1933, but it was not until the early 1950s that the concept became popular. This was the best method for couples, families, and groups of friends to attend movies since vehicles were widely available in America’s rich postwar years, and new FM technology allowed cinemas to stream a movie’s sound straight into a viewer’s car radio. Diverse audiences found drive-ins to be appealing. A group of pals might watch a movie at a significant discount if they were all crammed into one small automobile since certain cinemas paid per car. Teenagers were infamous for going to drive-ins for a little more privacy on dating nights. Families appreciated the flexibility of the theaters, which frequently included playgrounds.
What is more fun than wiggly, jiggly, flavored gelatin? Consider using the gelatin mold, another 1950s craze, to mold gelatin into an eccentric shape.
Gelatin was perfect for the wavy, curving curves of a Bundt cake pan or the other attractively formed molds that became popular in the 1950s due to its simple moldability, which allows it to adopt the shape of the container it is poured into and hold that shape after cooling. A veritable library of gelatin salad and dessert recipes was published, suspending everything from fruit, nuts, and marshmallows to various vegetables and meat products in shimmering towers and tumbling blocks of gelatin. But given its enduring appeal to both stylish homemakers and imaginative dinner party presenters, it seems there is a place for this enduring craze in every century.
1950s-era scenes often include images of soda fountains: counter-style restaurants that served soft drinks and ice cream, often with a jukebox in the corner and teenagers filling the booths, bar, and dance floor. A soda fountain is frequently used as the main scene in novels and movies with a 1950s theme. These fountains were generally located in the corner of a pharmacy shop. But the history of the soda fountain dates back far deeper than its incarnation in the 1950s. As early as the late 1700s and 1800s, drugstores and pharmacies started selling carbonated beverages. Frequently, pharmacists would combine plant extracts, stimulants, and other medical powders or syrups in these beverages to treat various ailments. Drugstore soda fountains started focusing more on food and drink than on medication over time. These were sometimes the only venues in town to obtain cold beverages and ice cream before the invention of home refrigeration. The counter staff, known as soda jerks because of the way they operated the fountain taps, offered a wide selection of sodas, egg creams, and milkshakes. Many were created with syrups purchased at the supermarket, giving each one a distinctive flavor. By the 1950s, drive-in restaurants had mostly replaced soda fountains as the nation became more mobile. However, the storied fountains could be experiencing a comeback as more and more foodies rediscover the inventive beverages that once made soda fountains renowned.
Davy Crockett-inspired Coonskin Caps
Because of the burgeoning popularity of television and the growing mobility of the population, which was eager for entertainment, many fads from the 1950s had media connections, and for good reason. For a few years at least, millions of postwar youngsters would not have been seen dead outside without their coveted coonskin caps on their heads. This trend can be considered the ancestor of today’s media-driven pop fads. The eccentric hats were modeled by the one that actor Fess Parker wore when playing frontier hero Davy Crockett in Disney’s successful 1954 miniseries. The Frontierland series, which was a part of the well-liked weekly program “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” is thought to have generated sales of coonskin caps worth over $100 million. The boom served as a pioneering illustration of the potency of the at-the-time unique idea of a TV product tie-in [source: The Fifties Web]. Coonskin hats are seldom if ever, worn by modern TV viewers, although it is normal to see them adopt a popular comedy actor’s haircut or fashion statement as their own. With Davy’s coonskin cap, Disney may have unintentionally struck gold and created a norm that is still very much in use today.