Rebels with a cause
The fifties were post-war years, full of changes: new styles, new fabrics and also, a "new age": teenagers. Until 1950 the term "teenager" had never before been used. Children started directly to be youths once they displayed signs of puberty. During this years, different influences (as films, television, magazines and the rock music scene) created a new market grouping called teenagers.
Teens made themselves known. A sudden flurry of consumer goods denied to war torn Europe were available and a consumer boom was actively encouraged. These single young people with cash from paid work soon had their own fashions and trends.
However, the teenagers uprising wasn't just a fashion revolution, it was a cultural one too.
Rock & roll
This kind of music arose in the south of the United States, as a "cultural collision" between African musical tradition and European instrumentation. It's main influences were rythm and blues, country, jazz, gospel and folk. Rock and roll arrived at a time of technological improvements as the electric guitar, amplifier and microphone. There were also changes in the record industry, with the rise of independent labels that serviced small market audiences and a similar rise of radio stations that played their music. It was the realization that relatively affluent teenagers were listening to this music that led to the development of what was to be defined as rock and roll as a distinct genre.
On the other hand, many parents were against rock because they thought that it caused juvenile delinquency. Adults at the time gave their children ultimatums to stop listening to the music and tried to ban it, but all the attempts were unsuccessful.
Teenage fashion idols
American influence on European teenagers was huge. Rock and Roll idols including Elvis Presley, Bill Hayley and film stars as James Dean, Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe set fashions almost unwittingly.
The teenage culture advanced and developed different groups, which had special backgrounds and ideas. This subcultures showed their diversity throughout their looks and styles.
Preppies were originally an American group, which took their name from the "prep" schools that some upper-class and upper-middle-class children in the states attended.
The preppy style's main qualities were neatness, tidiness and grooming. It was worn by both sexes, and was characterized by a neat, clean-cut look.
Preppy girls' skirts and dresses typically rested at the natural waist, and flared out to help achieve the look of a tiny waistline with the help of multiple net petticoats hidden underneath, stopping at ankle length. Skirts were often made of heavier materials–such as felt or wool– adorned with applique details.Teen girls typically wore short or three quarter-sleeved blouses with a tight polo neck or a scoop neck. They also were often seen in cardigans with skirts for everyday, and donned cocktail dresses with sweetheart necklines for entertaining in the home.
Preppy teenage boys wore button-down, collared shirts tucked into loose-fitting slacks. At school, those who were part of an academic or athletic group wore letter (or varsity) jackets. For more formal occasions, teen boys preferred ties, single-button suit jackets and nicer slacks with their button-down shirt.
Important referents of this movement were Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
The greaser youth subculture was also American. Its name came from the greased combed back hairstyle that its members wore. These youths were also known as "hoods” (what came from the American word “hoodlum”, or criminal) because the style was more popular in working class neighborhoods that had higher crime rates than upper-class ones. Rock and roll music was a major part of the culture as hot rod cars, kustoms, vans and the main one, motorcycles.
Greaser boys usually wore heavy black motorcycle boots or winklepickers, tight-fitting blue jeans and white or black cotton T-shirts under black leather motorcycle jackets, which were always worn with upturned collars.
Although the style started as a men’s one, women rapidly became a part of greaser culture. Greaser girls dressed similar to their masculine peers, in tight jeans or capris and T-shirts, with daring heels for evening. Many greaser girls also liked tight blouses with collars turned up, accented by small scarves knotted around their necks.
The main figures of the look were Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and James Dean.
The beatnik subculture initiated as an anti-conformist youth’s movement in New York, rooted in a philosophy of anti-materialism and personal improvement. The word “beatnik” appeared as way to refer to the “Beat generation”.
Beatnik, somewhat removed form its beat origins by embodying a visual trend through accessible forms, bringing about a key classic style. The almost anti-fashion attitude to the understated dressing style of beatniks captures the casual view they took of trends.
There was a certain uniformity to the clothing and accessories of beatniks, even between girls and boys. Some of the stereotypical elements of the beatnik style were berets and goatees (for men), black and white striped tops, turtleneck sweaters, skinny jeans, leotards and sandals. They wore their hair long, straight and unadorned as a way of rebellion. It was common too that they carried bongos and other music instruments.
An important referent of this movement was Eddie Sedgwick.
Teds or Neo Edwardians were a British group typified by young men wearing clothes inspired by the Edwardian period style. Its name was coined when a 1953 "Daily Express" newspaper headline shortened Edwardian to Teddy. The subculture was associated with jazz and skiffle, but more stongly with rock and roll. In fact, Teddy Boys were considered to be the English middle-class analogy of Greasers.
The style featured drape jackets, usually in dark shades, with a velvet collar and pocket flaps, and high-waist skinny trousers, often exposing the socks. The outfit also included a high-necked white shirt, a narrow tie, and brocade waistcoats. All this clothes were mostly tailor-made and really expensive. The footwear included Oxfords, brogues, and crepe-soled shoes, often suede. The Teddy Boy hairstyle was really similar to Greaser’s: long, strongly-moulded greased-up hair with a quiff at the front and the side combed back.
Teddy Girls wore drape jackets with velvet details as well, but they added pencil and hobble skirts, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, espadrilles, long plaits, coolie and straw boater hats, and long clutch bags.
Some of the main Ted icons were Gene Vicents, Cavan Grogan and Eddie Cochran.
When we chose to talk about the 50s, we knew a few things about the decade that caught our attention, as its fashion icons and the origin of rockabilly. Trough the investigation, we found out that this was the period of the teenage arise, so we unanimously decided to focus on that part of the varied 50s looks.
From our point of view, 50s teenage styles are really important an interesting, because they were more than aesthetic and elegant ways of rebellion. They were the visible expression of the different backgrounds, social classes and beliefs during the same context.