If you think of 1950s menswear clothing ideas, your mind may immediately conjure up images of rebellious young men in leather biker jackets with greased up pompadour hairstyles. A time where everybody looked like The Fonz, Danny from Grease or James Dean. Well, this wasn’t quite the case.
While this was one style towards the end of the decade, the 1950s was largely about the wholesome all-American look.
Although the Cold War and threat of nuclear weapons loomed over the heads of Americans during the fifties, it was a decade when the country could finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. This was following the tumultuous events of the ’30s and ’40s, when money and jobs were in short supply and men were sent to war.
America during the 1950s was booming. People had more leisure time than ever before and life was pretty darn good.
1950s Menswear: Conformity
Following the short-lived Bold Look of the late forties, conformity was the order of the day in post-war America at the start of the fifties. Men that returned from military service were keen to look like good clean-cut Americans to fit in with the ‘establishment’. Dark office suits in blue, brown and charcoal were the popular choices and of course, you weren’t properly dressed in the 1950s unless you were wearing a fedora hat. Business attire has always been quite subdued in color but even neck ties, the item where men can usually have a little fun, were also quite dark and plain in style.
This identical way of dressing was almost as if men had swapped one uniform for another. This perceived stodginess and sameness was perfectly captured in the 1955 book The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was made into a movie (watch it on YouTube) the following year with Gregory Peck as the young World War Two veteran.
The sack-style suit became the standard for American business wear, and was also adopted by those with an Ivy League persuasion. A loose cut, the sack suit usually consisted of a single-breasted three-buttoned jacket with natural shoulders (no padding) and no trouser pleats.
1950s Leisurewear: Dad’s Day Off
Loud and Proud: The Hawaiian Shirt
Following the horrors of war, the hard-working American man could now sit back and enjoy more time with their family.
In sharp contrast to dark business suits, 1950s men’s fashion was more colorful when men were away from work.
During warmer months, Hawaiian shirts enjoyed enormous popularity. The Hawaiian shirt dates all the way back to the 1920s, when it became worn by holidaying film stars. Indeed, it even became weekend wear for Presidents Eisenhower and Truman. The shirt gained a wider appeal in men’s fashion following the end of World War Two and in the decades that followed. Heck, even Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift wore them in 1953 movie, From Here to Eternity (play at 18:55)
Vintage Hawaiian shirts can be found relatively easily and there are many reproductions too if you’re looking for 1950s menswear clothing ideas. Find one you like and bask in its garishness! A Hawaiian shirt is perfectly paired with a pair of high-waisted pants and saddle shoes. The pants were often a variant on the dress pants worn for business, made of loose wool flannel.
Home on the Range: Western Wear
Influenced by the hugely popular westerns on television and at the movie theater, the cowboy style was a well-liked casual look adopted by men. It’s no wonder really as surely every man dreams of being a cowboy.
Cowboy shirts are a great look but if you don’t have one, a plaid shirt is a great alternative, super popular and sold in most menswear retailers. For a true western wear style, tie a bandanna around your neck and dig out a pair of trusty dungaree jeans for a rugged work wear 1950s outfit. With these men’s clothing ideas, before long, you’ll be walking like John Wayne and herding cattle like a pro. Now, where did I put my horse?
1950s Youthful Styles: Smells Like Teen Spirit
In the decades before the fifties, teenagers wore clothes similar in style to adults and in truth; this was still the case in the early part of the decade. The Ivy League ‘preppy’ look favored by college students was still relatively conservative, although less formal and relaxed. Students were seen in suits, or certainly sports jackets and smart pants. If a tailored jacket wasn’t worn then it would be replaced with a cardigan sweater for a slightly more casual impression. As a sign that youth culture was beginning its ascendancy, young men adopted All Star basketball shoes on their feet and ties were removed in favor of an open neck collar (buttoned up without tie was also popular in 1950s men’s fashion). Athletic types would also be seen both on and off campus in letterman jackets, perfect if you like the casual sporty style.
If you’re searching for 1950s menswear clothing ideas, going for a preppy Ivy League look is really simple to recreate. There are lots of 1950s style men’s clothing for sale today, including sweaters and pullover vests, letterman jackets, button-down shirts, loafer shoes and chunky glasses.
Few young men wanted to be seen as a ‘bad’ boy in the typical greaser fashion of leather jacket, white t-shirt and jeans. The ubiquitous t-shirt was actually considered to be underwear in the fifties, which is one of the reasons why the Marlon Brando and James Dean look was so shocking.
Although it’s quite common today to see people at the store wearing pajamas, it would still be relatively surprising if somebody was seen buying groceries in their underwear.
While Marlon Brando’s iconic movie The Wild One caused leather biker jacket sales to soar, James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause had the same impact for t-shirts. A plain white t-shirt, revealing those manly biceps, combined with dungaree jeans is such a classic outfit choice for the young man about town.
Along with Elvis who wore one in 1954 movie, King Creole, James Dean is also credited with helping to make the Harrington windcheater jacket ( or Golf Jacket) a classic menswear staple. A lighter alternative to leather, it provides ideal protection from the wind and rain. Since then, it’s been worn by all manner of people including Steve McQueen and Daniel Craig. Such is its legendary appeal, even I have one. After all, we all want to exude a little James Dean cool, don’t we?
These are just a few 1950s menswear looks you can easily re-create. What other 1950s looks do you want to wear?