Last week, we looked at 1950s separates: shirts, sweaters and coats. This week, we need to look at the other half — bottoms. For women, the diversity of 1950s bottoms included circle skirts, high waisted jeans, capri pants, and shorts of various lengths. For men, pants were worn year-round in both business and casual styles, while knee length shorts came out briefly in summer. Denim blue jeans were worn by both women and men, yet the history of them is harder to research.
Once again, this article will re-visit some existing 1950s fashion history articles and show off a few new fashion images I have found. Enjoy!
Women’s 1950s Circle Skirts
1950s skirts history – Just like dresses, skirt separates came in two silhouettes: circle (often called swing skirts) and sheath (called pencil or hobble skirts). There were variations with each silhouette. The circle skirt’s famous style was the poodle skirt, which featured many more cute characters besides the classic pink poodle. Most felt circle skirts came with abstract designs common during the age of “atomic” art. Felt which was a nice smooth material that hid the thickness of the lines made by hoop skirts underneath. Hoop skirts, although tricky to sit in, allowed for the widest skirt and coolest wear of all the petticoat styles.
A popular 1950s circle skirt trend was bold prints and border print swing skirts. These artsy designs, vivid folk patterns, charming motifs, and large floral prints were popular throughout the 1950s. Every year or two the trend changed, but there were always some new, big and bold prints to alternate with the abundance of solid colored skirts in a woman’s wardrobe.
The border print circle skirt is another trendy skirt this year. Border prints only had a design on the lower half or lower quarter of the skirt. Plain border skirts featured a solid band at the hem, but more often an abstract design or novelty print danced in a continuous circle around the hem. The clock border print skirt below went viral when I posted it to my Pinterest board last year. I even saw one 1950s reproduction skirt mimic the same pattern and another with a piano keyboard design.
The alternative 1950s circle skirt shape was the sophisticated sheath skirt. Most came in solid colors and ended at mid-calf. Plaid prints were also extremely popular year round. Most had kick pleats in the back so women could actually walk in them. Today they are usually called pencil skirts and are reproductions are more often than not a tight fitting wiggle skirt instead of a straight line traditional ’50s style.
Women’s 1950s Pants
Women’s pants grew in popularity just as they had done in the 1940s, but the style was completely different. The 1940s took men’s dress slacks and fit them to women with a high waist and wide legs. The 1950s slimmed the look down to a snug fitting pant, appropriately called cigarette pants, with a cropped length. Women wore cigarette pants for work or leisure, with leisure being the highest priority. For the woman who disliked wearing dresses, pants offered her an alternative that could be dressed up or down for nearly any occasions. Learn more about 1950s women’s pants and capris here.
The other type of pant of the 1950s is the denim blue jean. It, too, featured a high waist with a slim (but not skinny) fit and an iconic wide folded up cuff. Large pockets on the front and back borrowed the look from men’s workwear. Denim jeans for women were marketed to women to do household chores in, like gardening, but women (and especially teenagers) wore them everywhere casual clothing was acceptable. Look for a future article on the history of blue jeans.
The shorter cropped version of the cigarette pant was the capri pant. It came down just below the knee to mid-calf. Equally tight and high waisted, it was less popular than the cigarette pant in the 1950s, but more popular among 1950s fashionistas today. Personally, I love a good capri over a pair of shorts.
Women’s 1950s Shorts
Shorts in the 1950s came in all different lengths, with many names to go with each cut. The shortest length was the short short, followed by an above the knee Bermuda and below the knee pedal pushers. Shorts of any length were tight at the high waist and flared out slightly over the thigh. The Bermuda short tapered into the knee slightly, while the pedal pusher was wide and baggy. No wonder they were also called pirate pants! Learn more about women’s 1950s shorts here.
1950s Men’s Pants & Shorts
Just like women’s pants, men’s 1950s pants or trousers lost the wide width popular in the 1930s and 1940s in favor of slimmed down simplicity. Waistbands were still high, without pleats they now pressed flat against his stomach (watch those pounds, gents!). A single pressed line down the leg was the only bit of volume added to the pant. Even the cuff at the ankle was small instead of wide like previous generations.
1950s men’s pants were designed to be worn without suspenders, and even belts were optional. My husband recently acquired a pair of 1950s pants and he noted that the high waist band certainly keeps them in place, but also makes them more uncomfortable to sit in.
Men’s shorts were a newer invention in the 1950s. Yes, they were worn as swimsuits and for some specific sporting activities, but they were not mass marketed until the 1950s. Most shorts were long Bermuda length, ending just above the knee. They could sneak up a bit shorter if the wearer wished or be very short for certain sports like baseball. Most shorts were worn with a contrasting belt and high argyle pattern socks. The look was a direct reflection of 1920s men’s golfing attire, where Bermuda shorts replaced golf knickers.
The one area of men’s 1950s pants I didn’t write about in the above articles was men’s denim jeans. This is largely because I am waiting on some new research materials to come in. Men’s work-wear is hardly ever discussed in fashion history books, yet it is immersed with history important to the growth of any country.
Where I live in Reno, Nevada was where Levi & Strauss formed a partnership and launched their historic line of denim blue jeans with reinforced rivets. Recently, Levi’s has re-issued many blue jeans from their historical clothing patterns beginning in 1890. They have several blue jeans from the 1950s that look authentic because they are authentic reproductions. Take a look at them here.
More 1950s outfits:
1950s Women’s Outfits – 20 looks from casual to classy
Men’s 1950s Outfits – 10 looks for men
SHOP all 50s style clothes for women and men