Images of the 1950s teenage boy bring up pictures of rebellious greasers and outcast nerds. These hardly represent what normal 1950s teenagers wore, which was almost exactly like their father’s clothing. The 1950s were the age of boys and girls dressing like smaller versions of adults, yet it was what they wore on weekends and after school that defined the decade. Saddle shoes and blue jeans, gab jackets, and varsity sweaters are the ’50s fashion icons for the teenage boy. Let us see why….
1950s Teen Suits
1950s teenage boys had to wear suits and/or sport coats with dress pants to church, school (Catholic high schools or colleges), prom, or any other semi-dressy to very dressy occasion. Sportcoats were worn with either matching or mismatched pants in a solid color. The coats could be a bright solid color or more likely a pattern such as vertical stripes, plaid, check, corduroy or two-tone color blocking. A white or sometimes colored dress shirt was worn underneath with a necktie or bowtie.
Sportcoats and suits (matching sets) were cool to wear. The coats had personalty with a loose, straight, comfortable fit, and could be taken off inside if needed (but usually left on). Shop suits and sport coats.
For formal occasions, a plain grey or blue suit was acceptable. For prom, an all-black tuxedo was worn until the late ’50s, when the trend was to wear white dinner jackets over black pants. More about prom and formal clothes.
1950s Casual Clothes – Shirts
Formality aside, teenagers longed for after school and weekend days when they could cast off suits and sportcoats and wear casual clothing. For most of the decade, that meant wearing a long sleeve button down plaid shirt with a pair of trousers and a belt. Button-down shirts could also be bright solid colors, stripes, geometric “Atomic age” prints, paisley, colorblock, or western-style shirts.
Camp collar sport shirts and Hawaiian print shirts were alternatives to the high buttoning dress shirts. They were perfect for hot summer days at the pool or beach.
Shirts could also be knitted pullovers such as round, high-neck striped T-shirts, turtle neck shirts, and button or zip polo shirts. These are back in fashion now.
1950s Casual Clothes – Sweaters and Cardigans
Sweaters and cardigans were another way teen and college-age boys could dress up or down an outfit. The coolest way to show off school spirit was to wear a varsity or lettered cardigan sweater. School colors with a school or club letter on one side were what most boys wore instead of sport coats. Schools allowed it, and boys preferred the comfort of a sweater.
Boys could also wear a plain V neck pullover sweater over a shirt and tie. Sleeveless sweater vests were also an option for when the weather turned warmer. In winter, it was the Nordic wintery-print or argyle print sweater and cardigan that kept them cozy.
1950s Coats and Jackets
Heavier outerwear options were warm overcoats or light zip-up jackets. Pea coats, wool hip length overcoats, and belted coats with fur collars were all traditional winter coat options. Raincoats and long overcoats could also be worn in bad weather. They were chosen from the selection of men’s coats instead of any teenager-specific designs.
The newest jacket that took over the 1950s and 1960s was the gabardine or “gab” jacket. Also called a Harrington jacket in Britain, today they are called a bomber jacket or golf jacket. It was short-waisted with an elastic waist and wrist cuffs or an open bottom with fold-over cuffs, two slant pockets, a full zippered front, and either a fold-out collar or round ribbed neck collar. The varsity jacket was modeled after the gab, but with school colors and trim. Gabardine refers to the type of lightweight fabric, although all other fabrics were used with the same design- wool, leather, rayon, and synthetics.
1950s Casual Clothes – Pants
Both dressy and casual teenage boys’ pants looked alike. Pleated trousers were positioned high on the waist with a full loose fit over the hip and down to a slightly tapered leg cuff. By the end of the decade, the new Ivy style lowered pants down the waist a bit and flattened out the pleats with a more slim, tapered leg. A thin leather belt held up the pants on the high waist. Colors were mostly solid but had a great variety, from neutrals to pastels.
The blue jean was adopted by teen boys in the 1940s and became essential clothing for teens in the 1950s. Not allowed at school, boys quickly changed into them after hours and on weekends. They were styled after Westernwear or work wear denim in a dark wash with thick rolled-up cuffs. A western style belt was paired with them, although in the city, a plain belt was preferred. Shop 1950s jeans and pants.
Blue jeans and white T-shirts became a symbol of delinquent youth who were depicted in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause. To avoid the stereotype, most teens wore jeans with casual button-down shirts and striped T-shirts. Today, this look is associated with the Rockabilly or Greaser style.
Teenagers wore black and white saddle shoes. This is true, but they wore other shoes more often. The lace up Oxford shoe was going out of style, and in its place were laceless slip on shoes. Loafers or penny loafers were still popular from the 1940s, now in black, grey, or blue colors. The moccasin top lace-up or slip-on shoe was also trendy. When the Shu-lok design came about in the late 1950s, every teen had to have one. The tongue snapped down into place. Boy, were they fun to snap on and off!
The biggest difference between teens shoes and men’s shoes was the sole. Teens loved a thick, heavy crepe or ripple sole on their shoe bottoms. Wedges were also common, as well as gum rubber soles.
For sports, it was the high top canvas shoe with a rubber sole, AKA the Converse, that had boys playing basketball with friends or on the school team. There were low top versions for outdoor grass top sports too.
Those rebel boys didn’t wear any of the typical teenage shoes. Instead, they wore black leather motorcycle boots, even if they didn’t have a bike. They also liked black and white high top Converse shoes as a cheaper option.
Button-down shirts, cardigan letter sweaters, gab jackets, high waist trousers or jeans, and slip-on shoes are the essential clothes a typical teenage boy wore in the 1950s. There were sub-cultures such as the Greaser rebels, Teddy Boys in the UK, nerds, and jocks, who each used a different mix of available clothing. For the most part, however, every teen dressed similarly without much change until the mid-1960s.
Were you a teenage boy in the 1950s? Tell us what you wore in the comments.