The 1950s teenage girl. Ask any teen who lived their 13-18 years during the ’50s what they thought of the decade and you will almost always hear “it was the best.” Ask them about 1950s fashions and you will get mostly positive reviews too. I know because I asked a number of folks in online communities who were open to sharing memories of growing up in the 1950s. I also read books such as What We Wore, that were a compilation of fashion memories from the 1950s to 1980s.
Of my surveys, these were the most common items teens remembered wearing in the 1950s:
- White bobby socks
- Plaid pleated skirts
- Shirtwaist dresses
- Peter Pan collar tops
- Shoes: Saddle Shoes, Penny Loafers, Ballerina Flats
- Twin Sweaters
- Pop-its Bead Necklaces
Let us explore each of these, plus a few others that’s didn’t make the list but were certainly a part of the typical 1950s teenager’s wardrobe:
1950s School Clothes
Life as a ’50s teenager was divided between school and weekends. The clothing worn to each was very different. Schools had rules — a lot of rules — that governed the type of clothing students could wear, such as hem length, shoes, and even hairstyles. Breaking one of these rules meant punishment or public ridicule or worse… calling their parents.
Most high schools did not allow girls to wear pants until the late 1960s. Skirts and dresses had to be well below the knee, tops were very modest, and jewelry was minimal, if allowed at all. Saddle shoes and loafers were required shoes, even at uniformed Catholic schools, several of whom still require them to be worn today. Each school had a dress code that had girls looking like young professional women, not the rock n’ roll loving teenagers they turned into on the weekends.
Long skirts and blouses made up the bulk of ’50s teen school clothes. The skirt had to be long, mid-calf in the early years and rising higher and higher, but never showing the knee by the end of the decade. Skirts could either be full swing skirts worn over layers of fluffy crinolines, or straight long pencil skirts. The two styles were worn equally, alternating every few days. 1950s skirts came in an array of solid colors, patterns, and materials for spring and winter.
Plaid pleated skirts were especially popular in the early years, and again going into the ’60s. Plaid was a common pattern for all of the decades, in rich tones for winter and pastels for spring.
The poodle skirt is the most famous 1950s teenager skirt, but it wasn’t a big phenomenon in the ’50s. The fad never made it to most schools except in bigger cities,x and even then the cute applique poodles, animals, insects, flowers, and slogans were a bit too youthful for sophisticated teens. You were far more likely to see poodle skirts worn by girls and pre-teens than at a High School. Read more about the history of the poodle skirt here and shop for 1950s poodle skirt too.
Instead, skirts were made of felt, wool, quilted cotton or a heavier cotton blend that didn’t wrinkle. Each girl could choose how full she wanted her skirt by wearing one or more petticoats or hoop skirts. Most girls opted for a single petticoat for school and multiple petticoats for dances and special occasions.
Some teen girls also starched, wax ironed, or painted shellac on the thin netting to increase the fullness. It was a big ordeal to maintain crinolines and keep them fluffy. It was also an embarrassing situation when a skirt flew up in the wind or popped up if a girl did not sit down correctly while wearing a hoop skirt. These were frequent events in the life of a fashionable 1950s teenager! Learn more about petticoats and crinolines.
While most skirts could be worn alone, it was also popular to add a wide belt, such as an elastic cinch belt, to both give definition to a small waist and to help keep those pesky blouses from riding up. Black and white belts matched everything, but colored cinch belts could be worn too. Many girls also wore cinch belts over dresses to again define the desired hourglass shape.
With skirts, teens wore button-down blouses that had to be perfectly pressed every night. During the day, blouses had to be kept tucked in neatly into the skirt band, which was a constant battle. White blouses were the best to wear because they matched everything. Brand names like Ship ‘N Shore were the most coveted, although pricey.
Blouses had a variety of collar types, but the most popular was the rounded Peter Pan collar. It could be plain or trimmed in lace as well as the sleeves. Some had contrasting decorative stitching while others were embellished with small ruffles, pintucks, contrasting buttons, and bows.
Long sleeve blouses were usually not white but small prints of flowers, dots, or repetitive geometric designs. The plaid long sleeve blouse looked like one of dad’s casual shirts, although these were usually reserved for the weekends. All blouses buttoned up to the top of the neck- no room for immodesty in the ’50s! Learn more about 1950s blouses and shop for them here.
Besides blouses, knit short sleeve sweater tops were equally popular alternatives to light blouses. They came in pretty pastel colors in spring, decorated with beading or embroidery around the high round necks. The length was very short, just enough to tuck into a skirt or layered over the skirt band for a slightly more casual look.
In winter, long sleeve sweaters were worn over blouses or by themselves. There were also false blouses that were only the collar part. “We called the white collars worn with sweaters ‘dickies.’ I had one that had both a round and a pointed collar to choose from.” – The Way We Were.
The sweater could be a pullover or button-down cardigan style. Many cardigan sweaters were sold with matching short sleeve sweaters, making a “twin set.” The cardigan was often decorated with beading along the edges, neckline or shoulders.
Another popular cardigan sweater was a varsity sweater. It came in solid school colors with a white letter to iron on or sew on. Letters usually represented the school name or sports team. A girl who wore her boyfriend’s letter sweater was in a serious relationship! Cheerleaders often wore a pullover sweater with a large school letter placed front and center. Shop sweaters and cardigans.
The most prized sweater was the fuzzy Angora rabbit hair sweater. A cheaper option was to buy a sweater with an angora collar or add a detachable angora collar to an existing sweater. They itched, but they were worn and very chic!
Wearing a neck scarf tied to one side of the neck with a sweater or cardigan was also very trendy. White, pink or yellow scarves were the most common colors – just enough to add a splash of color.
Besides skirt and top separates, wearing a dress to school was another option. The jumper or pinafore dress worn over a blouse was especially youthful for girls and teens. They came in bright red, yellow, blue, or green wool, in knit or corduroy colors for the fall season and printed cotton for spring. Jumpers could either be swing or pencil shaped styles.
Another basic dress was a shirtwaist dress. It buttoned down the front with short to long sleeves, and came in everything from solid colors to checks, plaid, polka dots, and stripes. Many school dresses featured a bow or necktie hanging from under a white collar.
Dresses were usually only worn by teens for dress up events like Sunday church or a fancy school dance. These dresses were usually made of satin or taffeta in bright jewel tones. The tulle net dress was also very popular as a prom dress. Learn more about 1950s prom and party dresses here.
Coats & Jackets
As for outerwear, teens wore coats and jackets just like their mother’s. Wool, tweed, and fleece made the best winter coats. It wasn’t uncommon for mothers and daughters to buy matching overcoats, although teens probably felt this was too childish. Belted trench coats were great for rain. Swing back car coats fit over full skirts and dresses. The princess coat with a nipped waist and full skirt had girls feeling like Cinderella. Adding a fur collar was very posh.
When the weather wasn’t too extreme, teens wore shorter jackets trimmed in contrasting cuffs and collars. They were more casual and trendy, especially on the weekends. Shops coats and jackets.
Lingerie, socks and stockings
“Yep, that was us. And we froze walking to school. Numb and shivering for an hour afterward.” – Roberta W., The Way We Were.
Keeping legs warm in winter was no easy task. Girls could wear thick cotton stockings or tall wool socks as well as extra petticoats that were quite warm. With fancy dresses, back seam stockings were attached to garters or girdles. Getting to wear stockings was a sign of reaching womanhood! Learn more about 1950s lingerie.
White wool or cotton socks folded or rolled down three times, called bobby socks, were worn with saddle shoes and loafers. It was imperative that they were perfectly white and neatly folded or rolled very thin. Socks in the later years were also quite thick and full compared to today’s thin socks.
“At Christmas, all teenage girls would put little bells on ribbon and tie them around the top of our Bobbie socks. It sounded like Christmas when we changed classes.”
Angora socks were a brief fad. Naturally, they had to match angora sweaters perfectly.
Shoes: Saddle Shoes, Penny Loafers, Moccasins
“We wore dresses or skirts with socks & saddle shoes or penny loafers! I hated dirty saddles. My penny loafers shined…but saddles were really popular…the white bucks too. At our school saddles were part of our uniform…if you didn’t keep them polished you were in detention! We all had a bottle of white shoe polish in our lockers. While it sounds petty, it made us take pride in our appearance for sure.”
Saddle shoes, loafers, bucks, and ballet flats were the 4 most common teenager shoes. Saddle shoes, named after the black saddle across the center of a white Oxford shoe, were the most iconic of the decade. They came in other colors too, but black with a white sole was the best. Care had to be taken to keep them perfectly clean and shiny.
Learn more about the history of saddle shoes.
“Loafers were called penny loafers but you always put a dime in them so you could call home. Dimes for the black loafers, pennies (shined up) for the brown. These are what I wore instead of saddle shoes. My mom worked so hard to pay for my Bass Weejuns.”
Penny loafers were the next most popular teenage shoe. They easily slipped on and were very comfortable. They were dressy enough for school, yet could also be casual with jeans on the weekends. They were neutral in color (black, white, brown) until the late ’50s, when bold colors like red, teal, pink, and tan added options to match outfits.
The moccasin was another type of casual loafer with a round toe box and fringe tongue with a bow. They were usually worn without socks which was not allowed at school and could get a girl sent home.
Ballet Flats came about in the late 1950s. Prior to that low heel Mary Janes and pumps were the dressy shoes girls could wear. When heels were replace by flats they became “ballet flats” named after ball shoes that also had tie bows across the toe.
Rain boots, rubber rain boots or shoe covered kept some feet dry in winter. Some not-so-lucky girls walked with a bread bag over their shoes to keep them dry. Learn more about boots here.
Shop all 1950s shoes here.
1950s Teens Jewelry
Pop-its Bead Necklaces
At some point in the 1950s, most teens owned Pop-Its (e.g. Pop Its, Popits). Also called Snap beads or Snap-it beads, they were colorful hollow plastic beads that popped into each other, making the combination of colors endless. Primary colors such as bubble gum pink or sunshine yellow were sold as well as mixed bags. Altogether, they formed a 60 inch necklace which was long enough to wrap around several times for a layered look or taken down to a short 10-inch choker necklace. Smaller sets for choker length necklaces also came with matching earrings.
“Pop-it beads were my favorite costume jewelry… I would fool around with them all day, mixing the colors to match my summer shorts and tops.” Marilyn O., What We Wore
Pearl necklaces and mustard seed necklaces were two other popular jewelry options for teens. Pearl necklaces were very grown up and sophisticated. Teens usually wore a single strand of small pearls with sweaters or for prom and parties. Mustard seed necklaces were round glass pendants with mustard seeds in the center.
As a sign of courtship girls would wear thier boyfriend’s rings. Since the rings were usually too big girls would wrap angora yarn around it. Naturally, the yarn had to match angora sweaters and socks. Another option was to line the inside with candle wax or wear it on a long chair as a necklace.
Other signs of courtship were wearing a boy’s ID bracelet. Girl’s could have their ID own bracelets as well as charm bracelets.
Circle pins were another sign of courtship or friendship. They carried different meanings depending on what side of the sweater a girl wore it on (virgin or not), how it was decorated (one pearl was true love, a bow was “tying the knot”), or if it was designed to be a sorority club pin. Learn more.
Another decorative jewelry piece was the sweater clip. A clip with a metal chain extended to each side of a cardigan sweater. The sweater could be worn on the arms or hung over the arms and held in place by the sweater clips.
Learn more about 1950s jewelry.
Pants, Shorts and Playsuits
Finally, school was out and weekend casual was in. Teens looked forward to the weekend, when they could slip on a comfortable pair of capri pants or jeans and a sleeveless blouse for care-free days in the summer. Pants ranged from high waisted, ankle length, tapered trousers to just below the knee pedal pushers. Many pants had folded cuffs lined in a printed fabric that matched the blouse.
Blue jeans were the thing for teens to wear that even adults were starting to copy. They were dark denim blue with full, wide legs and contrast stitching around big pockets. The tighter, slimmer fitting jean was also coming into style at the end of the decade. Blue jeans were paired with long sleeve or sleeveless blouses, turtleneck shirts, pullover knit shirts, and sweatshirts.
Pairing jeans with socks and saddle shoes wasn’t hip enough for most teens. Instead, girls wore loafers and flats, like ballet flats, or sneakers like Keds without socks. They also wore strappy sandals and early versions of flip flops. Read about sandals.
Short shorts were an option for girls and young teens, but as a girl aged, shorts became too immodest for young women. “I was coming downstairs in a pair of short shorts and my Daddy said you go right back up those stairs and change into something that covers your knees.”
Acceptable teenager shorts were the just-below-the-knee pedal pusher pants or the slightly above the knee Bermuda shorts. Wearing shorter shorts was acceptable at the beach or on vacation, but never in town or at school. “Once a month, we could pay a quarter and wear Bermuda shorts to school.”- Jan
Teens followed the same hairstyle trends as women but usually kept hair longer and simpler than their mothers, who needed to go to the hairdresser weekly. Shoulder length hair with short bangs with the ends curled in is the most iconic. It looked great with headbands, hair scarves, or a flower pinned to one side. Medium length hair could be pulled back into a centered ponytail as well. Learn more about 1950s hairstyles.
What about makeup? Makeup for teens was highly discouraged, but they wore it anyways. Sneaky girls kept makeup at school, applied it early in the morning, and took it off before returning home. A little face powder and light pink-ish lipstick was all that teens needed to look young and fresh.
1950s Teen Hats
Teens usually didn’t wear hats. It was a grown up thing to do but for church or special occasions where dressing like a lady was important teens would were a small hat like these:
For going to school the classic briefcase style bookbag was the best for carrying several books. Ecosusi has some cute ones.
For day to day styles, smaller box bags or flap top bags were trendy. Girls didn’t need to carry much so handbags were not essential. More about purses and handbags.
1950s Teenager Outfits
Here are some ideas on how to create a 1950s teenage girl outfit for yourself.
To shop for all your 1950s outfit pieces, start here.
More Teen Fashions
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.