The 1950s decade was one of the first that embraced women wearing shorts for more than just beach wear or for pinup girls. Women’s 1950s shorts came in several lengths and styles to fit a variety of leisure activities women enjoyed.
The shortest length was the shorties short (pinup shorts), followed by an above the knee Bermuda, below the knee pedal pushers, and the capri which was somewhere between a short and a pant. Each of these had other names as well. The origins and history of women’s 1950s shorts style is a fascinating one.
1950s Shorties Shorts
The shortest of the 1950s shorts were “shorties shorts.” These had a 6 inch inseam, well above the knee, and had a classic 1950s high waist and side zipper. These shorts were mostly worn on the beaches or on pin up models.
These are the most popular style short worn by vintage retro clothing fans today. The high waisted short slims the tummy and creates a thinner waist than low rise shorts. The short length of legs makes them sexy (that is, if you have the thighs for it!).
As the decade progressed, short shorts grew shorter and tighter with a very flat front and made of stretchy materials. Many were worn shorties with matching belts, too.
Pinup shorts, were the shortest and tights of the shorties. They lacked pockets, were often made of a stretchy knit materials and came in some wild prints or a solid black, white or red.
1950s Bermuda Shorts
The most popular shorts length for women was the Bermuda Short also called walking shorts and Jamaica shorts. These came to about 3 inches above the knee, again with high waists and side zip seams. They could fit rather loose and baggy, just like pedal pusher pants, or more fitted and slimming (much like Bermuda shorts available today).
Shorts often did not have pockets (they added to much bulk to a slim silhouette) but some had ornamental or faux pockets that were angled slits. The ad above is an example of shorts with angled pockets.
The walking length shorts continued to become more popular in the late 1950s, ironically at the same time shorties shorts were at their all time shortness.
All 1950s shorts were inspired by casual sport and travel wear with materials suitable for warm weather days. Cotton and synthetic “wrinkle free” fabrics were the most popular.
Most 50s shorts, throughout the decade, were inspired by nautical colors and themes. Red, navy blue, khaki and white . Solid, tropical colors like lime green, sherbet orange, and Caribbean blue were in demand in the mid 1950s as well as checks, plaid, vertical stripes and other prints in the same color family. Think “tacky tourist” clothing, and you are not far off from ’50s summer fashion.
Some of the more unique prints were harlequin diamonds, bandana scarf prints, small florals and houndstooth (see top photo.)
Most women’s shorts in the 1950s came in lengths somewhere between shorties and walking shorts. Most had a cuff at the hem, side zipper, flat front (with center leg press), and pockets. Not only were there many lengths to choose from but also waistline treatments.
Matching belts, rope belts, contrasting pocket trim, contesting stitching against denim shorts, sailor buttons (6 white, brass or red buttons), embordered motifs (anchors, sailboats) etc
The variety of shorts echoed the vast array of 1950s fashion for women.
1950s Pedal Pushers
The longest 1950s shorts could also be called pants. Pedal pushers, also known as clam diggers, toreador pants, motor scooter slacks, calypso pants, and pirate pants, all came to just below the knee with straight legs and often, cuffed bottoms. These short pants were developed for cyclists who wanted the comfort of shorts and the safety of pants that wouldn’t tangle in bicycle chains.
It was popular among teens to roll up their jeans into the pedal pusher length. Many jeans came pre-rolled as well, making the pedal pusher shorts/pants common among women as well. Read more about 1950s pants styles.
It was very common for women to buy a four piece matching clothing set with shirt, long pants, peddle pushers, and culottes shorts. This way women always had a matching outfit to wear for all kinds of weather. If shirts didn’t match, they were usually a light colored short sleeve or sleeveless blouse. Knit shirts such as polo shirts and T-shirts were also good pairings with shorts.
Another style of long shorts is culottes. Culottes looked like A-line skirt with wide leg openings that flared out from a tight waist and hip. Denim was especially popular for culottes in light tan, medium blue, and dark denim.
1950s Style Shorts
What 1950s shorts do you want to wear? Here are some new vintage 1950s inspired shorts for your vintage wardrobe:
This article was previously titled 1950s Shorts: Vintage Retro Shorts History.
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.