The 1950s coincide with the beginning of the golden age. An increase in national wealth, personal wealth, the advent of the welfare state, urbanization, the standardization of production, and the power of the American model, were all factors that contributed to the dawn of the golden age, which hinged on the rules and foundations of industrial capitalism.
In fact, at the end of the Second World War, the economies of industrialized countries entered an unprecedented historical period of development. Widespread economic well-being was the impetus for worldwide reconstruction after the horrors of the war.
Various sectors of the economy and society benefited from it. In fact here we’ll see just how 1950s fashion, entertainment, music, and fun, dragged America and Europe out of one of the darkest and most nefarious moments in history.
It was the start of a lifestyle that millions of people around the world still admire and aspire to; fun-filled good times, music, positivity, and sunny smiles; the 1950s American dream.
Important historical notes about the 1950s
From a historical point of view, the 1950s had its fair share of dark times: there was the Korean War, the Red Scare (hysteria and paranoia about the perceived dangers of communism), and the restless instability of the Cold War. However, all of this did nothing to stop the advent of a period of intense social and economic well-being, strong demographic growth and urbanization, the Baby Boom, and the birth of consumer society.
Anti-Communism, the Korean War, and the beginning of the Cold War
For America, the 1950s represented a period of great economic revival and splendor, and social well-being. They were years of consumerism and luxury, and general improvements in the standard of living were to reach the entire society.
Unlike his predecessor Roosevelt, President Truman lobbied anti-Soviet policy to the point of triggering the spread of anti-communism. Hysteria and fear, condoned by the American government, led to the passing of the law of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy: from 1950 to 1954 it was a crime to be a communist.
The Korean War broke out in 1950 and continued for three years: After Japan surrendered in the Second World War in 1945, the allied leaders proposed and agreed to divide the Korean peninsula in two at the 38th parallel.
Soviet troops occupied North Korea, and US troops occupied the South, and when the Soviets attempted to break their confinement and expand into capitalist South Korea, the United States responded to the invasion with military force.
A very public and very heated rivalry existed between the United States and the Soviet Union and without actually officially declaring war with one another, the Cold War commenced, as did a long period of tension between Western democracies and Communist countries.
Baby Boom, Welfare: the spread of the American Dream
Work, commitment, courage, and determination were all essential elements in obtaining a better standard of living and economic prosperity: this was the American Dream, the American dream that came true thanks to the ideals of the first European settlers that were passed down to subsequent generations.
In the 1950s, the American Dream adapted to a new consumer society that homogenized national customs and spread the process of standardization. Thanks to a significant demographic growth (the 1950s Baby Boom) and an increase in welfare, an idyllic image of the ‘perfect’ American family also began to materialize.
Conformity and the birth of the suburbs
Standardized communities eagerly conformed to the conservative politics of the government, and the materialistic aspirations of the new ‘consumer society’. A great number of American families benefited from improved economic stability and car ownership was on the up; those who could, left the city for a better life in mass produced affordable housing on the outskirts of town, causing the ‘suburbs’ to expand by 47% in the 1950s.
1950s Fashion and style
1950s fashion was characterized by two polar styles, both of which were a far cry from the austere climate of the Second World War. However both the ‘New Look’ and the ‘Pin-up’ portrayed images of femininity, elegance, class, and sensuality. Hairstyles were immaculate, makeup was heavy but neat.
Women’s clothing and the full skirt
Figure hugging dresses with wiggle (pencil) skirts, or wide flared skirts (and quite probably the help of a girdle) served to enhance the effect of a small waist and produce an hourglass silhouette that was regarded as feminine and elegant. The legendary 1950s full skirt (also known as the circle skirt or swing skirt) came to below the knee, had a high and tapered waist, and plenty of volume thanks to petticoats worn underneath in crinoline, cotton, tulle, or taffeta. Evening dresses were sumptuous, and the cocktail dress came into being, combining the length of day dresses with the more flashy fabrics of evening attire.
1950s Swimsuits, shoes, and handbags
One-piece swimsuits were still in the majority, however the relatively new bikini had slowly begun to grow in popularity. In the 1950s the two-piece swimsuit wasn’t particularly risque and featured (very) high waisted briefs that concealed the naval. Both one-piece and two-piece costumes favoured bold colours, prints, and patterns including stripes, polka dots, pockets, buttons, and ruffles. Detailing could even be found on the plimsolls and ballet flats that were so popular at that time, not to mention the small leather handbags that began to assume all manner of geometric shapes, and could be carried by hand or over the arm.
The 1950s pin-up look
The 1950s pin-up look (evolving from the pin-up art of the late 1800s and early 1900s) was characterized by tight and (sometimes) low-cut dresses that created hourglass silhouettes and promoted the sensuality of the female form. Animal prints (that were in vogue thanks to Christian Dior) added even more spunk to an already bold and brazen look.
1950s Men’s style – suits
The 1950s also brought a touch of class and elegance to men’s clothing. More attention was given to the cut and the fabrics of men’s suits: jackets had wide collars, shoulders were wide, trousers (pants) tended to be narrower. The most common men’s suits of the period were single-breasted and double-breasted blazers, morning suits, and tuxedos with shawl collars for informal yet elegant occasions, and tailcoats for official occasions.
Whether hair was short, medium, or long, curls and waves were in, and so was the colour blonde. Grace Kelly made the banana chignon an iconic look of the decade, and headscarves added a touch of class to any look.
1950s makeup became heavier and more noticeable than the makeup of the 1940s, but it was very neat. Perfect complexions were enhanced with blusher on the cheekbones. Eyebrows were well defined. Mascara was used in abundance, and sometimes even false eyelashes. Smokey eyes were created with black eye-liner and pastel or white eyeshadow. Lips were colored fiery red and often nails were painted the same colour to match.
Entertainment in the 1950s
The democratization of luxury and the need for new goods, requires the diffusion in all homes of television, a technological innovation that has revolutionized the way of understanding a new use of free time, but without forgetting the drive in cinemas and the revolution of music and of the myth of Elvis Presley.