Youth culture in the nineteen fifties was a time that opened up the world to be integrated for whites and blacks. In this paper the fifties are analyzed through the clothing, styles, cars, family life, and most importantly entertainment.
Talking to various members of my family I asked them if they could remember the way that the youth dressed in the nineteen- fifties. The responses were all similar. The popular man role wore tight white T- shirts which were described to me (I hate this expression)as Guinea T s. These are white T- shirts in which the manufacturer cut- off the sleeves. Also regular white T- shirts were worn with one sleeve rolled up with a pack of cigarettes. When I talked to a man in my neighborhood, John Braggs, he explained to me that the modern style of wearing your pants low on your hips actually began in the fifties. He said that they wore tight jeans that were pulled down low at the waist with of course a tight white T- shirt tucked in. “I don t know where y all started wearen em so baggy from, but I don t like it,” he shouted in his southern accent. The females were not as revealing as the modern women are. Longer dresses and dressier shirts were their style. The Beatnik !
generation was forming out of Grenitch village in Manhattan which the style was more of a depressing look. They wore mostly black or darker colors. I watched a movie called The Wanderers to try to take a look at how they dressed and the portrayal was what I just described.
The type of children that the fifties brought out was a common question I asked everyone I surveyed, and to tell you the truth they were not all that much help. There were the popular crowd who were Greaser types. The Greaser boys were the bad boys, they spawned off of the rebellious biker gang called the Hell s Angel s. This group was a bike gang who rebelled against the norm of society. Society tried to keep the children innocent instead of letting them have fun. The Greaser style spawned off of this belief. I watched the movie “Grease” to see how teenage Greasers lived and where they hung out. Places like the drive- in movie theater or the soda pop stand. Another big style was that of the surfers on the west coast and in Hawaii. The sport became open to the public for the first time in this decade. Everyone had a surfboard, or should I say a pier. These surfboards were around ten feet tall and as thick as a drawer. They were made out of wood with a thin co!
ating of fiberglass. The waters were packed and the terms to listen for were “hang ten” or “hangin loose.” There were also the Beatniks. In their depressed outfits and sunglasses they recited poetry and brought back more of a philosophical look at things. They went and ran underground music stores in which they could purchase un filtered music. Music that society said rotted their brains. They used their intellect rather than their physical appearance or coordination. These people served as a spring board for the hippies in the mid sixties.
I had a chance to experience two cars from the fifties and was told about another. In my dads auto body shop he had a DeSota. I took pictures on my computer camera and saved them to a disk for your viewing pleasure. The DeSota was all steal and chrome. I even hurt my hand knocking on the dashboard. The steering wheel was the size of a large pizza, and my dad told me that they never even heard of power steering at that point. The car was stick shift and the stick was where the turning signals are. There were also only three gears to put your car into. I opened up the hood and to my surprise it looked empty. The motor was a very strange rectangular box, and there appeared to be nothing else under the hood. The seats were bench, and everything inside was very classy. AM radio was the only option for any input as far as entertainment is concerned. The other car I looked at was a redone Woody. This car was completely made out of wood. It looked almost like a pathfind!
er type of car from the fifties. This automobile was used mostly on the west coast by the surfers who would strap on their very heavy longboards and jet down to the beach. I was told by the owner of the Woody that there are not many of these cars still around today because termites like to eat away at the wood, and strip the whole car. The other car that my dad told me about was a Lark. He said that my grandfather used to own one and that it was not much different from DeSota as far as style and material that were used. Comparing these cars to the modern day cars, I would have to say that people probably spent a lot less money repairing the appearance of their cars because they do not look like they dent too easily. They compare best to a modern day tank.
The information that I gathered on family and school life was plenty. For one thing children had to get dressed up almost every day in a shirt and tie to go to school, especially on Wednesdays. In the beginning of the school day the pledge of allegiance was said, like today, and also morning prayers. This is very hard for someone like me to see because I have experienced a type of hatred towards school prayer. There are currently endless debates to get school prayer reinstated in public high schools. After school, no matter what you were doing, no matter how much fun that you were having, you better have been home in time for dinner. The entire family had to be home to eat dinner as a family. Dinner was the highlight of the day during the fifties. It could have been life threatening for someone to have missed dinner. Unlike modern day there were no real supermarkets like “King Kullen,” there were only specialty markets. There were food markets, fish markets, and the!
butcher. You could not get something like a cantaloupe from the fish market, or shrimp from the butcher. My dad tried to explain to me the style of the furniture inside the average home during the fifties, he said that there was an Art Decko style. Kitchen were remembered to be very simple with a lot of iron and plastic to their style. Around my fathers poker table (they only play for fun), the men remember that they joined gangs and used to get in rumbles like in the movie “The Outsiders.” Supposedly all of the young men joined gangs. There was also a lot of prejudice, not only between black and whites, which there were, but also between all of the nationalities. The people that I talked to, all Italian men, how they used to get into fights with the Irish men. Another thing that made this decade so much different from the rest was that in the fifties they did not have to many real fears. A household could leave their front doors unlocked and not have too much to!
Youth in the fifties had many different means of entertainment. Ice skating and Roller skating rinks were a common hangout for teens to gather and socialize. A style that was lost, but picked up again after the disco era into the eighties, however this has been lost again to modern society. Another common hangout believe it or not were the Burger Joints with the waitresses on roller skates. Apparently you would drive up in your car and a roller- skating waitress would come up to your window and take your order. When your order was ready a tray was placed on the window of your car with the items of your selection. This might be considered the first form of drive- thru. “Drag racing your souped up hot rods up and down the strip was one of the cool things to do,” claims Tony Epifanio. Making box cars out of wood and roller wheels also seemed to be a very popular hobby among the younger boys. They had things like skates that slipped over your shoes, Bazooka bubble !
gum for a penny, rock candy, and chocolate egg creams as well as early forms of comic books. Black and white TV s were brought into just about everyone s homes, making the radio programs obsolete. Many people believed that TV brainwashed your mind. Shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Superman” were common shows of entertainment. On the big screen rebels like Marlon Brando and James Dean were influencing young minds. Ed Sullivan was showing the world so many different talents from all sociaties.
This is an interesting little story that I have to tell because I can not take credit for this theory. I was riding the train home one weekend and I sat next to a lady who looked to be in her mid fifties. We started chating and she came across as a very intelligent lady. Her name was Pat Lin and she was a playwright in Washington and New York. When I started asking her a questions about the paper she gave me a shocking theory I would never have thought of. Elvis started the Civil Rights movement was what it came down to. During the fifties blacks and whites were in two different societies. All of a sudden a white man came along who sounded and danced like a black man. This man was Elvis, he turned the white community on to his music which at the time sounded like music from the black society. The fad for the black culture kept growing. TV shows like the “Ed Sullivan Show” and Dick Clarks “American Bandstand” began showing an integrated style of television. This i!
When this paper was started I did not believe that the fifties was a decade of any real importance. It is being forgotten as the generations get older. Learning about the decade where rebellion took over the society was one of the best things I could have done to enhance my mind.