Men’s Style in the 50s: What Did Men Wear in the 50s

Whenever you watch TV shows and movies of that era, what you mostly observe is the businessman look associated with the gray flannel suit. Dark brown, charcoal and dark blue were the common colors of a man’s office suit.

Conformity during most of the 1950s was the order of the day. The postwar years were stimulating and flourishing, but the Cold war and fears created by nuclear weapons as well as the McCarthy Red-baiting propelled a moderate movement in clothing.

It can also be argued that World War II contributed to the fashions that did trend during this era. The following are a list of what was in fashion for men in the 1950s.

Men’s Business Attire

Men’s fashion underwent a new paradigm turn in the 50s. Their clothing designs embraced the 4C’s: comfort, casualness, comfort, and color.

Primarily, the color was conventional, echoing the uncertainty and treacherous nature of world politics. The grey flannel suit was the conservative and forward way of thinking. Office clothes were straighter, less fussy and narrower.

The only necessary color was grey with subtle shades of blue or brown, but men were not dressed dull always.

Business suits were customarily made from wool, but during the 50s, they were mixed or made entirely from synthetic materials such as Orlon, Arnel, and Dacron.

 This made them easier to clean and much lighter. Most suits had long wide lapels, single-breasted and were fastened up with two or three buttons sitting low at the front, revealing a long necktie.

Welt pockets would be present too sometimes. A handkerchief was held at the breast pocket.

An alternative to the matching business suit was a sports coat with corresponding but not usually matching pants.

However, this casual style was not embraced by all businesses but was a preferable fashion. The sports coat permitted the wearer to dress for leisure or work without necessarily changing.

As the decade advanced, more colorful and acceptable business patterns expanded.

Men’s Dress Pants

At the beginning of the 50s, pants were relatively wide-legged but rapidly narrowed at the hem to 17.5 inches.

They were usually worn at the waist but higher than how they are currently worn. The pants had a leaner and smoother look due to their flat fronts and a sharp crease down the center.

Suit pants turned out to be more fitting at the waist, and therefore suspenders were not necessary. Colors expanded as the decade advanced into shades of browns and blues.

Men’s Casual Pants

Men’s casual pants did not come in many varieties, but the rule was to wear smooth pants with a textured sports coat or smooth sports coat with textured pants. Men’s pants were mostly made of linen, light wool or polyester.

They lacked pleats and were close-fitting at the waist. They had a zip at the front together with a button closure. They were somewhat slim in the leg and had side welt pockets. Small cuffs at the hem were also present.

Even though most pants contained belt loops, some had a continuous waistband. Some pant selections had bits of elastic on the sides or belt backs to cinch in the waist and retain them up.

In the late 1950s, the pants’ waist lowered to the belly button level and also narrowed more in the leg.

Due to the participation of most men in World War II in the decades before the 50s, military attire began creeping in the wardrobe in these years.

Men’s Shorts

The prime reasons men wore shorts was beaches and sport playing. The common short style was the almost knee length walking shorts which are currently called Bermuda shorts.

They existed in plain colors as well as seersucker, stripes in cotton, plaid, flannel, linen and even madras. Most were worn with a different fabric belt as well as back belts.

Shorts were barely put on without a pair of knee socks, that would be plainly colored or have bold patterns. Combined with a pair of moccasins or loafers, a man was set for a walk to the park, gardening his backyard or a day by the seaside.

The length of the shorts changed with time and became shorter as it hit around mid-thigh. They offered maximum freedom to breathe and move, and also play games like soccer, tennis, and baseball.

Men’s Swim Shorts

Swim shots were briefly popular and in fashion in the 1950s. The swim shorts that were selling the most and popular were the knee boxer length.

The design idea was to make them look like men’s walking shorts in that they would be worn to rhyme with matching shirts and the men would put on in any beachside resort, and they would not appear under-dressed.

 In order to have more room for the leg, the sides of the shorts were pleated. Where most were made of elastic waistbands, some had their flys fixed with a zip. The length of these shorts varied from swim-walkers that were long Bermuda length to those with no leg briefs. The trending colors ranged from tropical prints and all bright colors.

Men’s Casual Shirts

There were plenty of styles of casual shirts for both summer and winter. However, the varieties were limited; knit shirt, Hawaiian shirt, button-down, T-shirts and shirt jackets.

The button down shirt was available in both short and long sleeves and came in plaid. It either had an open neck collar or a high button collar. It comprised of two chest pockets and a button-down style. Other than plaid, small checks, abstract prints, pastels, and vertical stripes were common.

The Hawaiian shirt, on the other hand, was a typical button-down shirt formed from cotton and was printed in extract tropical designs.

Knit shirts looked like modern day polo, but the collar was wider and differed from the shirt body. Some had a single button at the neck and others had two on a placket. Some styles had a lace-up placket in place of buttons while others had pullover designs.

The T-shirt was made of a high round collar and jersey knit that had contrasting colors. They mostly had one patch pocket on the chest. Most were worn in plain colors and were set aside for active software.

Shirt jackets were a mixture of a long sleeve lightweight jacket and a button-down shirt. It was preferable when the weather was too warm for a lightweight button shirt but too cool for short sleeves. They were made of one flat pocket on the chest and an elastic waistband to keep out the cool wind.

Men’s Sweaters

Sweaters came in three masses; the lightest stitch was flat-knit, the medium rib stitch was shaker knit, and the thick and fancy stitch was shell stitch. Many of the sweaters had wide rib cuffs and ribbed necklines with a slim fit.

For casual dress, button-up cardigan sweaters were popular. To add a layer of warmth, the low V-neck styles could be worn under a sports coat or buttoned up suit coat. Pullover sweaters made of wool were quite heavy and thick for winter wear. Some designs highlighted the high shawl collar that could be rolled up alongside the neck for more warmth.

Men’s Light Jackets and Coats

Raincoats and formal long coats were majorly business attire. Some designs that existed include; the bush jacket which was the most prominent. It was mid hip in length with a body that was straight fitting. It had fur or fabric classic collar and either two or four flap pockets. It was defined by a matching belt around the waist. The jacket was available in synthetic, leather, gabardine and suede blends.

Mackinaw was another style of the jacket lacking a belt. It was outdoorsy, rugged and came in either solid bright colors or plain, with heavy wool plaid. They had two or three patch pockets, a classic collar and full zip up the front. The above styles remained widespread throughout the decade.

Men’s Casual Shoes

Casual shoes were in many forms. The penny loafers, for instance, were medium brown and were named so because a penny could be positioned in the cutout piece.

Another favorite slip on was the moccasin which was brown or black with contrasting stitches and bow tie. Blue suede shoes were casual men’s shoes that were very popular.

They had plenty of textures; embossed leather-like corduroy, reptile skin, printed plaid, woven canvas, and rough suede. For trendy, fashionable men, textured shoes, both slip-on and lace-up styles were their fashion items.

For sports, converse shoes were common. They had ventilating eyelets, a rubber cap toe, and a crepe sole.

 Both black and white low or high tops were considered the best choices for sporty casualness. However, there was sports attire for men that were no different from those of women.

Men’s Casual Hats

Men’s hats were usually put on with a business outfit and summer clothing. The most classic was the Fedora hat that had a slender brim, tapered down in the front and up at the back. The difference between casual and formal hats was not that significant.

Major hat styles in summer came out in a straw version and a wider brim. During the 50s, the hat band took on more individuality with printed fabrics in tropical themes.

The cap was the sportiest hat that was simple, light and casual. They came in the more oval shape with a stiff brim or a vaguely floppy shape. All textures were formed into caps like wool plaid for fall, breakable cotton for summer, nubby tweed for winter and smooth silk for spring.

Men’s Accessories

In as much as there were no accessories for men in the 50s as there are today’s, there were a few that completed how men looked. In addition to hats, the glasses in the fifties were designed to give a spectacular look.

The frames had different frames and different shapes of the lenses. The round frames and lenses were the most common. The frames were very slim while the diameter for the glasses varied as they do vary today.

Moreover, the wristwatches completed the official and the casual looks. The chronometer watches were the most common these days. The Swiss watches were the most advanced of all. They were more advanced compared to the watches that had been produced in the earlier decades.

These are the watches that were available for a long time before the advent of the battery powered watches. One had the option of choosing either a rectangular or a circular Rolex to rhyme with the kind of clothes they had chosen for the day.

The Pipe

This is the last piece that complete men attire in the 1950s. In as much as today, one would not advocate for smoking a pipe due to the accompanying health risks, that was not much of a worry for the fifties men.

They had no clue of such effects. Smoking the pipe was a thing back then, and it was associated with distinguished individuals like Robert Young.

 It was therefore common to find a man either in official or casual clothing with a pipe in their mouth.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the 1950s was an era of great fashion where most styles were borrowed from and are used to this date. From suits, pants, shirts, sweaters, shoes, and hats, we discover the wide varieties that were present.

 As seen from above, there was a wide range to choose from. There were those that looked spectacular to the young generation of the time and those who were older. The official clothes were the exception as they were advocated for both the young and the old.

The recent reviving of these vintage clothes have been added a tinge that makes them suitable to be added in today’s fashion. A watch and some glasses would come in handy to make one have a catchy look.

However, one had to be selective of the choice of accessory that went well with their day’s clothes, be it casual or official.

About the author

Lamin
Lamin

Fashion allows me to push the limitation of creativity and express myself without saying a word. Semi-Formal Men is my not so formal fashion blog. I’m a very easy person to talk to, so please feel free to contact me anytime. :)

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