At the end of the Second World War in 1945, people had become accustom to living in poverty but desperately sought a change to their circumstances and simple attire. Although rationing was still in place, things slowly began to alter and after Dior’s revolutionary ‘new look’ for women in 1947, men’s fashion began transforming once more.
Fifties man can be somewhat typified by the wool which he wore – and boy, did he wear wool well! Whether it was cardigans, sweaters, pullovers, waistcoats, jackets, ties or trousers – wool was cool! Before we unwittingly descend into some bizarre poetry/tongue twister session about the popularity of sheep’s clothing, it’s important to point out that other materials were used!
Harris tweed became a fashion statement and you could be forgiven for thinking you had discovered an early Vivienne Westwood piece if you stumble across a suit from the decade as their label was the original inspiration for what has become Westwood’s signature orb logo.
The USA and UK had mutually influenced many aspects of fashion during the war and with the rise of television and the continued popularity of cinema, sustained this trend throughout the fifties. The Hawaiian or Aloha shirt had been around since the 1930’s but was noted as a colorful alternative to plain shirts in the fifties. Worn more so by American gents, the shirts have gone on to become collectable and can fetch large sums of money at specialist auctions.
The decade saw an emerging trend for denim – also given to us by our friends overseas. Levi Strauss made his riches as far back as 1873 launching hardwearing and versatile clothing originally for the workforce; however the wearing of jeans became popular with the youth of the decade and evolved from there. With a strong urge to shake off the sensibilities and practicalities of clothing that their parents had tried to instill, teenagers craved difference and a stark contrast in styles began to emerge which saw the start of gang culture.
Teddy boys or ‘Teds’ as they became known, adopted a look inspired by prominent artists who were performing a new music sound - rock and roll. This evolved to create a specific ‘uniform’ which we will cover in isolation within our blogs. ‘Rockers’ and ‘Greasers’ had more of a biker image although all three gangs were generally regarded as troublesome and had a reputation for violence.
Bad boy heart-throbs James Dean and Marlon Brando were blamed for the decrease in sales of leather jackets in the fifties. Despite the popularity of the garment amongst young boys the jackets were banned in many schools and colleges for fear of encouraging poor behaviour from students trying to emulate their hero’s.
Beatniks were an equally controversial gang although only possessed a reputation for snobbery, wearing mostly black and accessorizing their look with berets and sunglasses.
For the more mature gentleman, double breasted suits fell back into fashion and were teamed with trench coats – designed initially for soldiers on the battlefield during the Great War.
Finally, it would be almost impossible to write about men’s fashion in the fifties without mentioning the popularity of ties. The thickness of the tie might possibly determine which ‘gang’ you were part of however, there was such a vast selection of designs made throughout the decade that tie collections were easy to amass. The most sought after of fifties ties are hand painted onto silk and often depict partially clad ladies. Keep an eye out for ties made by Capwell, Baldwins , Pilgrim and Van Heusen and if you can, try and visit vintage markets like Spitafield’s on a Thursday where it’s possible to find stall holders selling nothing but vintage ties!
Written by Hannah Wing from www.bellusfemina.co.uk