Then & Now: Teen Fads Of The 50s Starkly Contrast The Fads Of Today

    I recently interviewed a woman, Anna Jane who grew up during the 50s. As I listened to her talk about all the teen fads she fondly remembered from the 50s, I was fascinated to reflect on how different it is for our generation of teens.



     Anna Jane recalled music icons of her teenage years with affectionate memories. From Elvis Presley performing the new genre of Rock n Roll so “lewdly” that he had to be filmed on Ed Sullivan from the waist up, to people like Same Cooke, Buddy Holly, Dion, and the more “suave” singers like Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Bing Crosby.

    “The talent was so different from a lot of the music you probably hear today,” she explained. “It was a great time to grow up.”

Elvis Presley performing one of his first hit songs “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Dion and the Belmonts, a popular 50s group.

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, two crooners whose fans often got into fights with each other over the singers. Here, the two performers sing a duet in the movie “High Society;” quite a rare occasion.


Recent polls and Billboard charts indicate that the most popular music artists among teens today are Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga to name a few.

Evidently times have changed….



But Anna Jane remembered more than just music, she remembered “hoop skirts” (poodle skirts), saddle shoes, and wearing dresses to school every day. “Girls didn’t wear pants or jeans to school,” she said. “That was just unheard of.”

Classic hoop skirt

Boys wore blue jeans and might style a “ducktail” hairstyle. The more “rebellious” teens might have looked up to Marlon Brando or James Dean as their role models, or at least the personas these movie stars characterized in movies like “Rebel Without a Cause,” or “The Wild Ones.”

Ducktail hairstyle
Marlon Brando, left, and James Dean, right.

As far as 50s stereotypes go, you had you had the more conservative “preppies” and more rebellious “teddy boys” and “greasers.” The “teddy boy” style was a style that emerged in the UK among teens in the late 1950s. It consisted of Edwardian style clothing, which often included long coats, narrow trousers, and pointed shoes.

Anna Jane said everyone “sort of just did their own thing,” when it came to day-to-day fashion.

Teddy Boys
Greaser (made popular by James Dean).


Fashion trends among teens today seem to be hard to define. Today’s generation has the luxury of incorporating decades of innovative style into their wardrobes, as well as a few of the new trends that seem to emerge. A few I can pinpoint that seem to be popular among teens are as follows:

Ugg boots

 Uggs are truly a fashion staple I have never quite understood. I remember about 7 years ago an Australian friend of mine told me when I was moving to England I should find myself a pair of “uggs.” I had no idea what she was talking about… Just a few years ago I noticed these boots emerging everywhere in the U.S. It was interesting to me how these didn’t “arrive” in the U.S. until thousands of them popped up all around Australia and Europe. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that they originated in Australia, but it’s still an interesting fact nonetheless.

Skinny jeans

 Skinny Jeans have replaced the traditional flare and boot-cut jeans of the past. It seems as if they are here to stay among not only the teen generation but even among adults as well. While they’re mainly popular with women, I have seen a few guys sporting them as well (although I personally don’t find that look too appealing).


 It’s funny that t-shirts are such a fashion staple in almost everybody’s closet these days, because Anna Jane says she doesn’t ever remember wearing a t-shirt during her youth.


Hoodies, flip flops, and sweats also seem to be popular clothing items among today’s younger generation. They seem to have replaced the sweater vests or “sweater girl” looks of Anna Jane’s generation.

Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner – popular “sweater girls.”

As far as fashion for guys go, you see a lot of guys wearing jeans and converse shoes. Surprisingly enough, I’ve actually seen quite a few guys incorporating the 50s greaser look of white t-shirts and leather jackets back into their individual style. Then there’s the ripped jeans, plaid shirts, or those who go for “pants on the ground” – a phenomenon I’m afraid I’ll never understand. These are just a few examples, as not everyone wears the same thing. In short, you run into a lot of different looks these days.

Robert Pattinson and fellow leather and jean lovers seems reminiscent of 1950s James Dean.

 Cultural Fads


     Some fads Anna Jane could recall off the top of her head were going to drive-in movies, hula hooping, and going to dances to do the jitterbug or the twist.

Upon asking her if she was familiar with the fads of today’s teens Anna Jane laughed and said she was clueless. “Do they still do the jitterbug?” She asked in all seriousness. “I’m not really up to date on all the new dances today’s kids are into.”

Now I don’t think you’ll find kids doing that at prom…


Fads today seem to change with every day, but social media is undoubtedly something popular among teens. A while ago I remember everybody was “Rickrolling” each other. People would post links on various internet sites seeming to post relevant comments, but the users would be directed to a video of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It actually became so popular that it helped to revive Rick Astley’s career.

Some other internet fads going around are “planking” where people post pictures of themselves laying straight in bizarre places, “photo bombing” where people invade others’ pictures, and “owling” where people sit like owls in various locations.

In short, the fads among teens are far and wide, often understandable, and ever changing.

As Anna Jane said, the teen years are “really a great time in life that I’ll remember as long as I live.”

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12 thoughts on “Then & Now: Teen Fads Of The 50s Starkly Contrast The Fads Of Today

  1. Moral decadence & the social decline of a once great nation. Sadly, the nation wreckers from the Frankfurt School have ate away at the moral fabric of America like a corrosive acid.

    We’ve become a nation of degenerates and debauchery.

    We now embrace what we’ve become as a social norm. It’s all down hill from here.

  2. Trip

    America was founded on the idea that the individual is the unit of social consequence – and America’s way was lost with McCarthyism and it never found it’s way back from that repressive, discriminatory and paranoid mentality

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  4. I was born in the 50’s but remember so much of this when I was a child with 2 older brothers who were more into the fads of the time. I can remember when the simple things like getting a new refrigerator was significant enough to have my friends not only awaiting the ‘big event’ with me, but also looking forward to having the huge box to play with. Brand loyalty was more prevalent too and things were not replaced as frequently. Now, you buy something one day and the ‘new and improved’ version is on the shelves the next.

    Girls were pretty. Now what passes for fashion would have been considered ‘trashy back then. There is no such thing as looking feminine now. Even little girls look like hookers when they wear what’s in style. Instead of looking fresh and innocent most girls and women all appear as if they have been there, done that, and also done everybody.

    What passes for acceptable as ‘casual’ in the office is like going to a freak show. Everything from ‘club’ wear on women who have more ‘rolls’ than a bakery to looking as if they just came from the gym. Why the ‘style’ of having a pony tail and a knitted headband is still around is beyond me. They all look as if they have a head wound. Guys seem to change their style more often than girls. Glad to see that combed up pointed head cupie doll thing is GONE. Now, if we can just eliminate the pants hanging half off. They all look as if they can’t afford something that fits. The girls clothes are too tight and the guys clothes are too baggy.

    It’s been fun seeing the changes over the years. I can hardly wait for the next decade.

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