50s Fashion for Men: The Clothing & Styles

The Fashionisto

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Updated January 17, 2024

50s Fashion MenPin
Explore 50s fashion for men and learn about the popular styles of the decade.

The 1950s was a transformative era in men’s fashion, providing a rich tapestry of styles, designs, and cultural influences. It brought together a diverse range of elements—from the traditionalism of post-war fashion to the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n roll, from the elegance of cinema icons to the bold flair of music legends.

The era gave birth to iconic looks, sparked fashion revolutions, and set trends that continue to inspire contemporary style. This period of sartorial transformation is more than just a historical curiosity. It is a compelling illustration of fashion’s enduring power to capture the spirit of the times, challenge societal norms, and shape our identity.

So, as we delve into the rich and diverse tapestry of 1950s men’s fashion, let’s remember that this isn’t just a trip down memory lane—it’s a journey into the heart of a transformative era in style and culture.

Whether you’re a fashion fan, a history enthusiast, or just curious about the trends of yesteryears, strap in for an enlightening exploration of an era that continues to resonate in the annals of men’s fashion.

1950s Fashion for Men: A Paradigm Shift

Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs reflect the stylish Beat Generation.Pin
Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs reflect the stylish Beat Generation. Photo: See page for author, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The aftermath of the Second World War brought about a shift in men’s attire as the need for more practical and casual clothing became apparent. This introduced sports jackets, casual shirts, and the iconic leather jacket paired with a white t-shirt—a look popularized by films of the era.

The rise of rock n’ roll music further fueled the adoption of rebellious fashion, with greased-back hair, jeans, and leather jackets becoming symbols of youthful rebellion. Simultaneously, the Beat Generation, led by figures like Jack Kerouac, embraced a different aesthetic. They favored a more intellectual and bohemian style, often opting for turtlenecks, berets, and tailored suits.

These counter-cultural fashion choices challenged the norms of the time and added diversity to the fashion landscape.

The Influence of Media & Films

Gregory Peck wears a Harris Tweed sport coat for a 1953 edition of Radio Free Europe.Pin
Gregory Peck wears a Harris Tweed sport coat for a 1953 edition of Radio Free Europe. Photo: Radio Free Europe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The influence of media, particularly film, on cultural norms and trends has always been potent, but its impact on men’s fashion in the 1950s was uniquely pronounced. During this period, the silver screen functioned as a powerful window to glamour, style, and class, showcasing fashionable trends that quickly found their way into mainstream clothing trends.

Notable figures such as Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and Rock Hudson, among others, were significant style icons of the period, creating a ripple effect in the clothing industry as they donned stylish suits, tuxedos, and unique casual styles in their influential roles.

The outfits worn by these icons weren’t simply costumes but played an integral part in character development and storytelling, further solidifying their appeal and prominence in popular culture.

Cary Grant wears a classic trench at Kastrup Airport CPH in 1956.Pin
Cary Grant wears a classic trench at Kastrup Airport CPH in 1956. Photo: SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These influential actors, with their on-screen charm and compelling roles, commanded a broad audience, thereby profoundly impacting the societal perspective of what constituted men’s style. As the film industry reached its golden age, the accessibility and prevalence of movies contributed significantly to the widespread adoption of these fashion trends.

Society looked up to these men as symbols of sophistication, masculinity, and success, and many sought to emulate their styles in their own lives. The attire of these celebrities wasn’t merely a personal style statement; it resonated with the cultural shift towards a more individualistic and expressive society.

This era exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between fashion and media, demonstrating how cinematic representation can lead to cultural transformation, particularly in style and fashion.

Popular Styles & Outfits

Rock Hudson wears a tweed sport coat in a 1955 picture by Ray Jones. Pin
Rock Hudson wears a tweed sport coat in a 1955 picture by Ray Jones. Photo: Photographer Ray Jones (1892-1967), [1], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1950s witnessed a variety of styles and outfits that left a lasting impact on men’s fashion. The era transitioned from double-breasted jackets to single-breasted and suit jackets, reflecting a more streamlined and modern aesthetic.

Three-piece and business suits remained a staple for formal occasions, while casual wear gained traction with the popularity of polo shirts and button-down shirts.

Color played a significant role in defining ’50s fashion. Dark blue and dark brown were popular choices for suits, exuding sophistication, and elegance. Bright colors, on the other hand, were embraced by younger individuals looking to make a bold statement.

Trousers also transformed during this time. Boxy jeans became a go-to for younger men, while gray slacks and khaki pants were favored for more formal occasions. Accessories such as bow ties, fedora hats, penny loafers, and pocket squares added a touch of personality and refinement to outfits.

Common Fabrics & Materials

A 1950s men's outfit, consisting of wool, silk, cotton, and leather.Pin
A 1950s men’s outfit, consisting of wool, silk, cotton, and leather. Photo: James Lock & Co. Ltd, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the 1950s, various fabrics and materials found favor in men’s fashion. One of the mainstays was wool, primarily used in crafting suits due to its durability, warmth, and luxurious feel. Cotton, a versatile and comfortable fabric, was the go-to material for casual shirts, underscoring its ease of use and practicality.

On the other hand, denim rose to prominence as the fabric of choice for jeans and casual wear. Denim not only boasted of robustness and durability but also symbolized the rugged, practical nature emblematic of the American worker.

Manufacturing & Distribution Advancements

The 1950s witnessed significant strides in manufacturing and distribution methodologies. The era was particularly notable for the rise of ready-to-wear clothing, a shift that made fashionable outfits easily accessible and affordable for the average man.

This democratization of fashion was instrumental in shaping the decade’s fashion trends, as more men could readily engage with and follow the latest styles.

Fashion Icons & Their Impact

James Dean appears in a promotional image for Rebel Without a Cause. Pin
James Dean appears in a promotional image for Rebel Without a Cause. Photo: In-house publicity still, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In discussing 1950s men’s fashion, one cannot overlook the impact that certain iconic actors made in popularizing specific styles, thanks to the legendary characters they portrayed in film and music.

James Dean, who immortalized the rebellious youth in Rebel Without a Cause, set the trend with his laid-back ensemble featuring a simple white t-shirt and iconic red windbreaker jacket. This look became the very embodiment of a cool, nonchalant style that still resonates today.

Marlon Brando, another cultural icon of the time, embraced the trend of casual clothing. His portrayal of the rough-and-tumble Johnny Strabler in The Wild One cemented the image of the black motorcycle jacket in the cultural psyche, making it a symbol of the daring, rebellious spirit.

Elvis Presley appears in a 1957 image for Jailhouse Rock, wearing his signature upturned collar and pompadour hairstyle. Pin
Elvis Presley appears in a 1957 image for Jailhouse Rock, wearing his signature upturned collar and pompadour hairstyle. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ6-2067 Location: NYWTS — BIOG, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Music legend Elvis Presley also played a substantial role in shaping men’s fashion during this era. Known for his flamboyant stage outfits, such as a high collar, bedazzled jumpsuits, and slick pompadour hairstyle, Presley brought an audacious flair to men’s attire, demonstrating that men’s fashion could be both adventurous and expressive.

Frank Sinatra wears his signature fedora in a 1957 studio portrait. Pin
Frank Sinatra wears his signature fedora in a 1957 studio portrait. Photo: Photograph by Capitol Records, per a credit found in the 1959 edition of the International Celebrity Register at page 696. No known source credits an individual photographer., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Sinatra embodied timeless elegance with his impeccably tailored business suits and attention to detail. His influence on dress codes and formal wear remains influential to this day. Dean Martin’s classic suit and tie look epitomized the sophisticated gentleman, while Steve McQueen popularized casual and athletic wear with his confident and effortless style.

The Teddy Boy aesthetic provided bold statement style as seen in this 1958 photo. Pin
The Teddy Boy aesthetic provided a bold statement style, as seen in this 1958 photo. Photo: FORTEPAN / Lipovits Károly, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to these icons, the ‘Teddy Boys’ emerged as a subculture in the late 1950s, leaving their mark on younger men’s fashion. With their drape jackets, drainpipe trousers, and flashy accessories, they rebelled against conservative fashion norms and embraced a more extravagant aesthetic.

Through the Lens of Age & Body Types

Dynamic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appear in a colorized portrait circa 1950.Pin
Dynamic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appear in a colorized portrait circa 1950. Photo: Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fashion preferences in the 1950s varied among different age groups and body types. Older men tended to lean towards more formal attire, favoring tailored suits and conservative styles. Business suits were the go-to choice for professional settings, exuding confidence and professionalism.

On the other hand, younger men embraced the casual and rebellious fashion trends popularized. They gravitated towards jeans, leather jackets, and more relaxed styles. Body type also played a role in determining the ideal fit and silhouette.

Paul Newman wears a relaxed-cut sport coat with a polo in a 1954 promotional image.Pin
Paul Newman wears a relaxed-cut sport coat with a polo in a 1954 promotional image. Photo: Studio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Slimmer individuals found success with slim-cut jeans and tailored clothing, accentuating their lean physiques. Meanwhile, those with a larger build sought comfort in looser-fitting garments and relaxed cuts.

For special events, the 1950s offered a range of style options. Black tie events called for tuxedos and bow ties, allowing men to showcase their refined taste and sophistication.

Casual gatherings provided the opportunity to experiment with colorful casual shirts, polo shirts, and accessories like fedora hats and pocket squares. A well-tailored suit with a crisp white dress shirt epitomized sartorial excellence in professional settings.

Fashion & Social Change

Montgomery Clift is all smiles for a 1950s studio portrait. Pin
Montgomery Clift is all smiles for a 1950s studio portrait. Photo: Max Coplan of Paramount [1], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fashion is intrinsically tied to the socio-cultural climate of a period, and the 1950s was no exception. An air of traditionalism and conservatism initially dominated the style during the post-war era. This was mainly due to the heightened focus on family values and conformity as people strived to create a sense of normalcy and stability in the wake of World War II.

The preferred style was formal and polished for men, embodying the societal expectation of the man as the head of the household and breadwinner. Suits, ties, and hats were considered daily attire, reflecting a strict professionalism and elegant dress code.

Marlon Brando's portrayal of Johnny Strabler in The Wild One is iconic with his leather biker jacket, jeans, and biker cap.Pin
Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Johnny Strabler in The Wild One is iconic with his leather biker jacket, jeans, and biker cap. Photo: ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo

However, as the decade progressed, there was an increasing sense of rebellion and dissent among the youth. The advent of rock ‘n roll, the growing popularity of cinema, and the emergence of cultural icons such as Marlon Brando led to a shift in fashion trends. The polished, conformist style began to give way to more casual, individualistic clothing.

Blue jeans, leather jackets, and T-shirts became symbols of defiance and nonconformity, reflecting a youth culture growing increasingly disillusioned with the societal norms and values of the previous generation. These styles were not just a fashion statement but a symbol of a growing counterculture that sought to challenge and reshape societal expectations and norms.

Thus, the evolution of fashion in the 1950s serves as a mirror to the social changes that were occurring. Understanding the broader cultural context allows us to see fashion as more than just an aesthetic preference but a powerful tool of expression and identity. Through their clothing, people could articulate their hopes, fears, and aspirations, providing a unique insight into the era’s zeitgeist.

Vintage Clothing in Today’s Fashion

The leather jacket and jeans outfit is perhaps one of the most popular looks from the 1950s. Pin
The leather jacket and jeans greaser outfit is perhaps one of the most popular looks from the 1950s. Photo: iStock

Vintage clothing from the 1950s has experienced a resurgence in popularity, offering a connection to the past while staying on-trend. Cardigan sweaters, denim jackets, knee-high socks, and short jackets are just a few examples of timeless pieces that have made a comeback. The charm of vintage lies in its ability to infuse a sense of nostalgia into modern wardrobes.

White shirts, dress shirts, and plaid shirts from the ’50s have also found their way back into contemporary fashion. Their versatility allows endless styling possibilities, whether dressed in suits, jeans, or sneakers. Accessories such as detachable collars, white socks, and straw hats add a touch of vintage flair to any outfit.

Once considered daring, the white suit has boldly returned to the fashion scene. The white suit exudes confidence and style, paired with vibrant accessories and modern twists. Similarly, navy blue outfits have become a staple in men’s fashion, offering a refined alternative to traditional black attire.

Final Words

Steve McQueen wears a fitted shirt with chest pockets as Josh Randall in a 1959 episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive.Pin
Steve McQueen wears a fitted shirt with chest pockets as Josh Randall in a 1959 episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive. Photo: CBS Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reflecting upon the profound impact of the 1950s era on men’s fashion, we observe a rich tapestry woven from rebellion, elegance, and shifting societal norms. The nuances of this transformative period—from the emergence of casual wear to the rising influence of cinema and rock n’ roll music—are distinctly echoed in contemporary trends.

We see a resurgence of vintage attire not merely as a nostalgic indulgence but as an appreciation for the diversity and expressive power of clothing. The fashion landscape of the 1950s, while characterized by its era-specific traits, continues to influence modern style, reinforcing its timeless appeal.

This reinforces fashion’s role as an evolving narrative that, while rooted in its historical context, continually reinvents itself to reflect the spirit and character of its time. We’re not closing the style book as we draw the curtains on the fantastic fifties. The pages are merely turning.

The dawning of the 1960s brought about a further transformation, shaping a new generation of fashion-conscious men. We invite you to explore this progression as we journey into the radical, revolutionary era of 1960s men’s fashion, where the rules of style were rewritten, and an exciting shift towards more flamboyant, eclectic aesthetics began to take root.


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