Men's clothing during the 1950s was generally very conservative and fairly traditional, with a few exceptions. The Cold War and McCarthyism encouraged traditional American values and dampened counterculture movements and self-expression. This cultural shift caused men to conform both politically and sartorially. This was especially true of the beginning of the era, but as the 1960s approached, clothing styles slowly became less rigid and somewhat more expressive.
In sum, this era in men's fashion is typified by plain colors, simple lines, classic suits, hats, preppy clothing, leisurewear and a small but notable counterculture influence by the beatniks.
Men's suits during the 1950s were very clean and simple. The shoulders were not as wide as they were in the Forties, but there was still some fullness in the pant legs. Suits were generally drab, traditional colors like black, brown and gray, and they were constructed from traditional fabrics like wool and flannel. Ties were simple and thin. Men during this era were expected to wear a suit most of the time, especially if they worked in an office, had a social engagement or simply wanted to put their best foot forward. Of course, no man in a suit was completely dressed unless he was wearing a hat.
Men of this era wore hats. Typically, men wore fedoras, derby hats or some variation, but a man's outfit was not considered complete without one, especially in formal or business dress.
The 1950s were a fairly prosperous era, which allowed for leisure time, which necessitated leisure wear. Because all things Western were popular during this era, many leisure shirts were cowboy-inspired. Hawaiian print shirts were popular due to the nation's fascination with the culture of its newest state. Loafers became the leisure shoe of choice. Polo shirts also became increasingly popular. Jeans, however, were still considered an item of clothing only appropriate for outdoor work. Slacks, instead, were the leisure pant of choice. Collared shirts were the norm, even for leisure wear; t-shirts were still considered an undergarment not fit to be worn in public.
The preppy clothing look was popular with younger men. This youthful, more casual look was typified by cardigans, sport coats and letterman jackets, which were proudly worn by student athletes. Young men of this era occasionally omitted ties and wore their collars open.
There were two counterculture movements during this era that had a notable influence on men's fashion: the beatniks and the greasers. These looks, however, were very much counterculture looks that were not typical of the time.
The beatnik movement, which originated in New York's West Village, was inspired by the French artists and intellectuals, and was typified by predominantly black clothing, slim trousers and sweaters.
The greasers, or stereotypical "bad boys" of the times, wore white or black t-shirts, work shirts, jeans, leather jackets and slicked-back hair.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images