Teen Life During the 40s & 50s
Today, the teenage years serve as a rite of passage, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. But it wasn't until the 1940s that "teenager" became a household word. During the 40s and 50s, fashion designers, authors, movie makers and manufacturers started catering specifically to the needs and wants of teens. As a result, teen culture took on a life of its own.
1 Looking Good
For practical reasons, teen clothing styles changed over the course of the 40s and 50s. During World War II, teen clothing was simple and sensible due to war-time rationing of certain materials. Girls typically wore basic sweaters, skirts that fell just bellow the knee and short bobby socks. Fabrics were durable and colors were muted. Teen boys wore open-collared shirts and cuffed pants, and both genders wore sturdy saddle shoes or loafers. Following the war, girls enjoyed access to a greater variety of fabrics -- including synthetics -- as well as stronger colors and crisper, cleaner styles. Full poodle skirts with skinny waists and petticoats, blouses and ballet flats or white bucks were all the rage in the 50s. Some guys opted for the clean-cut, preppy look, with its tweed jacket, oxford-cloth button-down shirt and penny loafers. "Hoods" -- or "greasers" -- preferred tight blue jeans, black leather motorcycle jackets, boots and greased hair.
2 Goofing Off
The entertainment industry took a hard look at teens in the 40s and discovered an eager market. "Seventeen Magazine" hit the scene in 1944, wowing girls with advice about makeup, fashion and tips for dealing with parents. At home, teens of both sexes pored over Archie Andrews, Superman and Wonder Woman comic books, read Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books or listened to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and later, Elvis Presley. Out of the house, teens played sports, worked at part-time jobs and killed time cramming themselves into telephone booths and Volkswagen beetles. Both indoor and drive-in movies were particularly popular among teens, especially once movies such as "The Wild One," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Teenage Rebel" hit the big screen. Teenagers were clearly hungry for such films, which seemed to mirror their feelings of angst and alienation.
3 Dating and Socializing
World War II and the economic prosperity that followed changed the way teens socialized. With the post-war rise of the middle class, teens who worked no longer had to turn their earnings over to their folks. Boys now had more money to spend on themselves, their girlfriends and their cars. As a result of growing prosperity, adults bought new cars and flooded the market with their old jalopies. Teen boys -- loving a challenge -- bought those cheap old junkers and modified them, using "Hot Rod" magazine as a guide. With a set of wheels at their disposal and plenty of pocket money, kids had both mobility and economic independence. They were free to socialize at diners, drugstore counters, drive-in restaurants, sporting events and teen canteens, where they gathered to eat, listen to music, dance and generally goof off.
4 Connecting With Family
During the 40s and 50s, as mass media did its share to create a separate teen culture, teenagers shifted their focus away from family and toward their peers. They spent increasingly more time with each other, doing the things that interested them, hanging out in places designed for their entertainment and behaving in ways that confused or worried their parents. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950s, "family rooms" -- where family members gathered to watch television, eat TV dinners, listen to music and play games -- were standard in newly-built suburban homes.
- 1 The 1940s; Robert Sickels
- 2 The 1950s; William H. Young
- 3 Gourmet: The History of the TV Dinner