Hi! I’m Naomi, a self-proclaimed teenybopper. I love writing about 1950’s culture and fashion on my blog, Just Teeny Boppin’ Along. As a teen myself, the American teenage culture of the 50’s is especially relevant and interesting to me, and wonderful Mrs. Jessica has allowed me to share a bit about it with you!
In the early 1900’s, there was no such thing as the “teenager”. Young people, especially young women, were extremely limited as to what they could do independent from their families. Cars were still luxuries, so there was no driving around with your friends, or picking up your date to the movies. Things changed in the 20’s, when women gained the right to vote. Many girls emulated the popular flapper’s style, as well as their independent attitude. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with their conservative, 19th century parents! While teens were still not recognized as completely separate from both children and adults, the rebellious attitude teenagers are known so well for today came to be.
During World War II, childhood was cut short for many. Some young teens dropped out of school and enlisted early, or got jobs in the factories. Dads were overseas, Moms were working full time to help the war effort and support their families. Older children had to take care of their younger siblings. Adolescents had more responsibilities than ever before. When the war ended, fathers came home, and mothers took their work trousers off and put their aprons back on. Teens, however, had come to love the freedom they had during the war, and didn’t want to give it up! They found new jobs, or got allowances from their parents, and spent their money on records, clothing, and movies. Businesses caught on and began marketing towards “teen-agers” and “Juniors”. The teenager was born!
So we’ve finally gotten to the 50’s. Though it doesn’t seem that way today, the 50’s were a boundary pushing time. Elvis came out with his Rock and Roll music, and obscene (for that period, anyway) dance moves. Teen drug use and sexual experimentation shot up, but so did high school attendance. The media influenced youth like never before. Movies like The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause came out, and the news went wild, constantly warning of the rising rate in juvenile delinquency. Greasers and teenage gangs were often glorified, but so was the family unit, with wholesome, family oriented television shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best being very popular.
Music was a huge part of 50’s teenager culture, and a great source of great conflict between teens and their parents. Before the late 40’s, parents had a lot more control over what sort of music came into their homes. The radio played safe, conservative music, and if a child wanted a record, they usually had to ask their parents for the money to pay for it. Once teens began getting their own jobs, they spent a significant portion of their paychecks on music, often the records of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The heavy, throbbing beats and slightly risque lyrics of these musicians were a far cry from the soft swing and pop that adults had grown up with, and most parents didn’t want their children listening to what many called “the devil’s music”.
As I mentioned earlier, businesses began to pay more attention to teenagers in the 1950’s than they had before. Advertisements targeted the “teen-ager”, with all sorts of products just for teens. Junior clothing sizes came out in the 50’s too, with styles exclusively for girls and boys. Magazines like ‘Teen and Seventeen were full of articles on how to be popular and more attractive.
Cars made a huge difference in the lives of teenagers. By this time cars were no longer a luxury but a necessity, and many kids were able to save up enough to buy one. This new mobility enabled teens to go to dances, take dates to the drive-in, go parking (ooh lala!), or even drive to the local “juke-joint” and buy a drink.
Without the teenagers of the 50’s, so much of what we have today would be unavailable to us. The music we listen to, TV shows we watch, and the clothes we wear would probably never have existed. The teenagers of the fifties–our parents and grandparents–refused to conform to the standards of earlier generations, eventually resulting in the “generation gap” and the counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s.
Please visit Naomi’s blog for more fabulous and informative history lessons at http://teenyboppinalong.blogspot.ca/.