In an article I wrote a few years ago, I described how teenagers of the 1950s dressed “for the occasion.” Here’s how adults of that time dressed for the occasion, using my family members as examples:
The male members of my family worked at jobs that required them to wear business apparel. The suits they wore were black, brown, blue or gray in color and were wool, flannel or gabardine, depending on the season of the year. The suits had wide lapels and were single-breasted. The suits had wide, cuffed pants and were not worn with vests. Every man in the family dressed this way except for my grandfather whose suits dated back to the late-1930s.
In considering accessories, ties were plain in color and thin, and shirts were made of cotton. The men wore wide brimmed hats, but my uncle Gene wore a shallow-brimmed Homburg.
In the summer, older men — including my grandfather — wore wide-brimmed straw hats. Younger men wore hats of lightweight material.
Shoes were black or brown oxfords or wingtips, and socks were black, brown or gray. No man in my family wore white bucks or loafers; nor did they wear white socks.
During leisure hours, long pants with plain, short or long-sleeved shirts with collars were worn. In the late ’50s, both of my uncles wore Hawaiian shirts, but the shirt tails were tucked into their belted pants.
When we ate supper during the week, all of the men in the family wore shirts and ties, but they did remove their suit jackets. On the weekends, they would dress in more leisurely apparel.
My mother and grandmother always wore dresses or skirts. The hemlines on my grandmother’s dresses and skirts were nearly ankle length, and the hemlines on my mother’s dresses and skirts fell below her knees. Neither my mother nor my grandmother ever wore shorts or slacks.
My grandmother wore black, block-heeled lace shoes, but my mother wore black or brown flat-heeled shoes, and both women wore nylon hose.
When my mother attended an afternoon social affair, she would wear either a pleated skirt or a tailored suit with high-heeled shoes. My grandmother’s apparel in these cases didn’t differ much from her daily wear, except that her clothing was of better quality.
Whatever the occasion happened to be, both my mother and grandmother wore blouses or dresses buttoned to the neck.
If my mother went to dinner or to a play, she would wear a hat, a long full skirt, high-heeled shoes and white gloves, along with a long coat of seasonal fabric.
It was customary to see both men and women dressed rather formally even when attending a movie or a sporting event. And like men, women wore hats whenever they went to church.
I have seen styles change dramatically since the 1950s, so it is not surprising for me to see the current fashions, but I wonder how the adults who lived during my youth would react to modern styles.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 74 years.