Through the Ages – The Late 1950’s
Rock and Roll was at its peek. Elvis was huge and shocking Mums and Dads everywhere with his gyrating pelvis. Add the other big fad – the Hula hoop into the equation – people were wiggling their hips, they were doing the twist – it was just one giant wigglerama – and parents everywhere must have wondered why the entire teenage population seemed to continually suffer spasms of the lower hips and buttocks.
Other acts included Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry etc. all of whom either found religion or found themselves in jail before too long.
Television numbers grew astronomically over the decade – 45 million American households had them by 1959. You have to wonder why the sudden popularity. Especially given the fact that stations were only broadcast in the afternoons and evenings, sets were always grainy black and white and, most alarmingly, the main attraction seemed to inevitably be ‘Here’s Lucy,’ whose star openly compared her hairstyle with that of an aged poodle.
Movies were a big attraction. Drive in movies were at the height of their popularity – they were fine as long as your little speaker worked. If it was crackly you stood no chance of following the story. I guess I must have been in the 5% minority who was actually there to follow the story.
3D movies were also a new fad.
You got supplied with a set of cardboard glasses with red cellophane across where the lenses and you were set. In retrospect, sitting in a 3D theatre you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had inadvertently stepped into an Elton John fan club convention. It was a great gimmick and soon people would be hollering and whooping as they believed themselves about to be swallowed by a pack of giant killer ants. Unfortunately the quality of the movies did not live up to the hype as teenagers were forced to endure the sequel to ‘The Murky Swamp Creature versus Godzilla’s Third Cousin Twice Removed’ (the other ones having been all been killed off in previous features).
I mentioned Rock and Roll and Hula-Hoops. Also popular were Daniel Boon style Coonskin caps, the new Barbie doll, and frozen pizzas.
I know what you’re thinking–Grease –Leather jackets and slicked black hair for our hero, Perm and leathers for the heroine. Or maybe one of those attractive Marge Simpson/ B52 beehive hairstyles that made it impossible to leave the room without decapitation.
Well yes…. And no. Although these looks existed, life wasn’t always so exciting. Actually society was very conservative and most people– fostered a preppy, conformist look.
The 1959 range for men could include:
One of those charming knitted cardigans with either a letter on it if you were a sports jock or a pattern if you were a regular guy. Men wore dark suits and hats most of the time with short back and sides, looking a lot like Clark Kent. There was a bit of a Western revival in the late 50’s as all the boys wanted to look like the main characters from Bonanza.
For the women:
Girls were expected always to wear dresses and appear very feminine – so pink and more conservative colours were definitely OK. The trend in hairstyles was short and curly. Girls would spend hours locked away in their rooms, unsure whether to face the outside world because of the curlers in their hair. Like I said before the ‘poodle’ hairstyle (a la Lucille Ball) was also a big hit.
Slang of the time
Cool became the fashionable word to use. Adding ‘ville’ to everything became all the rage. You got words like Coolsville, Squaresville, Wierdsville.
New Toys/ Inventions
The Bic ballpoint pen is introduced for the first time and has never been able to be found ever since.
Japanese cars are exported to the USA for the first time. Only 52 sold in the first year… from little things big things grow.
The Boeing 707 is launched as the first of the big jet airliners.
News at the time
Revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro comes to power and proclaims new government- announces Communist state the following year.
Martin Luther King arrested for loitering in Alabama – “But I’m just standing here on the corner” he said (see Good Samaritan).
Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th US States.
Nationalists with policy of apartheid (segregation) win huge victory in South African election (see Incident at Whitewater)