The 1950s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

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The 1950s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

The 1950s was an era of great upheaval in the United States. By the millions, Americans who had just survived two decades of economic depression and war left the cities for the greenery and open spaces of the suburbs. Suburban towns sprang up like crabgrass across the country. With these instant communities came a new American lifestyle that included suburban malls, fast-food restaurants, TV dinners, drive-in movies, and an oversized, gas-guzzling car in every garage.

The decade was a time in which the roles within the "ideal" American family were clearly defined. The father was the breadwinner. Five days a week, fifty weeks a year, he donned his gray flannel suit, hopped into his car or on a commuter train, and headed off to earn money to support his wife, his ever-growing family, and their materialistic lifestyle. Meanwhile, his "little woman" remained home and raised the kids. Life was simple and ordered, and the cornerstone of society was authority. Teachers, police officers, politicians, and clergy were respected, and their pronouncements went unchallenged. Fittingly, most of the decade's architecture and furniture design was spare and functional. (Major exceptions included what came to be known as "Googie" architecture and the style of design labeled "kitsch.") Not surprisingly, femininity reigned in women's clothing styles.

During previous generations, young people had been required to take jobs as soon as they were able, in order to contribute to the family income. Now, their parents indulged them with toys, games, and clothes. Girls collected dolls and stuffed animals, while boys amassed shoeboxes filled with baseball cards. The 1950s, like all other decades, saw its share of fads. In mid-decade, children wore coonskin caps. At the end, they played with hula hoops. When they became adolescents, they bought records; they also sipped malts and downed hamburgers at the local ice cream parlor. Teens and young adults dated, paired off, and "went steady," which were preludes to becoming engaged, marrying, and beginning families of their own.

However, the decade was not without its nonconformity and rebellion. Parents were none too pleased when their adolescent children embraced rock 'n' roll music. Not all teens were clean-cut preppies; greasers sported longish hair and leather jackets and exuded a disdain for authority. On a more telling note, blacks, who had been systematically excluded from the burgeoning middle class, began demanding equal opportunity. But to the majority of Americans in the 1950s, adolescents with attitude and complaining minorities seemed little more than a ripple on the national landscape. There seemed to be no end to the nation's prosperity.

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The 1950s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview