Fifties Fashion Fix: Men’s Sweaters of the 50’s!

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Hello everyone! I’m Retro Dee and once again, Welcome to Fifties Fashion Fix! In this section, we take a look at the charming fashion styles of The Best Era Ever.

In the last edition of Fifties Fashion Fix, we had a look at Women’s Sweaters of the 50’s. So now it’s the men’s turn!

In the 1950’s, men’s sweaters were just as popular as women’s. Men often wore sweaters as a casual alternative to the suit jacket. When we think of “casual”, we think of sweats, hoodies and t-shirts. But not in the Nifty Fifties! Their idea of casual was a dapper looking v-neck cardigan or a finely knitted Scottish lambswool pullover. In the 50’s, being casual didn’t mean being sloppy. Even college frat boys wanted to look sharp!

Below, we’ll take a look at the basic popular sweater types for men, back in the 1950s:

The Letterman (aka Varsity) Sweater

The Letterman sweater wasn’t invented in the 50’s, but it is most closely associated with that era. The Letterman sweater was basically a low v-neck cardigan with the wearer’s school colors and a large block letter bearing the first initial of the school. Often times, the Letterman sweater would also be embroidered with the wearer’s name or nick name on it. High School and College boys were rarely seen on campus without their school sweaters. They were considered a symbol of social rank and often had badges and awards added to them. But no matter what colors, badges or letter represented their school, young men proudly wore their sweaters in a sense of true camaraderie.

And girls had varsity sweaters too! As seen in this vintage Chanel Ad below:


A gal holds her fella’s hand in a matching Letterman sweater in this vintage (circa late 50’s) Chanel ad aimed at young ladies.


Classic V-Neck Cardigans (aka “Perry Como”/ “Grandpa” Sweaters)

In more recent years these classic cardigans have been associated with old men, and are sometimes known as “Grandpa Sweaters”.

But! We must remember that in the 1950’s, these sweaters were hip! Young men in their teens and 20’s would wear these sweaters and be right in style. Television personality Perry Como was known for wearing cardigan sweaters on his show, thus they also became known as “Perry Como” Sweaters.

The low v-neck cardigan was similar in style to the Letterman sweater, but without the collegiate look. They could be worn with or without a tie and came in a variety of colors although none too bright.


Perry Como in one of his many sweaters circa 1950’s


Shawl Collars and Raglan Cardigans

Mens clothes also featured shawl collars, particularly on heavier knit cardigan sweaters or pullovers. The shawl collar is classic 1950’s, be it on men’s sweaters or women’s dresses.


The circa 50s knit pattern features a shawl collar cardigan.


Raglans were also popular for men. Not all cardigans were long, (as seen in the ad for Raglan sweaters below). You might notice that some men’s sweaters had a band that hit just at the waist, similar to the length of the ladies’ sweaters.

What you might also notice when looking at 50’s advertisements and covers of knitting patterns, male models were often pictured with pipes! To us this might spark a giggle (I know it does for me) especially when we see young men with pipes. They look like something out of a production of a murder-mystery at the local Junior College. But in the 50’s, a pipe accessory with a smart-looking sweater was considered fashionable and hip.


An example of shorter low v-neck cardigans circa 1950’s. (Also from a vintage pattern.)


“Sleeveless” cardigans and “Tattersall” vests were also popular. V-neck knit vests were frequently worn by both young and older men on top of a button up shirt either with or without a tie. For business men, this was a more casual alternative to the three-piece suit. For the young men in college it was a perfect piece to wear to class and other events. Today the sweater vest is a look that we consider “preppy”, “conservative” and old-fashioned. However, back then even young men wanted to look dapper and dandy. The cardigan sweater in all its forms was popular on campus and off.


Examples of sweater types from a circa 1950’s book.


Pullover Sweaters

Men’s pullover sweaters of the 50’s were simple, yet very smart looking. They could be crew neck or with a high v-neck, or even vests. Pullover sweaters were often worn with dress shirts and ties underneath. Many were solid and the patterns were usually basic, such as argyle. The colors were restricted mainly towards basic trim.


This v-neck cable knit pullover is being worn with a shirt and tie underneath (again, note the pipe!)


An example of types of men’s pullover sweaters, circa 1950’s, from same book as above.


Many higher quality sweaters were made in the UK in countries like Ireland and Scotland. The knitting as well as the wool materials used was superb. Apart from specialized knits which to this day come out of places in the UK, such quality is rarely seen anymore on your average store-bought sweater.


Tag on a vintage knit sweater from Aspen, CO. made with wool imported from Ireland.


In the late 50’s, early boy bands began to wear matching pullover sweaters. This trend lasted well into the mid-1960’s. Buddy Holly and The Crickets (which were technically one of the very first boy bands to ever exist) wore matching Fisher knit sweaters while touring in London in 1958. The contrasting trim at the collar and sleeves was a popular look on all knits of that era. With the absence of the undershirt and tie, a new, even more casual look was beginning to come into vogue for men.


The Crickets: (l-r) Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and Buddy Holly wear matching sweaters in England in 1958.


Well folks, that’s it for another edition of Fifties Fashion Fix! Please join us next time and keep on loving those vintage-retro styles!

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