Life in the 50’s: 10 Fun Fads From the Fabulous Fifties

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.

Hi folks, it’s Retro Dee with another installment of Life in the 50’s!

Everyone knows that the 1950’s were all about fun. The war was over, times in the United States were prosperous again. The family unit was intact, crime rates were low and folks just had a more pleasant demeanor. Perhaps that is why there were so many fun fads in the 50’s.

So let’s have a look at 10 Fun Fads From the Fabulous Fifties:

1. Sock Hops

Most everyone has heard of the “Sock Hop”, an upbeat dance event attended by young folks in the 1950’s. I never knew why these events were called “Sock Hops”. What’s more is I never bothered to ask, or look it up until only recently. And the answer is obvious! They danced in their socks, duh! I have only seen a few photos of teens actually dancing in their socks, (such as the one that’s been around online, posted below.)  Some sources say that the first dances that took place in a gym required the students to remove their shoes so they would not destroy the finish of the gymnasium floor.

The Sock Hop was, perhaps, the best fad of the entire decade. No need to bump and grind with a filthy stranger– dancers at a Sock Hop had fun actually dancing, often times with their sweetheart. Dancing in those days included flipping, jumping, jiving and twirling… often to the beat of the newest craze: Rock n Roll.

Teens at a real “Sock Hop” circa 1950’s. Note the socks! (I’ve seen this particular photo in several locations online, original source ukn. thus far.)


2. Malt Shops & Soda Fountains

Malt Shops and Soda Fountains were the (no pun intended) SWEETEST concept. And in the Nifty Fifties, they were all the rage. Basically, they were diners that those going steady- soda fountains served all kinds of ice cream treats. There would be a counter, much like those in diners, and booths. Sweethearts would share malts or ice cream sodas, using two straws while gazing into each other’s eyes. The servers making the ice cream treats were called “Soda jerks” and wore cute uniforms with hats. Soda Fountains are a classic example of the 1950’s romance and charm.

3. Drive-in Diners

The fun concept of driving up to a restaurant and having a gal in a cute uniform wait on you in your car is synonymous with the 1950’s. Many diners had waitresses on roller skates, serving  patrons who waited in their cars. Serving burgers, fries and malts, these hip eateries were the go-to spots for dates and just socializing. Many well-known chains of today got their start as drive-ins such as McDonald’s and A&W!

Left: Teens at a drive-in restaurant circa 1950’s (img found on Pinterest) Right: Vintage 50’s ad for McDonald’s “speedee drive-in” restaurant featuring 12 cent fries and 15 cent burgers.


4. Hula Hoops

One of the biggest fads of the Fifties was undoubtedly the Hula Hoop. This new sensation was taking the country by storm after it was patented in 1958. Hula Hoops remained the craze til about the mid-1960’s when they took back-seat as” just another toy.” Still, for many decades after, the Hula Hoop was popular enough that every girl at had one at some point. I remember mine. It was the classic white with retro red stripes and it made this annoying sound when the beads inside would clash. I also recall being frustrated since I couldn’t do it. Finally, I sent rolling it down the street like a giant wheel, chasing after it before it fell into the gutter. I was never one for exercise equipment disguised as a toy. 🙂

5. Space, Sputniks and Starbursts

Outer Space was a popular theme in the 1950’s. It seems like the whole trend began shortly after the famous crash in Roswell, and I’m not here to tell you it didn’t. But another reason all things extra-terrestrial were popular was because the world was just starting to explore the cosmos with new technology. There were Soviet dogs and satellites being launched into orbit for the first time in the fall of 1957, which helped influence a whole galaxy’s worth of trendy designs.

Mid-century decor featured sputniks that were often paired with or seen along side other space-like icons.  Boomerang and geometric shapes collaborated with starbursts and sparkles while abstract amoebas danced with intersecting lines and oblong circles. Electrons rode around on their atomic pathways. Rockets took off into the night skies. All of this new artwork furthered the space-inspired atomic age designs that exploded onto the interior design scene.

Available for purchase were sputnik-printed fabrics, atomic clocks, chandeliers and space-age inspired modern furniture. Even glassware and kitchen items could be found with similar patterns. Businesses such as Motels were often seen with space-age decor and names.

Ironically, we get an iconic blast from the past when we see these patterns and items today. As futuristic as these notions were supposed to be, looking back all you see is 1950’s.

Examples of space-age patterns on mugs from RetroPlanet.Com


6. Westerns and Cowboys

Beginning in the late 40’s, the United States took a keen interest in all things Western. By the 50’s, this craze was at it’s height. It was also one fad that appealed to all ages from children to adults. Every American child in the 1950’s had a cowboy or cowgirl outfit and loved to play with their cap guns. Teenagers necked during the very many Western Movies that were released at the time, and the whole family enjoyed TV shows such as “The Lone Ranger”, “The Roy Rogers Show”, “Gunsmoke” (which lasted into the 70’s!) and “Rawhide” which began in 1959.

7. Double Features at The Drive-In

Another fad was showing two movies back-to-back for the price of one ticket. These were called “Double Features” That’s right! You and your sweetie could go the Drive-In theater and see two shows for one ticket. And the best part is, two movies gave you twice the time to neck!

Famous drive-in theater photo from LIFE magazine.


8. Pinning, Getting Pinned & “Going Steady”

Sadly, this romantic gesture is a thing of the past. I actually saw this question on Google: “What did getting pinned mean in the 50’s?” and even worse was the question: “What did ‘going steady’ mean?”

Oh Lord, have we come to a point where these terms are unrecognizable to today’s youth? 

Very well then…

“Pinning” was an adorable fad in the 1950’s when a boy would offer his school pin to his girlfriend to wear on her sweater or jacket. This meant that the couple was “going steady”, which meant they were dating each other exclusively. The girl would declare to her friends that she “got pinned” and everyone would congratulate her. This practice occurred most frequently in college couples, with the guy giving the girl his fraternity pin.

Couples in the 50’s were monogamous, ceremonial and traditional. However, young couples of that generation created their very own special fad by “pinning”. This fad began to fade out in the 60’s, and will forever be part of the 1950’s charm.

9. Photo Booths

The 1950’s was when the traditional photo booth became widely available to the excited public, namely bunches of young friends and dating teens. Finally, there was a way to make and keep memories that would last a lifetime while you were out and about having fun.

Photo booths actually existed way before the 1950’s, but it was in that decade of fun that they really began to take hold and show up in places like penny arcades, county fairs and boardwalks, and also busy every-day places like drugstores and Grand Central Station in NYC.   Some booths were one-shots for 10 cents that came with frames, but most were the standard 4 pictures for a quarter. You could fit about five people in there if you really crammed them in.  People took pictures cuddling, kissing, laughing and making faces with their friends and sweethearts.

In more recent years, the photo booth has become completely obsolete thanks to the invention of the smart phone and the “Selfie”– and in a lot of ways, that’s a shame.  There’s really nothing like the fun of a sharing a photo booth with friends and creating memories that last a lifetime.

Photo booth circa 1950’s. Source: Pinterest


10. Roller Rinks

A brand new exciting recreational fad took hold in the 1950’s — The Roller Skating Rink! For the first time, young and older folks alike could go to a venue, rent some roller skates and have a day of fun skating across a gigantic hardwood floor. Indoor roller skating rinks were ideal places for dates, friends to gather and for children to have Birthday parties. Skaters would skate around the rink in the same direction. Sometimes there would be an announcer and he would facilitate games over the PA such as “Red Light, Green Light”.

The Roller Skating Rink fad lasted into the 1980’s, peaking in the 1970’s with the “Roller Disco Fad”. The rinks disappeared in the 1990’s when new in-line skates were introduced as a sportier fad and jumping stairs in public and half-pipes were all the rage.

Advert. Comic book circa 1950’s for Chicago Roller Skates. Note the 50’s couples enjoying the rink– even an older couple on in the background on the right!

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