1940s and 1950s Mens Clothing

href="/military-and-wartime/world-war-two">World War II had an immediate impact on fashion, as textiles were rationed and Americans adopted utilitarian styles that required less expensive materials. For men, casual clothing often included garments worn by military members or factory workers: souvenir jackets from travels in Japan with elaborately embroidered backsides or leather bomber jackets made by civilian brands like Schott Bros.

During the austere war years, various subcultures inspired by the zoot suits of the American jazz scene adopted their flamboyant styles to resist the march of fascism, which banned swing and jazz music. Groups like the “Swingjugend” (Swing Youth) in Germany and the Zazous in France wore oversized suit jackets with padded shoulders, loose peg-top trousers that narrowed at the ankles, and long unkempt haircuts to defy the Nazis and their collaborators.

Denim pants like Levi’s famous 501 jeans continued to spread in popularity, moving from their working-class roots to become symbols of teenage rebellion alongside leather motorcycle jackets. After spending years relegated to underwear status, T-shirts finally became fashionable in the 1950s, epitomized by the styles of moody young men played by actors Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Beatnik hipsters and modernist jazz players dressed in a minimalist style including skinny trousers or chinos paired with striped shirts, dark sweaters, and army surplus coats. In the U.K., edgy teenagers known as Teddy Boys combined elements of American working-class clothing with Edwardian frippery—long jackets in loud fabrics, buttoned silk vests, bolo ties, tapered pants, and thick soled boots or loafers with white or bright-colored socks.

For more conventional young men, plaid shirts and letter jackets or letter sweaters from their high school or university made a safe choice. College campuses popularized the monied Ivy League look with Oxford shirts, Brooks Brothers striped ties, khaki pants, and leather wingtip shoes.

During the later 1940s and into the '50s, fashion became more exuberant, particularly in prosperous postwar America. Garments were increasingly made from nylon and other synthetic materials, which reduced wrinkles and were easy to clean. Americans celebrated a fantasy of carefree island living as the Tiki trend spread from Hawaii to the mainland, and men across the U.S. clamored for Aloha shirts and Bermuda shorts.

However, most menswear remained more conservative when compared with its extravagant feminine counterpart, the New Look, pioneered by Dior. Men’s suit jackets and ties narrowed, but a two-piece suit and matching hat was still the standard dress code.


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