Hosiery History: The 1950s
The 1950s were a time of iconic American fashion, and what is most closely associated with Americana in modern times. Poodle skirts, Hawaiian shirts, cocktail dresses, and kitten heels are all classic styles of the era, as well as the slinky, glamorous fashion of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and the cool stylings of Elvis Presley. But did you know that socks and hosiery were experiencing a major upheaval during that time too? Read on to learn about some 1950s hosiery history. After that, MeMoi has some looks from our lookbook to help you experiment with this fun and fresh throwback!
Possibly the most famous sock associated with the 1950s, the bobby sock was popularized with teenagers attending sock hops. These socks were often paired with saddle shoes (often black and white, but sometimes other pairing of two tone shoes) or loafers, and were originally marketed as college and high school campus fashion. The style originated as far back as the mid 1930s, and grew in popularity before peaking in the 1950s. The style was associated with both "female juvenile delinquents" and with airheaded girls who liked to gossip and spend their money on the latest records (Frank Sinatra, Buddy Holly, swing tunes) and what was in fashion. This stereotype even extended as far as saying that any ankle sock purchased by a teenage girl was automatically a pair of bobby sox.
For most of the 1950s, women relied on knee high and thigh high stockings to smooth out their legs and lower bodies, with girdles and garter belts doing the work of defying gravity. Rather than the elastic shape we're used to today, stockings of the 1950s were made to fit a certain leg shape, with sizes determined by shoe size rather than body size. This caused problems for women who didn't fit the standard sizing of nylon companies. (See, we've always had trouble with one-size-fits-most, ladies!) As the decade came to a close, elastic tubing for stockings ("stay-put" technology) was developed to fit a wider variety of women. By 1959, Allen E. Gant had invented the modern all-in-one pantyhose and thigh highs were largely phased out.
As for style, most 1950s nylons had a visible seam in the back to indicate the existence of the garment. The reasoning behind this was that a seamless look resembled a bare leg, and this was not societally acceptable for any respectable woman. This seam was usually black, regardless of the shade of stocking. Seamless stockings, as well as stockings that weren't in the nude family, were saved for special occasions, such as evening outings and formal events. The only exception to this stockings-always rule was summertime, where the garment could be eschewed in favor of bare legs during the heat.
Don't worry, fellas - we're not leaving you out of this one.
In casual wear, socks were most prominently displayed with shorts, as seen in this 1956 picture from a department store catalogue. Plain jane socks were A-okay, but patterns were more in vogue, such as the pictured argyle sock in many different color schemes or striped socks (horizontal and vertical). Socks were often color coordinated with both shoes and shorts, and worn with moccasins, loafers, or dress shoes, depending on the event. This ensemble was worn on a man's day off rather than to the office or to a more formal event.
Athletic socks have not changed much over the past several decades. Ribbed athletic socks, with bands matching team colors, were popular with basketball and soccer players, whose uniforms were much more fitted and short than today's athletes. Men sometimes layered socks for extra warmth and protection during games, much akin to today's knee pads and braces for players.
Here are some MeMoi products that'll get you in touch with your inner 1950s housewife, bobby-soxer, or basketball playing dreamboat! Some of these options are a modern twist on a classic concept!
For bobby socks, try:
Reverse Terry Stripe Sheer Crew Socks
Shop the Look: Reverse Terry Stripe Sheer Crew Socks
Polka Dot Ruffle Anklet Socks
Shop the Look: Polka Dot Ruffle Anklet Socks
Houndstooth Anklet Sock
Shop the Look: Houndstooth Anklet Sock
For women's stockings, try:
Shop the Look: Backseam Thigh High Stockings
Shop the Look: Levante Vanita Stay-Up Thigh Highs
Sensuality Silky Sheer French Lace Thigh High Stockings
Shop the Look: Sensuality Silky Sheer French Lace Thigh High Stockings
For men's socks, try:
Rainbow Rugby Crew Socks
Shop the Look: Rainbow Rugby Crew Socks
Men's Cotton Blend Striped Crew Socks 3-Pack
Shop the Look: Men's Cotton Blend Striped Crew Socks 3-Pack
Shop the Look: Snowflake Cashmere Men's Crew Socks
Now it's your turn to show off your sock hop style or dinner party duds! Head over to Instagram and tag your looks with #MeMoi1950s. Be sure to tag us (@memoi) so we can see your style!
Sessions, Debbie. “Men's 1950s Casual Clothing History.”, "1950s Stocking History." Vintage Dancer Clothing Blog, Vintage Dancer, 2017, vintagedancer.com/1950s/mens-1950s-clothing-history-casual/., vintagedancer.com/1950s/1950s-stocking-history/
‘Bobby Socks.". Encyclopedia.com, St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 11 Aug. 2020, www.encyclopedia.com/media/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bobby-socks.