Section: Italian Harlem: Cruisin' the 50s #1

Directory: New York City History

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Cruisin' Through the 50s

The purpose of Cruisin' through the 50s is to help you gain a broader understanding and appreciation for the culture and history of the fabulous fifties.  However, since it is almost impossible to list everything, I have selected only a few of special interest, to reflect on.

The 1950s were the most influential years in American history, where many changes were brought about in the American society. World War II was over. Improvement in the American economy, expansion of higher education, suburbanization and government assistance to veterans were conditions in the post-World War II years. These conditions provided favorable circumstances for economic advancements. Americans began buying goods that were not available during the war, which resulted in corporate expansion and employment opportunities. During the 1950s, many Americans began climbing the economic ladder , which resulted in their enjoying a more elevated standard of living because of higher paying jobs. Television also became the dominant mass media as consumers continued to bring it into their homes. Newly manufactured automobiles rumbling past single and two-story luxurious homes, with green lawns,  two-car garages, and parking for up to four cars in their private driveway , reflected a great new era of expansion and affluence.

The production of thousands of suburban houses for the urban working-class families who aspired a better existence for themselves, was also intensified. These suburban homes reflected the new domesticity of post-war prosperity. Not only was it a boom period of plenteousness, it was also a decade that began rock and roll, where young actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando, Sal Mineo, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis became big time favorites and role models among the youth. The 1950s were  extraordinary times for the teen-age fashion revolution.

First there was the Preppy style which became popular and peaked in 1950 and consisted of the polo and button-down shirt in pastel colors. The most characteristic color for pants were khakis. It had a clean cut look. Qualities of the preppies included mannerisms, neatness, good vocabulary and etiquette. Preppies were children of middle to upper class families. In the movies "Rebel Without a Cause", James Dean made his fashion statement wearing his blue jeans ,white t-shirts and a jacket. His hairstyle was a flat top otherwise called the crew cut.

Gang members, who wanting to look tough, imitated the Marlon Brando image, leather jackets, black boots, slicked back hair, riding motorcycles such as viewed in "The Wild One," therefore becoming known as the "Greasers" . Even other "Wanna be Greaser" youths that were not involved in gang membership would also copy the look. It was the fashion trend of that era. If you looked like a Greaser then you were considered "Hep," or a Rebel. So then, what was the Greaser look? The hair would be slicked back to the middle of the head, then with the end of a comb make a center parting,  applying lots of   petroleum jelly or olive oil resulting  in the famous DA (Duck Ass) hairstyle. It also had a pompadour in the front  with long side burns., The Greasers would, wear a rolled up t-shirt sleeve (black or white) tight trousers, baggy gray or blues, Levi jeans with rolled up cuffs, and denim or leather jackets with the collar turned up to be "hep." which was the popular look of those days. They also wore black boots. Toward the mid fifties tattoos became more popular among the Greasers. The teenage girls would wear their hair up and back in a pony-tail style with bangs. Most of them wore bobby socks and saddle shoes, with their circular felt skirts or other round skirts supported by petticoats, that had all sizes of poodle appliqués. They loved the tight pullover sweaters and would wear a scarf knotted in a cowboy fashion at the side of their neck , capri pants (known as peddle pushers), and tons of make-up.. It was an era viewed as down-right rebellious between parents and teen-age offspring's.

Other important things happened during the 1950's, such as:

1953: Julius & Ethel Rosenberg were executed for their part in the World War II Espionage.

1954: U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy begins televised hearings into alleged communists in the army.

1958: The first Domestic Jet-airline passenger svc is begun by National Airlines between New York City & Miami.

1959: Alaska & Hawaii became the 49th and 50th States.



The Poodle and Car Hop Photos Courtesy of All Rights Reserved.


Preppie and Greaser Look




The Poodle and Peddle Pusher  Photos Courtesy of All Rights Reserved.








Photo Courtesy All rights reserved.


  Castells-Echoes in the Night



Doo-Wop Music and 50s Sheet Music Scans




In the Still of the Night: The Five Satins 1956


A Love For Only You (1959) Doo Wop


Time is Passing Rodans (1959) Doo Wop



Back Seat Bingo=necking in the car   Duck Butt-Hairstyle of greasers where hair in back is combed to the middle, then with end of comb, make a middle part.
Hep-With it, cool. =Someone who knows the situation.   Burn rubber=to accelerate hard and fast (hot-rodders).
Don't have a cow=Don't get so excited   Floor it=Push the accelerator to the floor (hot-rodders)
Threads=Clothes   Odd Ball=Someone a bit off the norm
Get with it=Understand   Bad news=depressing person
Cast an eyeball=to look   Greaser=A guy with tons of grease in his hair.
Cool it-Relax, settle down   Party pooper=No fun at all
Nuggets=Loose change   Cut the gas=Be quiet!
Eyeball=Look around   Drag=A bore or a short car race (hot-rodders)
Cruisin' for a bruisin'=Looking for trouble   Flip-top=A convertible car
Hottie=A very fast car (hot-rodders)   Blast=good time
Frosted=Angry   Haul Ass=Drive very fast (hot-rodders)
Dig=To understand; to approve   Cloud 9=Really happy
Knuckle sandwich=A fist in the face   Wheelie=Lift the car's front wheels off the ground by rapid acceleration
No Sweat=No problem   Split=Leave
Goose it=Accelerate the car fully (hot-rodders)   Make out=A kissing session
Rattle your cage=Get upset   Classy Chassis=Great body
Boss=great   Wet rag=Someone who's just no fun
Punch It=Step on the gas (hot-rodders)   Rag Top= convertible car

Rebel Without A Cause: James Dean


James Dean: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)


Rebel Without A Cause: James Dean in the Chicken Run



Juvenile Delinquent-Teenage Doll-1957


Juvenile Delinquent-Live Fast Die Young 1958


Juvenile Delinquent-Girls on the Loose-1958


High School Hellcats 1958


Dino (1957) Sal Mineo


Reform School Girl 1957


To Be Continued: Cruisin' in the 50s #2

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