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The clothes we wore in the 1950’s East End

The clothes people wore in the 1950’s

The main things I remember about the way people dressed in the fifties were, for boys, khaki shorts, snake buckle belts short sleeve V neck pullovers and a sloppy Joe (T-shirt). Then there were shirt-tails, studded collars, pinafores, hair nets and men in hats. Also for some strange reason, the girls all wore Navy Blue knickers! Whether there was a surplus of this colour material left over from the war I don’t know, but there must be an explanation for it somewhere. It’s not really the sort of thing you ask about really. Unless you want to end up with the wrong kind of reputation! How do I know they wore them? Simple, because girls didn't wear jeans or trousers back then. When we played in the street the girls tucked their dresses into the elastic of their knickers legs to make doing cartwheels and climbing easier. As our sexual awareness seemed to evolve much later than today's youth we didn’t really think about it that much.

Adult dress code

Kids dress code

As I mentioned above, most men wore hats. Either a flat cap or a Trilby. Have a look at any photo taken in the 50’s, especially the ones outside the pub before a beano (pub day trip to the coast), and you will see almost everybody wearing one. Unfortunately, as you will notice, none of them are wearing hats in the photos I have! Sorry about that but take my word for it, they wore a lot of hats. They also wore double breasted suits for best. Us kids had Sunday double breasted suits too. With short trousers!
The women wore hats too, when going out, and a few of the older ones wore them every day whether they were in the street or in the house. Women of all ages always wore a pinafore in the house. For those of you who have never seen one, they were like floral printed overalls without sleeves. They were put on like a coat, and tied at the back with tapes. They were always the normal Christmas present for your Nan and aunts. They wore them all day long! They only took them off when they went farther than the next street.

Khaki shorts, striped elastic ‘snake buckle’ belts, ‘sloppy joes’ (T-shirts), cowboy shirts and long woolly socks were the normal day to day wear, with jeans making an occasional appearance (not Levi’s or designer brands). Long trousers were not normally worn until you attended secondary school. Raincoats were worn with belts, either navy blue or beige, Shoes were saved for best, and you only wore the old ones in the week. There were also black rubbers (plimsoles), white rubbers, blue bumpers or baseball boots. Trainers were unheard of back then. You had to make sure mum got you the black ones with the laces in them. Anyone wearing the dreaded slip-ons with the piece of elastic across the front was automatically branded a ‘Cissy boy’ as were those who wore short white socks. There were many army surplus stores around in those days. Apart from supplying the backpacks and water bottles for our fishing trips down the 'cut' or over Vicky Park, they were also the source of another popular type of footwear, the hobnail boot. Rows and rows of metal studs hammered into the leather sole enabled all but the hardest of hearing know you were coming for miles. They also made them extremely slippery and you could run and skid for yards, with a shower of sparks flying out behind. These were taken over by the Tuf rubber soled boot or the Commando boot a few years after.

Head scarves and hair nets

Detachable collars

The older women all wore hats and most had a black Astrakhan coat. The younger ones wore head scarves and a Mack (a light raincoat). The scarves were worn folded into a triangle, over the head and tied under the chin for shopping. For housework and talking over the back yard fence to the next door neighbour  they were worn turban style and tied at the forehead. If it wasn’t a hat or scarf, it was a hair net to make the last hairdo last a bit longer. These sometimes covered a mass of rollers underneath. Apart from all the other worries women of these times had, they must have spent most of the time worrying about their hair. Come the weekend, all scarves and hair nets were discarded for the trip to the pub. As the smell of the ‘Twink’ disappeared it was taken over by the choking hair lacquer spray being pumped from its squeezy plastic bottle. I always managed to take a breath through my mouth and have the taste for hours after (much the same effect as the dreaded ‘Flit’ gave).

Men wore shirts, although in the hot weather, or indoors they would wear just a singlet. The shirts they wore had collars that were held on by collar studs at the back of the neck. This meant that you didn’t have to buy a shirt when the collar frayed. They just bought a packet of stiff collars and replaced them. Most of the older men wore silk scarves or cravats around their neck. One thing they all had in common, apart from hats, was that they all wore a suit at the weekend while out. Whether it be for a stroll in the park or a trip to the local pub, a suit was worn. Gabardine raincoats were another thing I remember seeing all the time. It’s funny to look back and remember how uniform the men were in those days. None of the different styles of clothing that people wear today. Maybe they were the suits they got when being de-mobbed from the forces after the war, called ‘the full Monty because the tailor supplying them was Montague Burton.

Kids in the 50’s