Rock 'n' Roll Style

In the 1950s a new kind of music jolted the American mainstream: rock 'n' roll, a loud, fast, liberating sound that primarily appealed to teenagers. Rock 'n' roll was an offshoot of the rural blues and urban rhythm and blues music that for years had entertained

The greaser/rock 'n' roll look, as captured in the film The Outsiders. Reproduced by permission of .
and stirred the spirits of African Americans. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, blues was classified as "race music" and was marketed only to African Americans. Rock 'n' roll incorporated these soulful sounds to entertain audiences of white teenagers. An added influence was the hillbilly music, or white blues, that was popular mostly in the rural American South.

The song titles and lyrics of early rock 'n' roll hits, most of which were written specifically for teenage audiences, expressed the feelings of the era's young people. A fair number of rock 'n' roll songs celebrated dancing and laughing, feeling carefree and having good old-fashioned fun. The 1955 song "Rock Around the Clock" captured teens' enthusiasm for the new music. Love was another prominent theme in rock 'n' roll. Expressing the yearning for true love despite the frustrations and disappointments of romance, the song "A Teenager in Love" was perhaps the era's classic romantic lament. Yet rock 'n' roll also dealt with teenagers' coming of age, their first stabs at independence. In the song "Yakety-Yak" a teenager is nudged to complete his household chores if he wants to receive the "spending cash" that he will use to buy the latest rock 'n' roll hit and the tightest fitting T-shirt.

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the first enduring rock 'n' roll idol, and his look was as popular as his sound. As he performed such hits as "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "All Shook Up," Elvis swiveled his hips and wore wide-shouldered jackets and loose, lightweight slacks that moved with him. He radiated rock 'n' roll style and attitude with his ducktail, a favorite hairstyle of the time that he made popular, sideburns, and mock-surliness.

During the decade, the types of parentally approved and appropriate dress for teen boys consisted of loose-fitting slacks, an ironed shirt and tie, a sports jacket, and polished black or brown loafers. Haircuts were short and neat. Clean-cut preppy boys donned tan chinos, a type of pants, that ended just below the ankles, V-neck sweaters, and white buck shoes or Top-Siders, deck shoes. Their female equivalents wore saddle shoes, bobby socks, blouses with pleated skirts, or dirndl dresses, which featured lots of petticoats, and came sleeveless or with puffed sleeves. Favored hairstyles included the ponytail and bouffant, hair that was teased and combed up to stand high on a woman's head.

Teens who embraced rock 'n' roll began looking and dressing in ways that veered from the accepted norm. Teenage boys wore tight-fitting blue jeans and white T-shirts: an outfit that represented the essence of rock 'n' roll rebellion. Or they adapted the "greaser" look favoring tight T-shirts and dungarees, a type of jean, along with black leather jackets. Their hair was grown long, greased with Vaseline, and combed on both sides to extend beyond the back of the head: a style known as the ducktail, or D.A. White bucks were replaced by blue suede shoes: the name of a mid-1950s smash-hit by early rock 'n' roll icon Carl Perkins (1932–1998). Their girlfriends expressed themselves by wearing felt poodle skirts, which often featured such images as record players and musical notes attached to their fronts, or they wore short, tight skirts, stockings, tight blouses and sweaters, and an over-abundance of eye shadow and lipstick. While a preppy couple who was "going steady," or seriously dating, exchanged class rings or identification bracelets, a greaser girl instead put on her boyfriend's leather jacket.


Brunning, Bob. Rock 'n' Roll. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1999.

Fornatale, Peter. The Story of Rock 'n' Roll. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Gish, D. L. Rock 'n' Roll. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2002.

Kallen, Stuart A. The Roots of Rock: The 1950s (The History of Rock 'N' Roll). Bloomington, MN: Abdo and Daughters, 1989.

Marcovitz, Hal. Rock 'n' Roll (American Symbols and Their Meanings). Philadelphia, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.

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