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6 things you’ll remember about dating in the 50s

Posted on 5 February 2018

Teddy boys and dances

It was the decade of the Coronation, the end of food rationing and the birth of rock and roll. Teenage culture was a new phenomenon and we were spending our spare time ‘courting’ before making a lifelong commitment. Was courtship in the 1950s better at bringing lifelong couples together compared to the dating apps of today? Or do you wish you could’ve saved face and asked someone for dinner behind a computer screen? We take a look back at some of our favourite memories of the time.

It was simpler times

In the 1950s, long before the days of mobile phones and the internet, dating was a simple affair that revolved around weekly dance nights and well-defined social norms. Dating etiquette dictated the proper ways for men to court women, with marriage being the desired outcome for both of us.

There was no confusion about what a date meant. It was rare for men and women to be just friends so if a man called you up and asked you to dinner, he certainly had romance on his mind. Likewise, if after one meeting either party wasn’t sure if they were right for each other, you wouldn’t waste your time with a second date.

young couples squeezed onto a small sofa
Allan Cash Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Men did the asking

Young women typically let men ask them out rather than initiate dates themselves. When asked, women gave an immediate answer, and didn’t cancel dates without a good reason.

If eating at a restaurant, the woman would tell her date what she wanted so he could order for her. The man would be sure to be polite and chivalrous, helping her with her coat, opening doors, and even walking between her and the kerb, a tradition that teenagers nowadays might not have even heard of.

couples dancing together at a social dance
Allan Cash Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

We worried about what to wear

Fashion was changing fast. Women wore pelmets for skirts and men transformed into ‘teddy boys’ with their drainpipe trousers and quiffs in their hair. Women would often make their own clothes using Vogue patterns and would be sure to have their hair perfectly curled before heading out on a date.

some well dressed girls
Allan Cash Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Dances were the place to go

If you didn’t know how to dance, you were in trouble. Weekly dances were the place to meet potential suitors, and we’d be jiving until the lights were switched on every Saturday night. In the week, we’d push the kitchen table to one side and learn to jive to Bill Haley and the Comets… our parents said Rock n Roll wouldn’t last! But what did they know?

 a couple on the dance floor
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

We walked a lot

There weren’t loads places to go like there are today, and even though Saturday night dances were still fun to jive with your potential partner, other venues for courtship were limited.

We’d head to the café or picture houses a few times (though they only changed their film twice a week) or get together for a “social” to play cards or music. The other option was to take a walk up the lane or around the park, and so that’s what we did. At least we soon figured out if we had enough to talk about!

a couple walking in the park
Allan Cash Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

We made a big commitment

At the start of the war and well into the 40s, eligible suitors became scarce with men heading off to war. This lead to couples leaving each other something to remember them by, a tradition that carried on into the 50s. You might exchange a piece of jewellery or item of clothing and so your commitment was represented in something physical. Once you had been dating for a while, couples of the 1950s tended toward early marriage, so the courtship process was more hurried than you might expect today.

a young couple posing for a photograph by the sea
James Jenkins - Visual Arts / Alamy Stock Photo

If this article took you back to simpler times and you’re in the mood for more, you may also enjoy these memories of a post war childhood, the 1950s home and earning your first bob as a kid.

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