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50s Suburbia is an aesthetic that describes the culture of the American middle class in the 1950s.

Due to a population boom following World War II, new neighborhoods were built in the areas surrounding large cities. These communities were known as suburbs, thus the term suburbia. The most famous example is Levittown, in New York state, which was the prototype for mass produced, mass-scale housing.

The government led push for a return to normalcy (i.e., traditional gender roles) following World War II, created an idealized image of the American family and the United States itself. The ideal suburban neighborhood was a friendly community, where everyone looked and thought exactly the same way, and everyone was happy. This image was reflected in advertising, books, and television shows.

50s Suburbia imagery was used in the horror genre as early as 1956 (in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to indicate the uncanny or surreal. Today, the intensely gendered and socially regimented lives of the middle class of the time are a source of fear to an audience that lives in a post-second wave feminist world. See Suburban Gothic for more details.

History[]

Following World War II, returning soldiers used the G.I. Bill to gain a college education and many entered the white collar job market including jobs like doctors, lawyers, government workers and dentists, pushing out the women who had had those jobs during the war.

Many women chose to marry and settle into new roles as mothers and housewives, but the Baby Boom forced the need for affordable housing - and fast. This led to the development of planned suburban neighborhoods like Levittown.

Much of the imagery related to this aesthetic features the nuclear family, a new concept of a couple and their children living independently from their parents, which hadn't been possible in the 1930s and 1940s. The average family at the time consisted of a mother, father, and 2.5 children. (This is a statistical number of course, but the image of the family was generally depicted as having a boy, a girl, and a baby of unspecified gender.)

Popular culture pushed this image as normal, and even patriotic. However, the families most often portrayed in popular culture were white, reflecting only a portion of the American population. It was true that Black families were far less likely to benefit from the G.I. Bill and housing loans which made this lifestyle possible, but it does not mean that successful middle class people of color did not exist at the time.

Sowing the Seeds of Counterculture[]

In reality, even white families struggled to obtain and later maintain this image of constant happiness, success, and tidy perfection that was promised to them by advertisers and pushed on them by the government through Social Guidance films. Adults turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, and the backlash against the status quo that was building in their children led to the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including but not limited to the feminist movement, the gay rights movement, and the Civil Rights movement. In summary, Western civilization in the 1950s was like a Mentos-filled coke bottle, waiting to pop. Even though families smiled and acted like everything was perfect, underneath the thin layer of prosperity was a cesspool of bigotry, mental health issues, and internalized rage and depression. That's why the 1950s is fascinating for so many people, and the subject of many paranormal or horror films, TV shows, or other works of media-- underneath those smiling faces and happy families were deep wounds that were never healed.

Philosophy[]

Some of the main philosophies and mindsets of people in 50s Suburbia were:

  • Family
  • Conformity
  • The American Dream
  • Consumerism
  • Materialism
  • Idealism
  • Religion
  • Nuclear Family
  • Traditional Gender Roles
  • Domestic Bliss
  • Cleanliness
  • Happiness
  • Humility
  • Patriotism
  • Normalcy

Subgenres[]

Tradwife[]

Women's fashion and gender expectations from this time period heavily influenced the Tradwife movement. Tradwife is a combination of the words traditional and wife. The aesthetic is considered anti-feminist, preferring women play their "traditional roles" of wives and mothers and built around submission to their husband as the breadwinner. The movement glorifies domestic tasks like cooking, baking, cleaning, and laundry. A major part of the aesthetic is pleasing the husband. There is also often an avoidance of feminism and the reality of what life was truly like in the 1950s, and some Tradwives carry extreme right-wing political views. While it always glorifies an idealized picture of the 1950s, some supporters (especially men) also glorify domestic violence under the guise of "keeping the wife in line.”

Tradwife Wojak

Tradwife Wojak, created in 2019 on 4chan.

In the past few years, the Tradwife idea has taken off on the internet, thanks to popularity through TikTok and Instagram. In 2019, an anonymous 4chan user posted an image of a blonde female "Wojak" in a floral dress, and she was labelled as the Trad Girl/Tradwife Wojak, and used in a series of stereotypical and often misogynistic memes.

On July 31st, 2021, the first post was made by the Instagram account @thetradwivesclub, an account centred around the modern day Tradwife life, mainly consisting of quotes and videos about what it is like to live the lifestyle. The Instagram Tradwife community is a fairly small community currently consisting of 25k followers, and while there are some comments under the posts disagreeing with the values that these modern day Tradwives represent, most of the comments are support for the movement and people that are following this lifestyle.

In 2023, the Tradwife lifestyle went viral again thanks to 25-year-old Tradwife influencer Estee Williams, who traded a life of athleticism for the new Tradwife lifestyle, and now uploads videos about traditional housewife values, cooking, and homemaking tips. In one of her most viral videos, she makes the point that she believes that a woman's place is at home, not out in the workforce, which was obviously met with major criticism. As well as Estee, some other notable Tradwife influencers are Cynthia Loewen, and Alena Kate Pettitt, who runs a business called The Darling Academy, which is a business centred around the values of being a Tradwife, and sells books about etiquette and femininity.

Visuals[]

Many illustrations of 50s Suburbia are part of American Kitsch. Much of the imagery is woman centric, since men were assumed to be at work during the week.

  • Pastel colored pre-fab house (short for pre-fabricated, a house which was built on an assembly line and could be constructed quickly)
  • White picket fences
  • Perfectly manicured lawns
  • Vintage cola ads
  • Women wearing aprons over fancy dresses with high heels and pearl necklaces
  • Women cleaning or cooking food
  • Children playing baseball
  • Children playing with strictly gendered toys, such as girls playing with stoves
  • Children running after ice cream trucks
  • Men putting on suits and preparing to leave for work
  • Men washing their cars on their driveways
  • Men cooking food with barbecue grills
  • Fast food like hamburgers, milkshakes, and hot dogs
  • Clean and shiny 1950s-era cars (Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Fords)
  • Retro small kitchen appliances like blenders and toasters, often in matching colors
  • Retro stoves and refrigerators
  • Retro technology like black and white televisions and record players
  • Drive-in theaters
  • Family gatherings
  • Lawn sprinklers
  • Kids riding bikes, playing catch on the lawn, and walking to school in a peaceful neighborhood

Fashion[]

Women[]

  • Full circle, knee-length or tea-length skirts
  • Dresses with circle skirts
  • Nipped waistlines / hourglass figure
  • Blouses
  • Pearls, necklaces, earrings and brooches
  • Gloves (often fabric or lace, reaching just past the wrist)
  • Pencil skirts
  • Hats, mainly pillbox hats or wide-brimmed sun hats
  • Tied headscarves
  • Heeled pumps and slingback shoes
  • A small purse
  • Aprons
  • Bouffant hair, often in a bob about shoulder length
  • Elegant, natural makeup

Men[]

  • Suits (often charcoal grey, navy or black)
  • Ties, bow ties and ascots
  • Button-up shirts, often in white or light colors
  • Pleated slacks or high-waisted trousers, often worn with a belt
  • Vests (added to suits)
  • Hats (mainly fedoras, trilby hats and newsboy caps
  • Suspenders could often be work in place of a belt
  • Polished oxford shoes
  • Briefcases
  • Slick-back or quiffed hair

Stores[]

Home Decor[]

Stores[]

Music[]

Artists[]

  • Andy Williams
  • Bobby Darin
  • The Del-Vikings
  • The Monotones
  • Skeeter Davis
  • Wanda Jackson
  • Elvis Presley
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Perry Como
  • The Everly Brothers
  • Pat Boone
  • Doris Day
  • The Platters
  • Ray Charles
  • Buddy Holly
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Chordettes
  • Dean Martin

Songs[]

  • Sweet Nothin’s by Brenda Lee
  • Hallelujah I Love Her So by Ray Charles
  • Earth Angel by The Penguins
  • You’re Gonna Miss Me by Connie Francis
  • All I Have To Do Is Dream by The Everly Brothers
  • A Teenager In Love by Dion & The Belmonts
  • Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
  • In The Still Of The Night by The Five Satins
  • La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
  • Walkin’ After Midnight by Patsy Cline
  • Put Your Head on My Shoulder by Paul Anka
  • Only You (And You Alone) by The Platters
  • I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos
  • Tequila by The Champs
  • Yakety Yak by The Coasters
  • Stand By Me by Ben E King

Playlists[]

Media[]

Books[]

  • Dick and Jane readers
  • Beezus and Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

TV Shows[]

  • I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
  • Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966)
  • Father Knows Best (1954-1960)
  • The Honeymooners (1955-1956)
  • Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963)
  • The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966)
  • The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
  • Happy Days (1974-1984)
  • Why Women Kill (2019-2021)
  • Wandavision (2021)

Movies[]

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • Peyton Place (1957)
  • The Last Picture Show (1971)
  • Parents (1989) (TW: cannibalism)
  • Pleasantville (1998)
  • The Truman Show (1998)
  • Far From Heaven (2002)
  • Revolutionary Road (2008)
  • Suburbicon (2017)

Games[]

  • Fallout series

Pinterest Boards[]

Footage[]

Gallery[]

References[]

https://www.netinfluencer.com/trad-wife-phenomenon/

https://katiecouric.com/entertainment/what-is-a-tradwife/#:~:text=What%20is%20a%20tradwife%3F,and%20mother%2C%E2%80%9D%20Piazza%20says.

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