1950s Greasers: Styles, Trends, History & Pictures

Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953)

Sometime around 1950 a motorcycle club in a small town in California gripped filmmaker Stanley Kramer’s imagination. It inspired him to make a film in 1953 called “The Wild One”, which starred Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin as two crazy bikers who terrorize a small town.

Their uniform and motorcycles rejected society’s accepted norms. The loud motorbikes, the short, black leather flight jackets, the jeans and white t-shirts all became the symbol style for anyone called a “greaser.”

It is important to note the slight military/police look that greasers went for. Although they tried to dress as anti-authority as possible for the times, it is ironic that they chose clothing that was worn by authority figures to express their defiance.

Two more films, “On the Waterfront” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” brought the greaser look further into the forefront.

“On the Waterfront,” once again starring Marlon Brando, featured denim jackets, jeans and plaid shirt sans tie.

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James Dean, who suffered an untimely death in 1955, became in international cult sensation with his look. Swept-up hair, jeans and leather jacket defined the look of a rebellious teenager who felt misunderstood by his parents.

Pictures of 1950s Greasers

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4 thoughts on “1950s Greasers: Styles, Trends, History & Pictures

  1. jamie

    I remember when i was growing up in the 50’s I always wore dresses with a perfect circle bottom.

    Reply
  2. Jim

    Great site!

    A couple of points though;

    ‘Greasers’ was a term of the late ’60s and ’70s and not the ’50s.

    James Dean’s look in ‘Rebel’ utilised what we call in the UK a ‘Harrington’ jacket and not a ‘bikers’ jacket. He’s also as often seen in a sports coat, shirt and trousers in the film as he is in t-shirt, jacket and jeans. JD did wear a flying jacket when riding his motorcycle in his personal life.

    The bulk of bikers in the early ’50s were ex-servicemen (Korea & WWII) who struggled to adapt to civilian life and were mostly in their 20s and 30s. They wore ex-military surplus because they often had them anyway and replacements were cheap to buy from surplus stores.

    The Marlon Brando film popularised the ‘look’ leading to Elvis, JD and others growing sideburns and wearing ‘biker’ jackets with their t-shirts and jeans… although it was the car which became the iconic ’50s teen transport… you couldn’t get a date to go out with you on a motorcycle!

    Reply
    1. Lynn

      Jim. NOPE SORRY. I was in high school at Van Nuys in Los Angeles in the 50s. I WAS a GREASER.
      Harleys, Triumps, and BSA motorcycles were the bike of choice. Even the Hells Angels were in LA at the time.

      Reply
  3. Dave C

    i remember a movie i saw in the UK in 1957 about a group of young men riding mostly 650 Triumph bikes in the desert, The plot far as i remember was a newcomer that encounters the group and becomes invoked riding with them.
    I recall one scene only where the group leader tells the newbie that their sport is where one rider takes off and the other try to catch him, there may have been a reference to hare and hounds. I don’t recall it as a violent movie.
    At that time i was 16 and waiting delivery of my first bike, a Triumph T20T, the movie aroused my interest in So Ca and desert riding, i made it here in ’65 and stayed, spent many happy weekends in the local deserts and mountains on a variety of bikes.
    I can find no info on that movie, i have searched several times on likely sites with no success, possibly the riders were Ekins and Mulder but find no reference to a movie like that in the lists of movies that they may have featured in.
    I would enjoy watching it again if i could find it.

    Reply

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Last modified: Aug 28, 2015 | Written by Paul Phipps