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Memory Kits: Fads of the 1950s

Memory kits are for people with dementia, memory loss, or cognitive impairment. They are intended to stimulate conversation or reminiscence with a person with cognitive issues

Fads of the 1950s

Hula Hoop


Humans have been hula hooping for hundreds of years. During the first half of the 20th century, the best way to see someone use a hula hoop was to watch Chinese acrobats twirl multiple hoops on their arms, legs and torsos. Then, in 1958, Wham-O toy company founders Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin saw the potential in the humble hoop and began to mass-market a 40-in. version made of colorful plastic tubing. Thanks to a savvy marketing campaign, 25 million hoops were sold within a few months of the product's launch; the hula hoop craze was off and looping, with kids all over America spinning hoops around their hips and waists. Hula hooping teens became an iconic image of the 1950s, and the fad grew when Wham-O began manufacturing a smaller version of the hoop for the younger set. While the hula hoop never went away, it has had a bit of a revival in the past five years with popular hoop fitness classes. You can even hire a personal hula hoop trainer.,28804,2049243_2048654_2049245,00.html; accessed October 21, 2022.

The Chipmunks


Alvin and the Chipmunks, originally David Seville and the Chipmunks or simply The Chipmunks, are an American animated virtual band and media franchise created by Ross Bagdasarian for a novelty record in 1958. The group consists of three singing animated anthropomorphic chipmunks named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. They are managed by their human adoptive father, David "Dave" Seville.

Bagdasarian provided the group's voices sped up to create high-pitched squeaky voices (which wasn't entirely new to him; having worked on "Witch Doctor" earned the record two Grammy Awards for engineering).

"The Chipmunk Song" became a number-one single in the United States. After Bagdasarian died in 1972, the characters' voices were provided by his son Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and the latter's wife Janice Karman in the subsequent incarnations of the 1980s and 1990s.

A CGI-animated TV series reboot, titled ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks, premiered on Nickelodeon on August 3, 2015. In 2019, The Chipmunks received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Through the successful franchise, the Chipmunks have become one of the most successful children's artists of all time. It has garnered two number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and won five Grammy Awards, having four Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 and three certified platinum albums. "The Chipmunk Song" became one of the best-selling singles of all time at 5 million physical copies sold.; accessed October 21, 2022.

Image:; October 21, 2022.

Poodle Skirts


When rock 'n' roll music exploded onto the social scene of the 1950s, dancers wanted nonrestrictive clothing that would allow them to move more freely to the beat. This unleashed one of the most memorable fashion fads of the era: the poodle skirt.

The poodle skirt was a colorful, full, swingy skirt that typically hit just below the knee. It was commonly made of felt fabric and appliquéd with an image of a poodle, hence the name. Other iconic images of the era, like 45 rpm records, dice, hot rods and musical notes, also appeared on the skirts. They were easily constructed following a simple pattern, and many variations included a crinoline net petticoat that gave the skirt its signature swish [source: Cox].

Girls often paired poodle skirts with sweaters, neck scarves, cuffed white bobby socks and saddle oxfords to create a casual, comfortable outfit and the iconic expression of '50s femininity and personal style. Even today, no self respecting Halloween party would be complete without at least one.; accessed October 7, 2022.

Image:; accessed October 7, 2022.

The Twist


'A number of popular dances swept through the sock hops and soda fountain dance floors of the 1950s, including the hand jive, the stroll and the box-step. But it's fair to say that no dance fad captured the fancy of that era's teens quite like the Twist.

The Twist, though associated with the era, actually came late to the party: It originated in a Hank Ballard song in 1959, but didn't capture the spotlight until 1960, when music juggernaut Dick Clark released a recording of it by 17-year-old singer Chubby Checker. The rest, as they say, is history: Checker performed the song on Clark's show "American Bandstand," and it shot to the tops of both American and British charts.

The song proved to be a star-maker for Checker, who went on to star in Twist-themed movies and release a follow-up single, "Let's Twist Again," which earned him a Grammy. The original song was re-released in 1962 for a second round of pop success, and dancers born decades after the song's release are still apt to break into its signature moves when the classic comes on the radio [source: Botsch].'; accessed October 7, 2022.

Image:; accessed October 7, 2022.

Barbie Dolls


Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler created history's most famous teenager after watching her daughter Barbara play with her paper dolls. In 1959, Handler decided to create a three-dimensional, grownup fashion doll for young girls to play with. She named the doll Barbie after her daughter; sales soared, making Barbie (and her vast collection of accessories) the best-selling fashion doll of all time. As the 1960s unfolded, criticism mounted of Barbie's unrealistic body shape. And in recent years, talking Barbies have gotten flak for saying things like, "Math class is tough." But as of late, Barbie has cleaned up her act, with a more realistic body shape, more modest clothing options and bolder career options, like doctor and computer engineer.,28804,2049243_2048654_2049141,00.html; accessed October 21, 2022.

Coonskin Caps


Many fads from the 1950s have tie-ins to media, and for good reason: Between the booming popularity of television and an increasingly mobile population hungry for entertainment, fads related to TV and movies had an open field in which to grow.

One fad from that era could be seen as the forefather of today's media-driven pop fads: For a few years at least, millions of postwar-era children wouldn't be caught dead outside without their prized coonskin hats on their heads.

The quirky hats replicated the one worn by actor Fess Parker in his role as frontier legend Davy Crockett in Disney's hit 1954 miniseries. The Frontierland series was part of the popular weekly show, "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," and it spawned an estimated $100 million worth of coonskin cap sales. The boom was an early example of the power of the then-novel concept of a TV product tie-in [source: The Fifties Web].

Modern TV watchers rarely -- if ever -- sport coonskin caps, but it's common to see viewers turn a popular sitcom actor's hairstyle or fashion statement into a consumer fad. Disney may have stumbled onto an unexpected pot of gold with Davy's coonskin cap, and it set a standard that's still very much alive today.; accessed October 11, 2022.

Image:; accessed October 11, 2022.


Sock Hop


'The typical high school dance of the 1950s was an informal, school-chaperoned event at which compliant teens removed their shoes and danced in their socks to protect the gymnasium floor. Nicknamed sock hops, these dances proved more than just a diversion for a generation of teens [source: 1950s Music].

A new style of rowdy pop music called rock 'n' roll, combined with the liberating freedom to remove their shoes while dancing, gave teens the inspiration to jitterbug, shake, rattle and roll in ways that went far beyond the dance moves from their parents' generation.

Teens quickly embraced early rock 'n' roll songs like Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" and Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock." Many rock 'n' roll musicians booked guest appearances on the televised dance show "American Bandstand," hosted by Dick Clark. Broadcast nationwide starting in 1957, the show featured teen dancers with the latest moves. Millions of avid viewers took what they saw back to school -- literally -- spreading even further the influence of these new forms of music and dance.'; accessed October 7, 2022.

Image:; accessed October 7, 2022.

3-D Movies


The 3-D boom of the 1950s may have saved the film industry. With television programs stealing audiences away from theaters at an alarming rate, studios of that era developed a unique movie experience that successfully coaxed viewers away from their living room sets.

The so-called golden era of 3-D films began with the release "Bwana Devil" in 1952, the first big box office success to use the technology. Other notable films of the era include Vincent Price's horror classic "House of Wax" (1953), "It Came From Outer Space"(1953) and "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954).

Using a technique called stereoscopic linear polarization, cameras filmed the action from two slightly different angles with filtered lenses. Theaters projected the films using two separate reels aimed at the screen. Viewers donned glasses with red-and-blue or red-and-green filters that merged the double image, making movies appear to jump off the screen.

In 1953, there were more than 5,000 theaters in the United States equipped to show 3-D movies. The fad went flat later in the decade when patrons complained of eye strain caused by poorly aligned projectors. Today's digital 3-D movies use new technology to overcome the problem, and the recent flood of 3-D films in theaters suggests that this fad is in the midst of a high-tech comeback [source: Stereoscopy].; accessed October 11, 2022.

Image:; accessed October 11, 2022.