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Sock Hops of the 1950s – What Were They?

Miz Bejabbers is a child of the '50s and writes this article from personal experience.

Look Ma, No Shoes!

necessity-created-the-sock-hop-in-the-1950s

A Very Popular Past Time for Teenagers

A wise man once said that necessity was the mother of invention. If that is so, the sock hop had to have been a brainchild born of necessity. The sock hop was a social dance originating in the 1950s, usually put on by school groups, in which no shoes were worn on the dance floor. The dancers danced in their socks. The original sock hops were held in gymnasiums where street shoes were forbidden. Even tennis shoes were not allowed because someone invariably would sneak in wearing conventional shoes and scratch the hardwood floor. Chaperones were often the worst culprits of all, so even they were required to wear socks unless they observed from the bleachers.

There is very little written on the history of the sock hop of the 1950s, and most of it is from someone’s imagination. The writings center on being hip, preppys, greasers, saddle oxfords, and other things someone read in a book. One wrongly held view is that kids held sock hops because they could do the twist better in socks. Sorry, but we never heard of the twist in the 50s and Chubby Checker and his version didn’t come along until the 1960s, after the sock hop became popular. So let's dispel that notion right now!

No one seems to know exactly who originated it or where, but it probably began in small towns or perhaps even suburbs without community centers or good places for teens to congregate and dance. At least that’s why my friends and I sock hopped.

Chubby Checker: Still Going Strong After All These Years

Chubby Checker wows the crowd at a concert in Philadelphia in 2009. I know, I was there and took this photo in person.

Chubby Checker wows the crowd at a concert in Philadelphia in 2009. I know, I was there and took this photo in person.

Our Dress Code Was Understood

Dress was simple. It was basically a come-as-you-are party in our school clothes. Guys dressed in clean jeans and shirts or tee shirts. Girls wore their mid-calf skirts with lots and lots of petticoats that looked cool swirling on the dance floor, or they wore jeans. A big fad for girls at the time was wearing their daddy’s white shirts, so sometimes a group of girls would decide to dress in jeans and their father’s shirts, which, unless the girl was tall, hung down to her knees like a dress.

Poodle skirts weren’t much of a thing to us because they weren’t that easily obtained in the rural South. A few girls bought them in Little Rock or Memphis and wore them. Oh, and the jeans—Levis were our “designer jeans.” They were still affordable at $2.98 a pair, while off-brands could be bought at $1.98 a pair. No self-respecting teenager of the 50s would show up wearing off-brand jeans, not even Lees. Levis made ladies jeans that were fitted at the waist, but that wasn't cool. Jeans had to fit low on our hip bones. We wore boys jeans and we wore 'em skin-tight. My mother claimed that we girls "looked like we'd been melted and poured into our jeans."

Guys wore their regular white socks, but bobby sox were a must for the girls, in white, of course. Bobby sox were long, to-the-knee socks that were folded down three times to make a thick roll at the ankles. Plain anklets simply weren’t hip. The saddle oxford phase was over by then, although they never went completely out of style. Pat Boone had popularized white bucks, so we preferred oxfords or penny loafers of white buck like our idol. Shoes were removed at the door, and there was always a scramble for shoes in a pile of white bucks after the dance was over. It was advantageous to wear unfashionable colored shoes because they were easier to find.

Small-Town Fun for Young People

My small town of 5,000 was typical of a sock hop town. There was no community center, and if we wanted to go outside the school to hold a dance, most places charged a rental fee that we kids couldn’t afford. Our very special dances and proms were held at the Country Club, while the Episcopal Church Parish house graciously allowed us to hold others. Either place had to be reserved months in advance. We usually could talk our principal into lending us the gymnasium with no more than one or two weeks’ notice as long as it was available and we obeyed the rules.

The rules were simple:

1. No shoes on the gym floor, socks only, and that included chaperones.

2. No smoking in the gym.

3. No drinking alcoholic beverages.

4. Respect the chaperones.

5. Everyone in school was invited.

Sock hops were usually held in cold weather when boredom set in, although there were other times like spring and early fall. Someone would beg the principal’s permission, an unofficial committee would set a date, and then came the task of finding sponsors or chaperones, Sometimes that was done in reverse order. It was easier to convince the principal when he knew enough parents were willing to chaperone. Our high school of 300 students usually had no more than 50 to 75 to show up, so we needed no more than a half dozen chaperones. There were usually a couple of teachers willing to sacrifice a Friday or Saturday night, and we had our choice of enough parents willing to help.

Someone, usually two or three interested students, would make poster board signs and place them in strategic areas around the school announcing the date. Then excited students would talk up the sock hop in the halls:

“Are you going Friday night?”

“Oh yeah, wouldn’t miss it!”

"Be there or be square!"

Dates were lined up, but it was okay to come single because there would be lots of others of the opposite sex without dates, too.

Fan Photo from My Personal File of 1958

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Music

Music was provided by one of the students who had a phonograph and a good collection of 45s. Other students would lend their 45s also, and a sorting and claiming of the records occurred following the dance. The owner of the phonograph usually insisted on being in charge of the music and was aided by best friends who kept the requested records ready to go. A sock hop could not be held without Elvis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino to rock ‘n roll and Connie Francis and Pat Boone for slow dancing. Cries of “play something by Elvis!” or “how ‘bout Long Tall Sally?” rang out. “Rock around the clock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Blueberry Hill” were all favorites, too.

I don't recall a real disk jockey ever hosting a sock hop. I won't say that it never happened, but the days of the hired DJs came later, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then the presence of DJs was mostly in night clubs that served alcoholic beverages, and they transitioned into the discos of the 1970s. Yours truly, at one time, spent Saturday nights as a DJ at a disco lounge at one of the local Holiday Inns in Little Rock. But I digress, so let's get back to the sock hops.

From My Radio Days

Fats Domino personally autographed a copy of this fan photo for me at a concert in Lubbock, Texas, in 1962. I hope I still have it packed away somewhere.

Fats Domino personally autographed a copy of this fan photo for me at a concert in Lubbock, Texas, in 1962. I hope I still have it packed away somewhere.

Today's Look at Steve's Show

We Learned to Dance from Watching TV

It’s hard for me to even remember the names of the dances we did, in fact, we didn’t know the names of most of the dance steps. We watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and a local channel show from Little Rock called, “Steve’s Show” and imitated the dances we saw. The names of the dances came later.

I do recall one very popular dance movement at our sock hops because only the most foolish girl would attempt it in heels. After getting a good momentum going, the boy would cross the girl’s arms and then swing her head over heels over his left shoulder. Then, if the movement was properly executed, she would land on her feet, he would release one hand and swing her around to face him. It was a very athletic move still popular today in ice dancing. Since I weighed less than 90 pounds soaking wet, I was usually one of the girls chosen for this step. I don’t recall ever having an accident, but a couple of times I do remember a girl landing on her fanny and pulling her partner over backwards. The couple would land in an embarrassing pile on the floor.

Sock Hops Allowed Stress-Free Mingling

The sock hop was popular also because the anxiety and nervousness of the formal dance was not present. Girls danced freely in socks and didn't suffer achy feet or sprained ankles from high heels, and boys didn’t have to wear what they called their “monkey suits.” It was acceptable to snatch up a parent or a teacher to dance as long as the subject was willing to rock ‘n roll. Cuddling a mother or the algebra teacher in a slow dance was not socially acceptable, but I doubt that anyone would have wanted to.

Gosh, this brings back the memories. Dang, I’m old!

Did You Know What A Sock Hop Was?

© 2012 Doris James MizBejabbers

Comments

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on November 27, 2019:

Hi, Ozzie, those really were great memories, weren't they? Glad to hear from you!

Ozzie1950 on November 26, 2019:

Thanks for the meories about sock hops.I grew up in Dallas and as a teenager age 13 in 1963 I remember the sock hops well from the gym they were a lot of fun.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on November 13, 2019:

Wow, Bob! You may still have a 78 of that song? What a real treasure! A nerd with two left feet, huh? I'll bet you had all the girls blushing over you. I'm glad to hear from you. Thanks for the comment.

Bob Davis on November 13, 2019:

Never went to a sock hop as a teenager, but I was somewhat of a nerd with two left feet. The term was familiar, and there was even a record "Dancing in My Socks" by Bonnie Lou on the King label. I may still have a 78 RPM copy of that number.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on November 10, 2019:

Ronnie, thank you so much for your descriptive comment. What fun! I would love to see you write a full hub on this. I encourage you to write some hubs and ramble on about growing up in the 50s. (If you do, please email me so I won't miss it.)

Our proms and formal dances were held in the Parish House of the Episcopal Church because we didn't have anywhere else at school to dance in shoes. They were still considered "school" dances. Perhaps it sounds strange, but that local church was really into youth affairs, although the rector didn't have school age children. Our school was very strict about those gym floors because basketball was taken seriously. Thanks again, and come back anytime.

Ronnie Gunter on November 10, 2019:

My small town in south central NC was fortunate enough to have a WWII glider base built about 5 miles east of town. There was an even smaller town about 2 miles the other side of the base. As a consequence, each town had a leftover canteen that served as a community center where we held the majority of our dances. Being so lose to Myrtle Beach, EVERYONE for miles around danced The Shag. We still have what my wife used to unkindly refer to as “the shag reunion” every couple of years. She refused to learn it because she thought it was a “male chauvinist pig” dance. She was correct, but since it was the dance we all did, the girls did their part also, BTW, leather soled shoes are a basic requirement for doing that dance. We only used our school gym for proms. We were allowed to keep our shoes on, though. Maybe because there was a whole summer to repolish the floor. I don’t know. I could ramble on forever about growing up in the south in the 50’s.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on August 23, 2018:

-Indeed we do, Paula. I love this community because we (most of us) are so congenial. I don't belong to any local writer's groups because those here are made up of snobs.

Suzie from Carson City on August 22, 2018:

Quite true, MzB....but I am so grateful for all my Hub Buddies...and feel a bond even though we've not met in person. IMHO, what we all have is that "writer's connection," which is stronger than your average online acquaintance. We each have a muse with heart & soul like no others !!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on August 22, 2018:

I love your comment, Paula. I agree, but I'm really glad to have met you through this website. I doubt that we would have ever got to meet in person, Girlfriend.

Suzie from Carson City on August 22, 2018:

Oh My Gosh!! My former classmates and I from the '50's-'60's ALSO meet as a group for lunch and conversation, about every 3 months or so!! You know, MzB, I believe our small town bonds from our era have lasted half a century because we actually & LITERALLY interacted with one another!! We spoke face to face...NOT via facebook........we visited and chatted on our front porches....not sitting in front of a screen. We truly shared our lives......not just our "profiles." We actually had the nerve to touch one another and hold hands......we didn't SEND "likes & dislikes" through the airwaves....

There's nothing like personal relationships IN PERSON. never has been. never will be.

I'm forever grateful I am a proud and devoted BOOMER!!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on August 22, 2018:

Thank you, Sweet Paula. Just trying to redo it using today's HP requirement. Weren't sock hops fun! Our little town of 4,500 was poor and still trying to recover from WWII in the 1950s, so there was a lot of improvisation going on among teenagers. Socializing with our friends...now those were the days. We laughed, we loved, and we were interested in each other as people, not just numbers on social media sites. Like you, I still treasure those days. We have a group of us oldies from school in the 50s and early 60s who occasionally get together for lunch in our capital city. I'm happy to say that we still feel the bond. Thanks for your version of the walk down Memory Lane."

Suzie from Carson City on August 22, 2018:

MzB....Glad this article of yours has been recycled. "Sock Hops," what a blast from the past. Those were great times and as I look back, I realize just how carefree & innocent we all were. I don't think I ever missed a single dance. Our wardrobes, the music (I still love it today) & the socializing with our friends, all of it such a vital part of our youth & how we bonded.

Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane. Paula

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on August 21, 2018:

Right, Katherine, you should. We all have stories to tell. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on August 20, 2018:

Thanks MizBejabbers. I always wondered what a sock hop was! This is such a fun and great article!

I should write about my high school days which were a kind of daze in which I mostly waited for crazy summers. :-)

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on December 05, 2017:

Jean, your high school had nearly as many students as the population of my small town. We had less than 5,000 in the whole town while I was in school. I was just a rural kid.

I have to agree with your son. I find this prom extravagance for today's spoiled darlings disgusting. Maybe when I get the chance I'll do a hub about our own prom customs and show today's kids how "deprived" we were. We didn't even call it a "prom" then. I think that term caught on in our town after an influx of Northerners moved in during the 1970s when the town got several new factories during the Vietnam War. The population swelled to more than 10,000, then too.

I'm really glad you stopped by and read my article. Even gladder that you commented. Thanks!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on December 05, 2017:

Skyster, "sock hopped" became a verb when I decided to make it one. After all, people coin verbs from nouns all the time and they become buzzwords, so why not me! And what's funny, I didn't notice that I did it; it came so natural to me. We all did it. Yep, there are plenty of regional differences. I doubt if we ever used the word "shoes" unless we were wailing "mom, I can't find my shoes." Kind of like we say "wanna coke?" If the answer is "yes," we say "what kind", co-cola or RC? Maybe even a big orange. I was corrected once for using the colloquial spelling of "Hillbillys" (hillbillies) in a vernacular article. Imagine that!

Thank you for reading and commenting. P.S. As a Southerner, I find your question amusing. Come back any time.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on December 04, 2017:

I came from a HS that had 3,000 kids in it, and couldn't even fit the Freshman class until it was enlarged to accommodate the baby boomers. Now that I see kids spending hundreds of dollars on proms, to get their hair, mani pedis, expensive gowns, limos, etc. I think the old fashioned proms should come back and be held in the gym. My son is a teacher and once discussed how if you think prom night is the best night of your life more than two or three weeks later, you are doing something wrong!

Skyster on December 04, 2017:

Please! You sock hopped! When did sock hop become a verb?

Seriously, I remember the dances at our school that were put on by the PTA. Unless you were “going steady” you never wanted a date. The fun was in meeting new boys and perhaps ending up in a group at the local XXX. For those who don’t know of them, XXX (or triple X) were drive-ins with car-hops, NOT porno spots!

BTW in the north we wore saddle shoes not saddle oxfords. Love regional differences.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 13, 2016:

What fun! I didn't know they were still around then, Jean. I remember when saddle oxfords rolled back around in the 1970s. I always wanted a poodle skirt, but I never could find one tiny enough for me. I was the smallest girl in my high school. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 12, 2016:

I used to go to sock hops in the 1970s, they were still popular with the greaser set, guys who loved to tinker with cars. Most of the girls wore saddle shoes though. The woman who later became my Mother in law had a poodle skirt I used to borrow, and some girls wore cheerleader outfits. They were so much fun, and a lot of the music was so upbeat (a few slow, romantic songs too).

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on February 04, 2016:

So sorry I didn't see this. I was recuperating from surgery. Fashion trends do get recycled. I'm wearing very fashionable earrings now that I bought back in the 60s and 70s. Thanks for your cool comment.

Lana Adler from California on January 06, 2016:

It's funny how fashion trends get recycled...low rise jeans became popular again, and poodle skirts are considered very retro chic now. Thanks for that fun trip to the 50s, so cool!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 16, 2015:

So you know ... That's great. We really had fun, didn't we! Thanks for the read and comment.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 16, 2015:

I went to high school in a small town in Illinois in the late 1950s. A sock hop would follow a basketball game in the gymnasium.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on June 05, 2013:

Phyllis, oh boy, weren't they fun! We met our friends, flirted with the opposite sex and just had a grand time. Thank you for the memories and the awesome votes!

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on June 04, 2013:

Ohhhh myyyyy gosh! Do I ever have memories of the sock hops. Our junior high school had at least one sock hop a month. Not only was it fun and affordable, but kept teens off the streets.

Thank you, MizBefabbers, for this wonderful hub packed with golden memories.

Voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting.

Cat from New York on April 17, 2013:

MizBejabbers,

Knowing what I know of you... it probably won't ;-)

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 17, 2013:

Thanks, I'm just waitin' for mine to slow down.

Cat from New York on April 17, 2013:

MizBejabbers,

Hey, now that's now way to talk ;-)

You're a ball of fire and look at what you have to share with others!

At least the first half of your life was exciting... I'm hangin' on waiting for mine to start... the clocks ticking! :-)

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 17, 2013:

Thanks, at least the first half of my life was exciting.

Cat from New York on April 16, 2013:

MizBejabbers,

The stories you must have... I'd love to be a fly on your wall :-)

Cat

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 16, 2013:

Yes, C. I kind of miss those days. I love the Beach Boys, but I've never had the opportunity to see them live. Taking that photo of Chubby in Philly in 2009 really brought back old memories. A few years ago, I saw a band in Little Rock that was a composite of some big names, including Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh, but I didn't get to meet them. It was great fun. I miss those days. By the way, I never met Elvis, but he drove a truck for my father-in-law's business in Memphis at one time. Thanks again.

Cat from New York on April 15, 2013:

MizBejabbers,

How cool the people you've had the opportunity to meet! My first concert was the Beach Boys... I was about 20 and most people my age didn't even know who they were :-) Other than that, I can count famous people that I've been in the same room with on about 2 fingers.

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 15, 2013:

Yes, there was a lot of innocent fun back then. No drugs, but sometimes the boys got in trouble for drinking. Notice I said "boys" because we girls didn't drink. Dick Clark was one of our favorites, of course. I met him in person in Lubbock, Texas, many years ago. I wish I had an autographed photo of him, but I don't think I got one. I"ve misplaced my box of photos and autographs, and I can't remember. Thanks for your wonderful comment and vote.

Cat from New York on April 13, 2013:

MizBejabbers,

This is great! I've always said that I must've lived a previous life in this era or I should've been born then; there is just something about that time and place that I connect with. I love anything 50's and 60's and that material is getting harder and harder to come by. I grew up on records and 8-tracks so I have a huge appreciate for the music of that time. Your pictures are great; I'm envious... the things you must have seen! I'm so glad to see you debunk inaccurate accounts of Sock Hops! Dick Clark was born, raised, went to college, and worked in radio and TV minutes from where I was born and raised.

What I wouldn't give to have days like this come back. Throw away most of our technology, hang out in malt shops, spend Sundays with our families and attend Sock Hops!

Voted up, Awesome and Interesting!

Cat

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on February 12, 2013:

Glad you like it AJ. It was fun, and back then I kept a 20 inch waistline. All the girls had wasp waists then, and a lot of it probably was from dancing.

AJ Long from Pennsylvania on February 11, 2013:

MizBejabbers--"Thank you, thank you very much!" Love this Hub! This was before my time but it sounds like great fun! Twistin' your way down memory lane is bittersweet. When we had dances, it was in our socks and shoes--in the school cafeteria or our friends basements and the moms yellin' down the steps, "Turn those lights back on!" :0) Sigh...compared to today, those were innocent times. Again I say, "Thank you, thank you very much!"

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on December 30, 2012:

Thanks, friend Bill, they really were neat and a lot of fun. Back then the gym floors were varnished with gym seal, which scuffed easily, so we had to take off our shoe. I especially enjoyed the "over the shoulder move" and that probably the only time in my life I enjoyed being a tiny person. Sock hops were also the only advantage I could think of as a teen ager living in a small town.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 27, 2012:

It does bring back memories and dang, I'm old too! LOL I grew up in a city of 100,000, and sock hops were not as plentiful there. I did attend a couple out in the country, and they were a blast. Exciting times then as the 50's gave way to the 60's and then all hell broke loose. :) Great hub which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on July 25, 2012:

Wow, you went to one in the 80s! Neat! I don't know if the kids still have them or not. I haven't heard of any, but my kids are grown. Thanks for stopping by.

Ciel Clark from USA on July 20, 2012:

I was just about to ask questions about sock hops, but you answered most of them. Great hub! I remember going to a sock hop as a teen in the 80s, and wondering why. Still not totally sure. Do they have them anymore?

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on May 07, 2012:

Thanks for the vote up, Kashmir56. The good old days were a lot of fun, and a heckuvalot safer for young people! Be seeing you around!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on May 04, 2012:

Hi MizBejabbers,I really enjoy reading this hub it sure did bring back memories of the good old days.Sock hops were a lot of fun,dancing and listen to the latest hits .

Vote up and more !!!

Doris James MizBejabbers (author) from Beautiful South on April 27, 2012:

Thank you! I enjoyed writing it. I was so surprised to find that there really is no real information on the web about sock hops, so I thought I'd add my two cent's worth from my memories. And thanks for the UP!

Suzie from Carson City on April 27, 2012:

MizBejabbers....Thank you so much for such a wonderful and FUN walk down Memory Lane. I may not have come into full bloom until the '60's....but I had an older sister I was very close with and so....I was somewhat of a "tag-along", always under her feet and looking up to her, being in awe of her and her "friends."

I may have only participated as part of the audience, but I remember it well. She taught me to "jitterbug" and she was simply the BEST big sister! I loved his hub for more than one reason!! UP+++