Britain and its cultural revolution in the 1950s
The 1950s were a turning point for British culture. Beginning with Labour’s defeat by the Conservative Party in 1951 General Election, with their slogan “Set the people free,” a change occurred from state control to increased individual freedom. No more rationing, more commodities. This is when the youth challenged old social and cultural structures and a period of increased affluence and freedom was taking form. After the war, people needed change, people needed a dream to look forward to, a new and vibrant life to live.
One has to look towards the United States to understand this change because the American life had become a sight of inspiration to the British public. American culture was emerging from the media; Hollywood movies, commercial television, glossy magazines and consumer goods were everywhere. There was no better time for Britain to want this than the post-war austerity mindset that the country was living in. Even though the British establishment defined the American capitalist system as a threat to the old cultural stability, it was the new era emerging: a worldwide economic boom, massive productions and consumptions.
After the war, the rate of unemployment was at a very low stage and people had enough money to invest. They were looking for a brighter future in order to leave behind the atrocities of war. America was offering what the people not only wanted but also needed it. With more money, more goods, and people expected to have these goods such as televisions, refrigerators, music system and cars. While these were seen as luxury goods before the war, after they became a necessity, and because of the mass production, these were available to the public for a far more appealing cost. As an example of the developed spending power and the mass production of goods, car ownership rose by 250% between 1950 and 1960.
Now imagine the retail departments. Style and design were going through the “contemporary” era and fashion was developing as fast as other industries. While before the fifties the clothes and accessories were used just as simple clothes, after the war these were seen as statements of uniqueness, of originality, of freedom of expression. These were the times when women and men had the opportunity to express themselves leading the way to the liberties of the sixties.