American Bandstand

Like "American Idol" today, "American Bandstand" was wildly popular among TV viewers in the 1950s, '60s and beyond. The show went nationwide in August 1957, and within 6 months, it was broadcast on more than 100 stations with 20 million people regularly tuning in [source: Doyle]. "American Bandstand" helped increase adult acceptance of rock-and-roll music -- seeing the chaperoned dancing teens on daytime TV helped diminish the stigma attached to sock hops in many parents' minds. Dick Clark, the show's host, even put in live appearances at additional sock hops, sometimes attending more than two dozen a week.

The Music and the Fashions of the Sock Hop

In the 1950s, a variety of groundbreaking fashions burst onto the scene, and their popularity swept the nation. When teens planned to attend a sock hop, the girls would often suit up in sweaters and swirling circle skirts. The best remembered style today was the felt poodle skirt, first designed by Juli Lynne Charlot in 1947 [source: Bramlett]. Guys, meanwhile, would commonly sport jeans and T-shirts. Of course, subtle tweaks in the model could create a whole separate look, and teens could fall into social roles ranging from preppies to greasers.

Music was the other major defining characteristic of a sock hop. Rock-and-roll had recently surged into the mainstream -- the first use of the term in its modern context had allegedly been in Cleveland in 1951 by disc jockey Alan Freed -- and many teens quickly became obsessed fans of the new sounds. With the upsurge in television ownership and shows like "American Bandstand," teens took to rock-and-roll music en masse.

At sock hops, teens might dance -- and even dally with -- a date, or simply dance in a group. That was the beauty of the informal setting. But sock hops were more than just simple school dances. They signified a changing tide in the culture of teens. More about that on the next page.