Many of us will be jetting off into the sun this summer for our holidays or maybe you’re jumping on the revival of the ‘staycation’? Our holidays wouldn’t be what they are today without the 1950s and 1960s, an era that saw the introduction of paid annual leave in 1938 create a boom in the British tourism industry and where the first passenger jet plane took off in 1952.
Films like Dirty Dancing, set in a 1950s holiday camp in America, and the Carry On films which included many holiday-themed settings have helped to cement it as the era of classic family holidays.
So if you’re feeling nostalgic for the great British holiday, or hoping to inject a little vintage spirit into yours this year, here’s the low down on what it was like…
Flying was a luxury
Though air travel for the public had finally taken off, it was very expensive and considered quite a luxury. The world’s top designer were behind the look of the plane and the stewardesses outfits, including Emilio Pucci and Oleg Cassini. You could expect plenty of legroom for your buck too, with most economy cabins giving you a similar amount of space as business class does today. But, a long haul flight could be arduous without in-flight entertainment and instead of handing out earphones, you’d be handed postcards to write, perhaps depicting the airplane or the meal you’d be served on it, to keep you entertained for all of 15 minutes. You’d also be served as much alcohol as you could consume, another popular way to pass the time, and smoking was permitted.
Holiday camps were all the rage
Whilst camps like Butlins and Pontins first began opening in the 1930s and 1940s, they were hugely popular in the post-war years and continued to be a yearly highlight for many families until the era of the jumbo jet took over in the 1970s. They promised an affordable package of entertainment for everyone from knobbly knees contests, to tombolas, fairground rides and magic shows. The emphasis was very much on a communal experience with coach trips to take families there together and shared dining halls once you arrived.
Caravans became the hot new trend
This rise in popularity of the caravan in the 1960s was largely due to the rise in car-ownership as it became more affordable. They were often very cramped with no toilet, no running water and the only power source came from gas at the campsites, even the lights were sometimes powered by gas. Still, there was great freedom for caravanners who were largely free to pitch up anywhere, unlike today.
The seaside was the most popular destination
Before holidays abroad became de rigueur, most families took their holidays by the seaside. Holiday camps were traditionally situated by beaches, driving tourists to places like Skegness, Bognor Regis, Blackpool and Barry Island. Many other people chose to stay with relatives who lived by the coast or in guest houses and B&Bs. Day trips also became more common with more people having access to a car and visitor numbers to the British coast were at a peak they’ve not matched since. If you think the beach is crowded now, in the 1950s, Blackpool was attracting 17 million visitors a year.
Many of the traditional Victorian piers were repaired and refurbished after the war for tourists to enjoy once more. Many of the traditional Victorian activities were popular too such as donkey rides, penny arcades and Punch & Judy shows.
The fashion looks just as good now as it did back then
We couldn’t resist diving into the fashion while researching this article. Flattering swimsuit shapes, silk neckerchiefs and Hawaiian shirts for the gents are just as stylish today as they were back then so make sure you pack a sprinkling of 1950s in your suitcase this summer. We’re particular fans of vintage swimsuits with their structured bodices and modesty aprons that look fantastic on every body shape.