This Is What Flirting Looked Like 50 Years Ago

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Single folks today would likely argue that flirting is an impossible feat. However, wooing the opposite sεχ now is a cakewalk compared to how it used to be. In the 1950s, for instance, a guy could hardly look at a girl until he had her father’s permission to do so. And for women, flirting wasn’t so much about finding someone who likes you for you as it was about convincing a guy that you were pretty and poised enough to make a suitable wife. (Yes, suffice it to say that these practices stayed in the past for a reason.) Keep reading to discover how people used to flirt in decades past.

Flirting advice in the 1950s was all about how to find a husband.

In the 1950s, a range of societal influences suggested women should get married as quickly as possible. Therefore, many of the etiquette books and magazine articles of the time offered advice about searching for a husband.

One article in a 1958 edition of McCall’s, for instance, listed 129 ways to get a husband, with suggestions like “attend night school—take courses men like,” “get lost at football games,” and “wear a Band-Aid” because “people always ask what happened.” Oh, and if you want him to know you’re 100 percent interested, you can “stumble when you walk into a room that he’s in” or “stand in a corner and cry softly” because “chances are good that he’ll come over to find out what’s wrong.”

In the ’50s, guys were expected to ask for permission to so much as flirt with a girl.

Flirting in the 1950s really took parental guidance to a whole new level. During the decade, before a male suitor so much as thought about flirting with a female acquaintance, he was expected to first ask said female’s father for permission to get to know her. In the 1953 edition of Amy Groskamp-ten Have’s manners book, the dating expert advised that “the young man who knows his world will pay a visit to the father of the girl he feels attracted to, after meeting her a couple of times, and ask his permission to take his daughter out now and then so they can get to know each other better.”

But this didn’t stop the so-called bad boys from inappropriately hooting and hollering on the street.

While the well-mannered men of the ’50s were busy asking for permission to flirt, the bad boys of the decade were lining the streets looking for girls to catcall. “In the 1950s, [writers] scoffed at the ‘stupid chuckling, scallywag whistling, not to speak of the rest’ of what happens when a few boys meet one or more girls,” writes Cas Wouters in his text sεχ and Manners: Female Emancipation in the West 1890-2000. “Another target was a scene on the pavements of every city: boys talking to a girl while disrespectfully hanging on their bicycle, one leg over the crossbar.”

Those first flirtatious moments in the ’50s and ’60s often took place in public.

In the 1950s, it was seen as improper for a guy to take a girl out without supervision of some sort, at least if they were still in their teens. As Amy Vanderbilt wrote in Everyday Etiquette: Answers to Today’s Etiquette Questions in 1952: “Is it proper for a single girl to have dinner in a bachelor’s apartment without a chaperone? …A girl not out of her teens would do better to avoid such a dinner engagement… A career girl, from her twenties onward, can accept such an invitation, but she should not stay beyond ten or ten-thirty.” According to Vanderbilt, these societal norms were put in place to protect children “from their own possible foolishness, and from destructive gossip.”

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