What is a Sock Hop?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A sock hop is a dance, often held for teens, that first became popular in the 1950s, when the term was coined. Since dances were often held in school gymnasiums, dancers would often kick of their shoes and dance in their socks or stockings to avoid marking up gym floors and to get better slide in dances like the Twist, the Mashed Potato, and others. Dances held might simply be referred to as sock hops, since the practice was so common.

Sock hops are dances that are often held in school gymnasiums where students can dance in their socks or stockings to avoid marking up gym floors.
Sock hops are dances that are often held in school gymnasiums where students can dance in their socks or stockings to avoid marking up gym floors.

Several 1950s songs mention this type of dance. Little Richard’s tune Ready Teddy talks about the “sock hop ball,” for example. The most specific reference is the very popular 1958 Danny and the Juniors song At the Hop, describing the regular sock hop scene. Many movies depict these dances as well, most particularly the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti.

During a sock hop, women would dance in their stockings to avoid making marks on the gym floor.
During a sock hop, women would dance in their stockings to avoid making marks on the gym floor.

What differentiates a sock hop from other dances for teens is that they are informal. They are different from homecoming dances or proms because they’re less dressy and more common events. Dancers didn’t necessarily attend with a partner, unless they were dating someone, and instead they showed up to dance to either live or recorded music. The dance didn’t even have to be held in evening hours, but could instead be held as an afternoon, early evening, or after school event.

American Graffiti depicts such a dance in 1962, but as the '60s closed, the practice became much less common. By the 1970s, they were replaced by “dances,” still relatively informal events, but ones where dancers kept their shoes on. Dance styles changed to reflect much different music. First in the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of the psychedelic rock or standard rock of the time were popular choices, and then later the disco music of the mid 1970s to early 1980s reintroduced the partner dance for many tunes, and often required women to dance in heels.

The sock hop didn’t completely die, however, and the tradition of having informal dances especially for younger kids in grade school or middle school was once again embraced in the 1990s. Many school administrators and parents hoped to discourage kids from viewing dances as “romantic” events, but they still wanted to let kids enjoy dancing to music.

Music played at a modern sock hop can range from anything modern to anything dating well back to the 1950s, and kids are encouraged not to bring dates, but to come alone. Some elementary schools even hold family-oriented dances. This strips them of any romantic or sexual elements because kids attend with their families and there are chaperones in every direction. While some kids might complain about excessive adult supervision, it does give children an opportunity to giggle at their parents, who frequently love to participate in these dances just as much as their kids do.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


What are some good sock hop themes for younger teenagers? My son's junior high school is holding a sock hop for their kids, and I'm in charge of the sock hop decorations.

They said they want it to be a little different from the normal 50s sock hop, but not extreme or adult in nature.

You have to be careful with junior high kids -- they'll either stand on the corners and not dance at all, or you end up with a ton of drama. Most usually both. And we don't want to exacerbate that with the theme.

For instance, we're afraid that if we do just a classic 50s sock hop then nobody will want to dance, but if we make it too outre, then parents get upset and kids get all hormonal.

So what would be some innovative, yet not adult, sock hop themes?

Any ideas, fellow wisegeekers?


One thing that can be kind of fun if you are tired of the regular 50s sock hop is to hold a sock hop with a weird theme.

For instance, why not hold an alien sock hop? Your guests will crack up seeing the alien costumes combined with the iconic socks.

Or if you want to get creative for Halloween, why not hold a zombie sock hop? You could have people come in the normal sock hop clothes, but with zombified makeup and hair. The contrast of the pristine poodle skirts and saddle shoes with zombie people makes for great laughs.

So don't be shy when it comes to sock hop ideas -- there are tons of ways to spice up any dance, and a sock hop is by no means an exception.


I know a lot of younger people don't know this, but sock hop parties used to get pretty crazy. It was all in good fun of course, but back in the day if you didn't get the latest sock hop invitation, well, you were just a square.

And although those sock hop costumes that they sell today do look vaguely like what we wore, they're kind of stereotyped. Real sock hop dress was both calmer and wilder than that -- though the skirts weren't as short, the socks were definitely more colorful than most costumes mention.

So if you really want to get a good sock hop outfit, then raid your parents (or grandparents -- gosh that makes me feel old!) closet. You will be the bees knees!

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