5 ways to enjoy a 1950s picnic

The modern BBQ wasn’t as popular in the 1950s as it is today. Families did get together though on a sunny day to catch up, relax and eat heartily but it was away from the home. Picnics were enjoyed everywhere in the great outdoors, even at the side of the road on a grassy verge.

Here is our guide to enjoying this great summer pastime, the 1950s way.

What you need:

  • A vintage picnic set. Plastic melamine sets were not popular until the end of the decade so for an authentic picnic you will need china teacups and plates. Popular sets were in a structured cases alongside early hard plastic sandwich boxes. Brexton and Sirram were favourites but remember these are quite heavy so won’t fit on your bike! An alternative is a wicker basket or hamper crammed full of food and china.

  • Proper cutlery. Disposable knives and forks were not around then so to do this properly you will need the stainless steel version.
  • A flask. The drink of choice was tea rather than beer so a flask is a must. Picnic sets often came with matching ones and small glass pots for your milk and sugar.
  • A hand made rug. Crochet wool rugs in bold colours will brighten up your picnic and keep you warm if the temperature drops!
  • Deck chairs. Folding chairs fit in the back of the car but remember, the kids sit on the floor!
  • Embroidered table cloths. Often mother chose to bring a table to lay rather than sprawling on the ground. This will need to be laid just as at home with pretty linens and napkins to match.

What you wear:

  • A cotton day dress in bright florals is the perfect summer picnic apparel. Team up with a head scarf to keep the sun off your head or choose a straw hat. Picnics were social events so it was important to look like you had made an effort.

  • Handbags would usually be replaced with pretty baskets with bright coloured plastic woven into the handles. This way you can take your fruit alongside your purse.
  • For the gents, think cotton slacks, shirt and braces. No jeans allowed!

How you get there:

  • On a bike with your picnic stuffed into your basket. Obviously a cased set isn’t going to fit this way though.
  • In your classic car. The Morris 8 had seats that came out so you could enjoy your picnic on leather chairs rather than on the ground.

What you eat:

  • Your usual lunch. Picnics were not just a snack away from home but a chance to eat your usual lunch outdoors. Often tinned hams, salads, breads and dessert would be served in a field. However, for an easier alternative make sandwiches and wrap them in greaseproof paper. Don’t forget the hard boiled eggs as no picnic would be a picnic without one!
  • Tea and lemonade. Soft drinks all the way I’m afraid with fizzy pop for the kids and a cup of tea for the adults even in the hot sun.

What to do:

  • Play games. Take a croquet set or cricket bat so the whole family can enjoy a team game and work off all that ham! Or try flying a kite with the children
  • Pick flowers. The children on arrival at the picnic would usually pick wild flowers and place them in a vase in the middle of the rug. It was important for everything to be “just so” for mother so these finishing touches made her day.

Good luck with all the planning and pulling together great vintage pieces. And remember to invite everyone along, bring the dog, wear some sun block (something not done in the 1950s) and most importantly, have fun!

Kate x

Find out more about the Great British Summer on Cotton Traders summer timeline






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  1. Jo Lesley
    10 August 2012 / 6:46 pm

    Another great article Kate, and great photos too! X

    • Your vintage life
      10 August 2012 / 6:51 pm

      Thanks x

  2. 24 August 2012 / 7:04 pm

    Oh my goodness I love that beautiful vintage picnic hamper! What a wonderful blog you have I will definitely be watching out for new posts 🙂 x

    • Melanie Owen
      10 May 2013 / 6:57 am

      Watch out for the great vintage picnic at Ripley Castle on Sunday July 21st!

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