It’s easy to see how 1950s fashion continues to influence the designers of today. On runways recently, the style and shear elegance of the era is again being revisited and recreated in events such as the Goodwood Revival. Retro and Vintage clothing is once again in hot demand as the generations of today rediscover the magic of this decade.
Following World War II, the square shoulders and short skirts of the 40s were replaced. Christian Dior’s “New Look” took hold with its longer, sweeping skirts, fitted waist, and soft rounded shoulders.
New synthetic fabrics and easy-care processes were introduced to the fashion world. New fabrics such as “Drip-dry” nylon, Dacron and Orlon, became popular as did acrylic, polyester, triacetate and spandex.
1950s Fashion For Women
On February 12, 1947, the House of Dior launched its first collection which was to go down in fashion history as the “New Look”.
The Christian Dior signature shape was characterized by a full skirt that dropped just below the mid calf, a small fitted waist, a pointed bust and a smooth rounded shoulder line. Although this design was initially disregarded by fashion magazines in America, who favored padded shoulders until the 1950s, it was to soon become overwhelmingly popular by both the fashion industry and the public at large.
1950s fashion saw a return to a more feminine, soft and tailored look. Accessories such as hats, gloves and pearls grew in popularity. Tailored suits often had fitted jackets with peplums. Day dresses of the time had full skirts and fitted bodices, with low-cut necklines or Peter Pan collars. Halter-top sundresses and shirtdresses (with a shirt-like bodice) were popular and poodle skirts made a brief appearance. Skirts were either narrow or very full, being held out by multiple layers of petticoats.
Cocktail dresses (smarter than a day dress but not as formal as a dinner or evening dress) became popular as early-evening party wear. Bolero jackets and short shrugs were often matched with low-cut dresses.
1950s Fashion, The Teddy Boys and Teenagers
In the U.K. the first truly independent fashion for young people was being created in style of the Teddy boys. This style focused on skinny ties and narrow, tight trousers that were often worn short enough to display loud, showy sock. The so called “Greasers” of North America had a very similar effect of youth fashion of the time. In previous decades, youths would dress in a similar style to their parents, but now, due to changing times and attitudes, a more rebellious youth fashion was emerging.
The term “Beat Generation” was given to us in 1948 by Jack Kerouac. The Beat Generation was an overall generalization for the underground movement of anti-conformist youths that were building in New York during this period. The Beat Generation would typically wear berets, sunglasses, dark clothing and turtlenecks.
Mid 1950s Fashion
By the mid-1950s, Christian Dior’s full skirt and tight waisted “New Look” was being replaced. Balenciaga had been featuring unfitted suits as early as 1951 and unfitted dresses from 1954 in Paris, but struggled to breaks Diors “New Look” dominance until Coco Chanel, in 1954, made her comeback with the “Chanel Suit”.
The Chanel Suit was typified by an A-line skirt and braid-trimmed cardigan-style jacket. The Chanel Suit was so widely accepted into mainstream fashion that by 1957, most suits were to feature lightly fitted jackets that reached just below the waist coupled with shorter, narrower skirts.
Balenciaga later released his “Princess Style” chemise dresses which became popular. These dresses were to feature no waist seams, a plain neckline, and a slight A-line. , princess-line dress came in two versions; The sleeveless called a skimmer and a more fitted version called a sheathdress.
Hats and hairstyles of 1950s Fashion
With Christian Dior’s New Look came new hats and hairstyles. Hair was short and curled, and hats became an essential item of fashion.
The wide-brimmed saucer hat became popular as it matched the “New Look” fashion perfectly. Short cropped hairstyles were popular in the early part of the ’50s but by the middle of the decade fuller hairstyles such as the curly poodle cut, the bouffant or the beehive became the norm.
The ponytail became popular amongst the “Beat” girls who wore it short or long.
In the fifties, Lucille Ball broke new ground by becoming the first woman to show her pregnancy on television and in doing so, brought attention to maternity wear. Most maternity dresses of the time were 2 pieces with loose fitting tops and restrictively narrow skirts.
The baby boom of the 40s and 50s elevated the attention on maternity wear so that even international designers such as Givenchy and Norman Hartnell added maternity wear to their lines.
On September 29, 1959, the maternity panty was patented giving added expansion in the vertical direction.
1950s Fashion Sportswear
Casual sportswear was an popular component of 1950s fashion for women. Casual skirts became either narrow or very full. In the 1950s, pants or trousers became narrow, and dropped to ankle-length. Pants stopping at mid-calf were called houseboy pants and pants that dropped to just below the knee were pedal-pushers. Mid-thigh length Bermuda shorts became popular close to 1954 and remained in fashion till the end of the fifties. Bikinis appeared in Europe but were not worn in America in the 1950s.
1950s Fashion For Men
With the war over, restrictions on fabric were eased allowing trousers to become fuller and cuffed (turn-ups). In the U.S.A,, Esquire released the “Bold Look”, featuring wide shoulders, broad lapels, and coordinated accessories. In the U.K., Savile Row was introducing the “New Edwardian Look”, featuring natural shoulders, a slightly flared jacket, and narrower cut. This was usually worn with a bowler hat and a long slender overcoat.
By the late 1950s, the fashion houses of Italy had released a new Continental style of suit , with lighter fabrics, shorter, fitted jackets, sharper shoulders and narrower lapels.
Tartan plaids became popular 1950s fashion for men. Khaki-colored trousers, called chinos, were worn for casual wear. Bermuda shorts fell into favor during the mid fifties and were often worn with knee socks.
When it came to hairstyles of the 50s, men preferred the wet look. The wet look was achieved with the use of hair creams such as Brylcreem. Young men would commonly grow their hair and, with pomade, arranged their hair into pompadours.
Other 1950s Fashion Sites For Referrence
- 1950s Fashion – Wikipedia’s 1950s page.
- 1950s Fashion – The Bettie Page site. A great site for 1950s fashion clothing.
1950 Fashion Clothing – 1950 Fashion Dresses – Women’s Fashion 1950 S