Fashion History: 1950's

Flamboyant and Feminine - Women’s Fashions trends of the 1950s


1950’s fashion was epitomised by the flamboyant femininity of style icons like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. Throughout women’s fashion history these grand dames have remained beacons of grace and timeless style, to the extent that contemporary designers such as Luca Luca, Chanel and Alexander McQueen are still paying homage to this era in their designs today.


The hallmarks of 1950’s fashion history were soft silhouettes, wide shoulders, the corseted waist and full hips. These were supplemented with trim bodices, full knee-length skirts, short boxy jackets and blouses teamed with pencil skirts. One style that deviated from this trend was the cocoon-like sac dress and coat that was fitted to the shoulder and bloomed spectacularly at the waist and hips.


Although 1950’s fashion trends were clean, classic and conservative, the politics and social dynamics of the time was anything but. Each polished and refined fashion trend that graced the runway was matched by an inversely radical social change.


Common Designs:


The most popular fashion trends of the time included:


·          Single- or dual-piece dresses adorned with small collars, fitted blouses and full knee-length skirts.

·          Casual dresses with boned bodices, circle skirts and halter straps.

·          Similarly fitted eveningwear that had a heart-shaped opaque strapless bodice with a sheer silk or nylon over bodice, usually sleeveless or long-sleeved

·          Prom-style evening dresses of tulle in pastel hues, normally accompanied by yards of ruffles, tulle trim and velvet bows.

·          Button-up sweaters with a plain neckline, often appliquéd or beaded.


Catwalks were crowded with conservative skirts and high-necked sweaters but in reality the average American consumer was developing and increasingly sloppy outlook on finance. This was a direct result of the introduction of the credit card system, which lead to the birth of consumerism and a disposable attitude towards wealth.


Wartime restrictions had been lifted, but fashion did not loosen its belts. Fabrics like nylon were keeping silhouettes close to the body and gave more elasticity and staying power to leisure wear, lingerie and socks. The younger generation used fashion to rebel against what they saw as needlessly restrictive societal norms. Conservatism still ruled the roost, but the Rock ‘n Roll attitude had made its way onto catwalks and magazine pages, flaunting the sexual energy of icons such as James Dean and Elvis Presley. This was in direct opposition to a society that demanded women remain virgins until their wedding night and laws that forbid the sale or use of birth control.


But Rock ‘n Roll was more than loud music and tight jeans; it was a way for a largely ignored generation to place themselves on the map. For the first time teenagers were differentiated as a group separate from their parents and younger siblings - a group with their own fashion trends, a market ready to be tapped. No other decade has managed to immortalise such a cataclysmic societal clash in its fashions prior or since.


Young Hollywood cheesecake fashions rubbed shoulders with the pill box hats and white gloves favoured by Presidents’ Wives and ‘ladies who lunch’. Housewives in frilly aprons and nipped-in skirts served meatloaf and two veg to rebellious teenagers in leather and jeans. This thrilling abundance of styles was echoed on the catwalks of the time and continues to ricochet throughout fashion history to this day.


Fabrics Available:


·          Natural fibres (linen, cotton, wool, silk)

·          Rayon

·          Acetate

·          Nylon

·          Modacrylic

·          Acrylic

·          Polyester

·          Spandex


The most common daytime fabrics used in 1950’s fashion were naturals, rayon, nylon, poly-cotton blends, as well as acrylic and acetate. Sweaters were generally of wool and of cashmere if you wanted to denote status. Eveningwear veered towards brocades, satin, velveteen, taffeta, nylon net, tulle and chiffon in both natural and synthetic fabrics. Sheer fabrics became more popular but were not usually the main material of a garment, except in the case of tulle evening gowns and some very rare day dresses.


Popular Colours and Prints:


1950’s fashion trends for daywear included neutrals as well as floral prints, alongside western imagery that was often hand-painted on skirts and scarves. With the advent of the atomic era, bright abstract designs denoting a futuristic feel also became popular. Abstracts in brown, grey and navy were popular for winter time, while eveningwear staples were solids and floral brocades. The more daring opted for sheer chiffon over a flesh-coloured underlay and peacock blues and hot pinks crossed the divide to the right side of ‘acceptable’.


Trims and Detailing:


Sweaters were beaded to within an inch of their lives and circle skirts and novelty garments smothered in rickrack, sequins, glitter and appliqué detailing. Evening detail consisted mainly of pleats and sculpted necklines, as well as low-key rhinestones and cord that added a hit of glamour without making the garment cumbersome or uncomfortable.


The Latest Fads:


·          Bobby Soxers (Peter Pan collared blouse, poodle skirt, scarf-tied ponytail and saddle shoes)

·          James Dean look-alikes, hoods and motorcycle gangs

·          Cat-eye glasses

·          Beatniks

·          Hawaiian shirts

·          Bark-cloth in casual wear

·          Ethnic scene prints in day and leisure wear

·          Americana prints with rustic scenes or patriotic eagles, etc.



New fabrics:

·          Acrylic (1950)

·          Polyester (1953)

·          Spandex (1959)

Access to these new fabrics allowed designers to experiment with revolutionary new fashion trends.


Next 1960's


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