History of Fashion 1950’s – 1960’s
Did you scroll all this way to get facts about 1950s fashion art? Well you're in luck, because here they come. There are 3877 1950s fashion art for sale on Etsy, and they cost $11.13 on average. The most common 1950s fashion art material is metal. The most popular color? You guessed it: black. Despite these controversies, the New Look silhouette continued to be popular into the later 1940s (Fig. 14) and was the predominant silhouette in women’s fashion by 1949 and stayed that way well into the 1950s.
“My weakness…is architecture. I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body.”
Copyright © AFP / Collection Roger-Viollet – Christian Dior 1955
In the 1950s the world had to deal with the post war destruction and rebuilding of architecture from the German bombing. In Britain the re-election of Winston Churchill resulted in the abolition of food rationing and eventually the lifting of rationing on clothing and fabrics. The end of the war saw a resurgence in Haute Couture with Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga rebelling from the restricted austerity styles. The Fifties also saw changes in family life – women turned back into housekeepers and the glamorous Fifties housewife was born.
Art and Culture
With the idea of rebuilding communities, lighter, happier entertainment was produced. Musicals including Guys and Dolls and films like Breathless were inspired by the new era of the Fifties. Sunset Boulevard was also a celebrated film noir involving a former silent movie star fading away into Hollywood.
An innovation in new textiles and technologies appeared during the Fifties with new synthetic and easy-care fabrics being developed. This fitted in with the new suburban lifestyle of the Fifties. Acrylic, spandex, polyester and triacetate were introduced in the Fifties along with nylon, orlon and dacron which could retain heat set pleats after washing.
Rock ‘n’ roll
Wordpress sharepoint site. The Fifties saw a new development in the music scene with Rock ‘n’ Roll and rhythm and blues music becoming hugely popular. The decade saw the start of music icons such as Elvis, Johnny Cash and June Carter. Also during the Fifties a new group of actors and singers developed called The Rat Pack based around Stephen Bogart. Their big band, crooner style was immensely popular and they were a constant hit throughout the fifties and sixties. The original members of The Rat Pack included Frank Sinatra, Sid Luft, Stephen Bogart, Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, Swify Lazar, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Rex Harrison, Cary Grant and Jimmy Van Heusen. With later to follow; Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
Shape and Silhouettes
The Fifties saw a return to femininity. The British fashion industry started to develop moving away from the U.S Styles and fabrics were being influenced by British designers who were celebrating the female hourglass figure. More silhouettes were emerging with Dior using A-line styles and princess style dresses.
Copyright © AFP / Collection Roger-Viollet – Christian Dior A-line June 1950
Hubert de Givenchy designed the ‘sack’ style dress – a loose straight short shift dress which helped inspire the Mary Quant style dresses of the Sixties. The shirt waist dress was a popular choice which crated a nipped in waist with a full skirt showing of a more elegant look. A trapeze style dress created an almost triangular shaped silhouette this style was also modified to become a popular styled Sixties dress.
Capes and shawls were popular cover ups for these different Fifties silhouettes.
During the Fifties the ready to wear mass market took off with Marks and Spencer being one of the leaders. Renowned for quality and value for money, Paris and the U.S often copied the way Marks and Spencer made their garments. A casual day look inspired by Audrey Hepburn was popular. Capri pants, knitted jumpers and flat ballet pumps gave a more practical, feminine girly look which the public copied. For summer a new beachwear style was developing with matching styled bikinis paired with floating skirts.
Hats were no longer key for the Fifties. Instead women were wearing scarves in their hair more often. Butterfly glasses were an extra touch for the face and large waist belts were worn to emphasise the feminine silhouette. Costume jewellery was worn instead of the real jewels. Oversized rings and bracelets became a staple. Footwear moved away from the utility styling and lavish embellishments, velvet and crocodile skin were used for shoes.
Roger Vivier was a famous shoe designer who wanted to create shoes with more freedom, he had popular designs for the late Fifties ballet pumps and high heels.
Menswear fashion was becoming influenced by the icons and musicians. The Rat Pack style of suits and trilby hats was a popular choice for ages over 30. A casual country style clothing of checks and cardigans were worn in a lighter styled fabric. The Teddy Boy look emerged during the fifties originating in America. Inspired by Edwardian styles the look consisted of an Edwardian ‘Drape’ style jacket with a long knee length, single breasted jacket with cuffs and lapels in contrasting velvets or satin. Worn with either matching or contrasting drainpipe trousers, stiff shirts and brocade waistcoats. The wool jacket also had many pockets and was worn with loud ties.
Copyright © AFP / Lipnitzki / Collection Roger-Viollet – Sophia Loren
The Icons of this decade are still influencing people in the present day. Audrey Hepburn was a film star with classic glamour. Her simple sweater and Capri pant style was hugely popular. Marilyn Monroe another famous film star was seen as a sex symbol, and her glamorous on screen outfits symbolized the grand evening styles known for the fifties. Elizabeth Taylor, an actress, had her career take of during the fifties with films including “Father of the Bride”, “A place in the Sun” and “Suddenly, Last Summer”. Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Sophia Loren were all also major icons of the decade.
The male icons influenced the male fashion hugely. While the T-shirt was previously only seen as underwear, James Dean changed this. His role in “Rebel without a Cause” opened other men’s eyes to the potential of their ‘underwear’. He also was often seen in denim helping create the fashionable denim look. The actor Marlon Brando showed a dark jeans and leather jacket style and was known for his tight t-shirts worn in “A Street Car Named Desire”, while the actor Cary Grant influenced the sleek hair look.
With the Dior New Look, Christian Dior was hugely influential in the Fifties with his rebelled use of fabric. He used as much as he could and cut the fabric in a certain way that they fell elegantly. He wanted to show that his garments were luxurious and fitted well. Celebrating the hourglass figure the look became iconic for Dior.
Like Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga went to town on fabrics to show off extravagance. He used petticoats, lace and netting with heavy floral, bright fabrics. With embroidery and embellishment it was far away from the rationing of the previous decade.
Copyright © AFP / Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet – Givenchy July 1954
Copyright © AFP / Albin-Guillot / Roger-Viollet – Cristobal Balenciaga
Close friends with Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy gave his philosophy in 1952 off; ‘All a woman needs to be chic are a raincoat, two suits, a pair of trousers and a cashmere sweater.’ Opening his own house in 1952 at only 25, his premiere was met with great applause. Responsible for making Audrey Hepburn an icon of elegance, he designed her the perfect little black dress worn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
The Return of Chanel
Coco Chanel re-established herself during the Fifties. She was in opposition with the other designers, she didn’t agree with using excessive amounts of fabric as she felt it was wasteful. Chanel realised couture was on its way out and the way to survive was to deliver to the mass markets. Her style was simple and eloquent still and during the fifties she began the introduction of the Little Black Dress.
The Teenage Consumer
During the fifties a teenage market was introduced. For the first time teenagers were taking their own inspiration and not following their parents fashion. Film and music influenced the new generation and it was all about rebelling against the parents. Teenagers now had their own money to spend and subsequently they had their own places to socialise. Cafes and diners were filled with the younger generation wearing poodle skirts with cinched in waists. Boys were influenced by Elvis and James Dean’s style in “Rebel Without a Cause” Leather jackets, denim, white t-shirts and hair gelled back was the only way to look.
With the consumer boom from the post war, working class teenagers could afford their own clothes still wanting to shock and rebel against their parents generation the teddy boy look was often seen on the Fifties teenager.
The teenage group was also inspired by the Beat Generation which was a group of post war American writers that documented and inspired elements of ‘Beat’ culture including the subversion to materialism, an interest in eastern religion and the experimentation of drugs and sexuality. The term ‘beatnik’ was coined to describe the sub culture who were inspired by this. Beatniks had their own uniform, consisting of striped shirts and oversized dresses. Short sleeved sweatshirts and cowl necks were worn with pencil skirts or slim fitting trousers and the style often was seen worn in all black.
History of Fashion 1950’s – 1960’s
1950s Fashion Overview
To think of 1950s fashion is akin to a bright summers day! Glamourous shapes, colourful prints and always exaggerated with voluminous skirts and tiny waists.
The 50s Silhouette
There are two main silhouettes in 50s fashion – the wasp waist with full skirt and the slim fitting pencil skirt. Both are iconic 50s looks that prevailed until 1956 and can be portrayed as super sexy or fun and flirty – depending on how you wear them.
The beauty of the 1950s era is that there is a ‘look’ that will suit any body shape – the more womanly the better. For those of us who lack curves, these can be created easily with a bit of help from belts, foundation garments and plenty of net and padding!
A bit of History
To understand the clothing of this era, one must understand what was really going on and how it influenced everyone’s way of life and subsequently how they expressed themselves through dress.
Let’s not forget that people did not see the back of rationing in one form or another until 1958. Even though we look back at the fifties as a colourful vibrant era – it was really a time of hard work for the country to get back to stability. Despite the hardship, people were happy and not surprisingly there was euphoria from winning the war. By the end of the 50s, the hard work of rebuilding the country had paid off and we were well on the way to prosperity. By the end of the decade, nearly every household had a television and people found they had disposable income again possibly influenced by the rise of women going to work.
All these economic and social changes had a significant impact on clothing and the pace of fashion in our country.
1950s Fashion Sketches
From a fashion point of view, this was the rise of the ‘ready to wear’ phenomenon. Clothing was now being manufactured ‘en mass’ and with greatly improved standards in construction and cloth quality. Variety was now available and imports started to return from, in particular….Paris.
Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’ arrived in Paris in 1947 and due to it’s vastly different shape to the war years – had an enormous impact on the fashion world. Style was now back on track, ironically picking up from where it left off before the pause created by the war. Dior created a succession of silhouettes he based on letter shapes – line A being an a-line silhouette derived from a widening towards the hem and was quickly followed by the Y-line, created by wide dolman sleeves tapering to a slim skirt. However, Dior’s initial look continued to dominate for many years with fashion looking nostalgically to the past with its boned bodices and full petticoats.
The Rise of the Adolescent
It wasn’t until this decade that the age between child and adult was acknowledged and a fashion more suited to this age developed. Full skirts, tight tops, capris and flat shoes – well suited to jive dancing become iconic for this age. This influenced casual fashions across the age range in both men and women.
As did the ‘sweater girl’ look – the feminine ideal of a large, pointed bust attained via the bullet bra, a conical pre-padded bra that pushed the bust upwards and outwards.
Some of the key Looks of the 1950s:-
Petticoats & Full skirts:-
Wide circular or pleated skirts were worn with layers of petticoats to give lift and were prominent in both day and eveningwear. Always to mid calf - never shorter but maybe longer for eveningwear. Petticoats were several layers of net and generally starched for extra stiffness or frothy chiffon in eveningwear in vibrant colours of green, pink and yellow!
1950s Fashion History
A narrow, close fitting straight skirt sometimes call a ‘hobble’ skirt restricted women’s walking creating the wiggle look. Fell from natural waist with little excess fabric with a small black split at the back. Pencil line dresses were also very popular for all ages, being a very sophisticated look for more mature women worn with heels and plenty of accessories. (The wiggle dress looks fabulous with a swing coat.) A pencil skirt with a shirt or sweater and worn with flats is a more fun way of wearing the look. Again the skirt length is important - it must be calf length to look really 50s.
The Sweater Girl Look:-
The tight sweater was born in the 40s and would remain popular throughout the 50s. Ironically, it's a little shocking to the modern eye as this look's aim was to emphasise a thrusting conical shaped bust and was invariably worn with a bullet bra. In actual fact, the modern rounded bust shape would have looked peculiar in the 50s - as everyone aimed for this shape bosom. Many vintage dresses accomodate for this shape in their makeup. The sweater evolved from turtleneck into the twin set - a 50s staple.
Get the 1950s Look – our top 3 tips to get you started
Tip 1 – the foundation
Foundation garments were deemed essential starting blocks. Nowadays, knickers are more hipster in style – but during the 50s, the waist was at the natural area just above the belly button. If you want to wear a pencil skirt and you were modern underwear you will get the unsightly bumps caused by these knickers. So our first tip is – get the right knickers.
Tip 2 - accessories
One cannot stress enough how important accessories were during this decade – a woman simply didn’t leave the house without gloves, hat and handbag. Hats were small lampshade style, wide brimmed or pill box shaped and were often accompanied by a veil. Gloves were long in the evening pushed down with bracelets and short in the day. Get yourself plenty of scarves, tie in the hair, around the neck or into a ponytail – dont be scared of using bold colours. Wide belts:- small waist was the must have accessory to create the desired look whether with a full skirt, a pencil or capri pants. Wearing a belt emphasised the slim waist that fashion demanded.
Lippy Red lippy really made its mark during the 50s – but you need to find the right red for your skin tone. Blue reds for pinky skin tones and warm reds for yellow. True red for everyone else. Use a pencil first and colour in the full lip adding the lipstick after.
Fashion In The 1950s
1950s Fashion Shopping List
Whether it’s a fun rock n roll image you’re after or Christian Dior’s sophisticated ‘new look’ of 1947, check out our shopping guide to get you started Capsule wardrobe for the 50s (enough to get you started):-
- Pencil skirt
- Crew neck cardigan
- Circle skirt or dress preferably halter or boat neck.
- Bullet bra
- Waist knickers
Must have accessories:-
- Red lipstick
- Chiffon scarf
- Waist cinch belt
Click here to browse our 1950s fashion selection
1950 Fashion Era
- Horrockses Fashions - Off the Peg style in the '40s and '50s ISBN 9781851776016
- The Golden Age of Couture - Paris and London 1947 ISBN 9781851775217
- Blueprints of Fashion - Home Sewing Patterns of the 1950s
- Everyday Fashions of the 50s - Sears Catalogue
- Blog - Molly's Emporium: http://www.mollysemporium.com/1950s-fashion
- Our Pinterest page on 1950s inspirational styles: http://pinterest.com/20thcenturyfoxy/1950s-inspiration/
- Our blog: http://thehouseoffoxy.blogspot.co.uk