Fashion in the 1950s was exciting and diverse. There were new colours, fresh silhouettes and different style options for different personalities. Fashion, in general, became a lot more playful as men & women began to explore new options for leisurewear. The 50s saw the birth of teen culture, which meant that there was a greater distinction between youth fashion and more mature styles. Manufacturing methods and new synthetic materials that were developed during the war dramatically reduced the price of clothing and increased durability. As clothing became more affordable, people were able to keep up with changing fashions which led to a greater diversity of styles. Living standards also improved rapidly during the 1950s. Launderettes and home washing machines made it easier to look after clothes. The decade is often looked at fondly for its chic retro style and casual looks, including those of the pin-up and rockabilly subcultures.
The New Look Continues
On February 12, 1947, Christian Dior presented his debut haute couture collection in Paris. Immediately dubbed as the ‘New Look’, its most prominent features included rounded shoulders, a cinched waist and a full A-line skirt. This new style of dressing was high fashion and highly feminine. It was a radical departure for women who had been used to rationing during the war. Wartime fashion had to be simple and practical so when it came to an end, women began to want prettier clothes again. Although the New Look was first introduced in the 40s, it took some time for the style to trickle down to the average consumer. As people re-built their wardrobes after the war, the New Look became a staple style for most women at the time. 50s style dresses with flowing skirts in bright, colourful fabrics quickly replaced the utilitarian look of wartime clothes.
Elegant clothing and accessories including fur became fashionable thanks to film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Brigitte Bardot. The 1950s saw many celebrities turn into fashion icons. Hollywood stars captivated the world with their acting skills as well as their stylish wardrobes. Fifties film fashion is truly iconic and influenced most people's ideas of glamour and style. Key designers at the time were Christian Dior, Hubert Givenchy, Clare McCardell and Cristobal Balenciaga who designed for Audrey Hepburn. Italian styling, especially on men’s suits and women’s leather shoes and bags, was the ultimate sophistication. Stiletto heels were banned from some public buildings due to the damage they caused to the linoleum floor.
Work & Play
In the 50s, men were often the sole breadwinners and work attire changed to reflect this role. Suits became narrower, straighter and less fussy. Most men opted for conservative grey suits and did little to stand out in terms of fashion. However casual 1950s mens clothing became a lot more exciting. Instead of wearing three piece suits all day long, men would dress for business in the morning and quickly change once they returned home into something a bit more comfortable. Leisurewear had been around since the 1920s but it exploded in popularity during the 50s thanks to the new synthetic materials developed during the war. Many new easy care fabrics emerged including Terylene, Orlon, Acrilan and Poplin. They made clothes easier to wash and wear while movies helped spread new fashions faster than ever before. Sports jackets and stylish trousers with permanent creases became the norm.
Women’s suits also changed in the 1950s, with jackets that nipped in at the waist and skirts that were either full or fitted. Sleeves were shorter in order to show off bracelets or gloves and colours were kept neutral. Many women in the 1950s were expected to spend their days doing housework and raising children. Women who stayed at home had to look elegant and clean, not exhausted by endless housework. New home appliances made chores much easier so women were expected to look presentable at all times. The outfit of choice for many housewives was the shirtwaist dress as it was both comfortable and stylish. It combines a blouse top and a skirt bottom into one dress. Another popular style in the 50s was the wiggle dress which featured a pencil skirt and was much more form-fitting. The tight hem didn't allow for a long stride, so women 'wiggled' when they walked. Other styles of 1950s dressesincluding the sac dress, the sheath dress, the A line and the H line all made a brief appearance on the fashion stage.
The 1950s saw the birth of teenage culture as we know it today. This was the first time that movies, books, music and fashion were made and marketed specifically to teenagers. Previously there had been ‘junior’ fashions which were mainly just smaller versions of adult clothing. By the 50s, teenagers were identifiable as a distinct group with spending power of their own. American culture radically changed fashion and was a huge influence on teenagers. Bomber jackets, Hawaiian shirts, varsity cardigans and blue denim jeans became popular amongst boys. Teenage girls wore poodle skirts, swing skirts with petticoats, pencil skirts or pleated skirts. Button down blouses with a cardigan or a preppy twin set were commonly seen on young girls.
The Rise Of Subcultures
The popularity of Rock and Roll music was a catalyst for new fashion trends including Rockabilly, Pin Ups, Greasers, Teddy Boys and Judies. These subcultures all have distinct styles that took elements of 50s fashion and gave it a rebellious twist.
Rockabilly fashion is a style that is still incredibly popular today. Many women trying to emulate a 50s look will opt for rockabilly dresses. This subculture evolved from rockabilly music which combines elements of rock n roll with country music. The popularity of this style of music soon led to the development of a signature aesthetic. Women’s rockabilly fashion consisted of a mixture of pin-up styles and swing looks. As such, many rockabilly girls wore things like swing dresses, fitted pencil skirts, poodle skirts and bullet bras. The rockabilly look for guys comprised of leather biker and denim jackets, plaid and bowling shirts, jet black jeans and two-tone brogues or chunky boots.
1950s pin-up fashion was inspired by the seductive poster girls of the day. This fashion trend is all about feminine sex appeal so pinup girl clothing was often quite revealing. Key pieces included tight-fitting pencil skirts, hot pants, halter neck dresses, bustier tops and swimwear.
One of the most iconic looks of the 50s was the greaser style. Originating in America, the 1950s greaser look was started by Marlon Brando and perfected by James Dean. Black leather jackets, dark blue denim jeans and white t-shirts were all part of the signature greaser look. The most notable physical characteristic of greasers was the greased hairstyles they fashioned using hair products such as pomade or petroleum jelly. Although you may picture motorcycle-riding, leather-clad gents when you think of the greaser subculture, many women also embraced the iconic style during the time. For women, the look involved a blend of rockabilly and pin-up styles finished off with a dose of edgy attitude.
Teddy Boys wore tailored suits with drape jackets with a velvet trim collar. They paired these with high-waist drainpipe trousers, often exposing their socks. The outfit also included a high-necked loose-collared white shirt, a skinny tie or western bolo tie and a brocade waistcoat. Oxfords, brogues and creepers were their shoes of choice. Judies were the female version of Teddy Boys and wore similar clothing but sometimes swapped the trousers for a skirt.
Whether you’re into the mainstream fashions of the decade or prefer something a little more alternative, there’s bound to be something from the fifties to suit everyone’s taste. The influence of fifties fashion on modern society is undeniable as so many of these styles are still seen on the high street today but you can always shop for 1950's vintage clothing to truly capture the essence of the era.