Women Fashion history of late 50’s reflected a complicated mix of conservatism and glamor: a girl-next-door freshness as well as alluring femininity. Women who had lived through the privations of the Great Depression and World War II were now able to afford new styles and embraced them all, from the elegance of grand, sweeping skirts to shorts and trousers.An hourglass figure dominated the look of the 1950s. With cinched-in waistlines and accentuated hips and busts, the style was a decidedly mature one.Despite the mature, conservative look of major designers, a new feeling for casual attire crept onto the scene, as women increasingly began to wear pants, shorts, sportswear, and shoulder-revealing sundresses.
Historical Context of 1950s Fashion.
In the 1950s, economic gains created a new consumer-driven society and enabled a family to live quite comfortably on one income. As people strove for a conservative simplicity, the housewife became the feminine ideal of the day. Though the suburban lifestyle may seem shallow to some, and restrictive for women, it must be remembered that for twenty years people had been living in fear of poverty, and they had just emerged from the staggering losses of World War II.
The underlying fear of the nuclear bomb, the changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement, and the perhaps overblown threat of communism took a backseat to a yearning for the simple, idealized life depicted in mass media. Television transformed entertainment and the news, influencing trends and depicting fashion.
The New Look.
Christian Dior introduced the New Look in 1947. With its tight cinched waist, billowing skirt, and pronounced bust line, the New Look recalled historic styles of the mid-19th century and set the tone for the next decade.
Huge skirts needed the support of petticoats made of nylon mesh. Hoops, or crinoline cages, a relic of the 1850s, were brought back. Sometimes, petticoats showed below the skirt hem, trimmed in pretty colors. Clothing styles during the war years featured dull colors, squared shoulders, and a minimal use of fabric and embellishments due to wartime restrictions. The New Look offered a new opulence and a new look at femininity.
Pencil Skirts and Big Skirts.
Tailored suits appeared very feminine, with tight waists and accentuated hips. Though Coco Chanel introduced her more comfortable, almost boxy, suit, relieved by a blouse with a pussycat bow, the long, slim look of a nipped-in waist and narrow skirt remained a popular silhouette.For day wear and casual occasions, a wide skirt was worn without the large crinolines, for a soft, draped appearance.
Shirtwaist dresses,often worn by TV housewives, were a popular alternative to the more exaggerated styles. Halter-topped dresses were a casual alternative for the beach, or for summer cookouts and parties.
Accessories of the 1950s.
- Gloves. A well-dressed woman wore gloves and a hat outside the home for all but the most casual occasions. Long, elbow-length gloves appeared for formal and evening wear with short-sleeved dresses or strapless gowns.
Short gloves worked with suits or long-sleeved garments and were also worn in warmer months.
- Hats. The New Look premiered beneath wide-brimmed garden-style hats. But smaller hats prevailed for most of the 1950s.
Tidy little hats adorned with veils were popular and came in an assortment of colors, often pastels for spring and summer.
- Glasses. It became a fashion statement and featured new designs like the cat’s-eye style with flared, pointed edges. Frames came in a wide variety of colors.
- Jewelry. It was classic and understated. Pearls or faux pearls were the iconic necklace of the 1950s. Plastic pop beads were a popular costume accessory.
Slim watches and subdued rings, along with clip-on earrings, were conservative and elegant.
- Shoes. High heels worn for dressy occasions had rounded toes, often with peep-toes. But a new sense of comfort crept into women’s footwear. Espadrilles were a popular choice for beach and vacation wear. Tennis shoes were worn around the home and garden and came in simple styles for maximum comfort.
Saddle oxfords, a relic of the 1940s, were popular with the younger set, often paired with short socks called bobby socks.
Hairstyles of the 1950s.
- Long hair, often worn by young girls, was drawn up into ponytails, or pulled into a French twist for formal occasions.
- Short hair was curled at the ends with bobby pins, appearing in fashion magazines for a sophisticated yet free look.
- Bangs, worn with both short and longer hairstyles, were worn short and curled.