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Everything about Fashion of the 1950’s

Fashion of the 1950’s was more than embracing the “New Look”. Let’s see what set a direction for fashion of the 1950’s and style characteristics.

What influenced fashion of the 1950’s?

After hard times of the previous decade there was again joy in life. The gradual economical growth influenced 1950’s fashion. Men were glad to lay their uniforms down, to replace it with more casual clothing. Meanwhile women no longer had to wear utilitarian clothing, which was reflected in much more dressed up and feminine style.

Women Fashion of the 1950's
Source : familysearch;

As days of material rationing were over, hemlines in dresses dropped from knee level, to ground sweeping or calf-length. Additionally floral motifs inspired by the Victorian era were popular in fashion of the 1950’s. On top of that many countries encouraged consumerism to strengthen the economy. It made room for upcoming designers and a variety of styles.

What was the 1950s fashion?

Femininity and conformity are two words that describe 1950 fashion style the best. It was dominated by 2 main silhouettes. The first one is mostly associated with the New Look created by Christian Dior in 1947.

The focus was on curves and hourglass silhouette, which was achieved by tightly fitted bodice. It also comprised a rounded shoulder line, cinched-in waistline, finished by voluminous mid calf or ankle length skirt, supported by layers of petticoats. The second differed only in the shape of slim and long pencil skirt. As the decade progressed they were joined by new styles called H-line and sack dresses. 

For the first time youth subculture groups developed visual identities dictated by certain garments. In the USA it will be Beatnik style whereas in the UK Teddy Boy style. More rebellious mavericks looked up to Marlon Brando, sporting jeans and black leather jackets.

Teddy boy style 1950's
Teddy boy style
Source : rs21;

What was significant about 1950s fashion?

The 1950 fashion style was one of a kind in many ways. For the first time garments were produced in a big variety of colours for almost every design. fashion in the 1950s offered both men and women a new range of options. During this decade many garments became acceptable for example jeans, leather jackets and white shirts.

The most characteristic pieces of clothing in the 1950s women’s fashion: 

  • Poodle dress – dresses with applique motifs of poodles, flowers, animals or even eiffel tower
  • Saddle shoes – black and white colorway 
  • Cone shaped bullet bra
Poodle dresses example in the 1950's fashion
Source : barribarcelona;

What did Ladies Wear in the 1950s?

As the coveted silhouette of the 1950’s style wasn’t a natural shape, girdles and bodices were very popular. The unifying factor of dresses was cinched in waistline and soft shoulders. For more formal occasions ladies in the 1950s could wear a long and slim pencil skirt or voluminous skirts supported by petticoats. 

Everyday style for women often consisted of cropped sweaters and cardigans. The blouse also was a part of the1950s women’s fashion and often featured sleeveless or very short sleeves. Both of them were always worn tucked in skirts or pants, finished with a belt in similar colour. 

Fashion of the 1950's - the way of wearing cadigans
A typical way of wearing cardigans in the 1950’s;
Source : Pinterest

During colder months 50s fashion women wore big, bulky coats. Their shape and size was influenced by skirts worn underneath. Short, tailored jackets gained popularity and were often sold and worn as an elegant suit set. 

What did Gentlemen Wear in the 1950s?

fashion of the 1950's Neo Edwardian style
1950’s Neo Edwardian style;
Source: Pinterest

In Britain neo-Edwardian look was a 1950 fashion style for men. It consisted of a single breasted jacket, narrow trousers, waistcoat and a slimline overcoat. It was followed by Italian tailors, who promoted lightweight suits with narrow lapels.

But menswear fashion in the 1950’s above all saw the acceptance of informality. This trend started in the USA with an increased popularity of leisure wear, but with time took over Europe. Summer staples of men’s fashion in the 1950’s were hawaiian-style shirts and knee-length shorts.

Fashion icons of the 1950s

Female stars  in the 1950’s

  • Audrey Hepburn – Most known for her role in the 1953 movie “Roman Holiday”. Her style resembled classical elegance of the fashion in the 1950’s. Audrey Hepburn was also a muse of Hubert de Givenchy and often wore pearls. 
  • Elizabeth Taylor – One of the most popular actresses in the 1950’s. She became a fashion symbol of the ’50s.
  • Marilyn Monroe – Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, and model. Her curvy and seductive silhouette embodied the ideal body type for the 1950’s.
  • Grace Kelly – American actress ,who became Princess of Monaco in April 1956. Her sense of fashion defined the glamorous 1950s and she was a big fan of Christian Dior.
Grace Kelly in her coronation gown in the 1956
Grace Kelly in her coronation gown in the 1956;
Source: Fashion-Era

Male stars in the 1950’s

  • Marlon Brando – American actor, who heavily influenced men’s fashion in the 1950’s, by wearing jeans, black leather jackets and white t-shirts in movies. 
  • James Dean – Despite his sudden death in 1955, his role in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause” inspired the style of numerous people in the 1950’s and further.
Marlon Brando in the movie "Wild One"
Marlon Brando in the movie “Wild One”
James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause
James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause;
Source: Wikipedia

Fashion of the 1950’s – popular accessories

Gloves, small hats, handbags and shoes in matching sets were popular accessories in the 50’s fashion and embodied early 1950s elegance. 1950s fashion women proudly wore their pearls or golden jewellery, but costume jewellery became a popular alternative. In contrast to fine jewellery it was much cheaper and bold.

Costume jewellery consisted of inexpensive materials like rhinestones or plastic. Another popular accessory in fashion of the 1950’s were colourful scarves often made of silk or chiffon. They were either tied to the side of the neck or around the hair. Gentlemens finished their look with a bowler hat.

What colours were worn in the 1950s?

Consumerism definitely had a big influence on the variety of colourways of each garment in the 1950’s. As this was an era of tremendous optimism, new and improved everything so were colours. Overall colour palette of the 1950’s stayed in a range of more saturated pastels and vibrant technicolours. Colours weren’t competing with each other, but worked together. 

The most popular colour in the 1950’s was pink in various shades. It shouldn’t be surprising, as this decade wanted to conjure up happiness. The signature colour combo of the era was pairing pink with teal or seafoam tones. We could also see a lot of corals, turquoise, sunflower yellow. On the side of more vibrant colours deep greens of course red were popular.

What fabrics were popular in the 1950s?

Leisure and sportswear revolution increased the demand for new synthetic fabrics. They were mostly produced for activity clothes and mimicked natural materials. 

Corduroy was used more and more in everyday fashion as well as jeans. Apart from that heavier cotton, wool and tweed were primarily used. 

As high fashion clothes were highly constructed, they required materials that would hold the shape. For this reason piles of silk, satin, taffeta, lace, velvet and chiffon were used. Winter clothes often consisted of wool, camel hair, fleece, tweed, fur and cashmere. 

Fashion designers of the 1950s

As the pace of the fashion industry revival varied across the globe, so did styles in each country. Therefore instead of pointing out designers overall I decided to divide fashion designers of the 1950s by region. 

French fashion designers of the 1950s

  • Cristobal Balenciaga – The work of Cristobal Balenciaga was modern and played with shapes and colours. He was known for using heavy weight fabric and exquisite construction of clothes. To learn more check my post about the history of Cristobal Balenciaga; 
  • Christian Dior – Effect of the New Look was prominent in the fashion of the 1950’s, when material rationing ceased;
  • Pierre Balmain – Balmain was known for his ultra feminine and sophisticated clothes;
  • Hubert de Givenchy – After several years of training under great designers like Jacques Fath or Elsa Schiaparelli his eponymous fashion house was well established by the late 1950’s. He specialised in classic and refined style. One of his most loyal clients was Audrey Hepburn. 
Fashion of the 1950's - Sack dress by Cristobal Balenciaga
Sack dress by Cristobal Balenciaga;
Source: Google Arts&Culture
Dress by Pierre Balmain in the 1950's
Dress by Pierre Balmain;
Source: Pinterest
Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 movie "Sabrina"
Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 movie “Sabrina”;
Source: The Fashion Vibes

American fashion designers of the 1950s  

  • Charles James – he played with unusual shapes, similar to Balenciaga, who even praised him by saying ”Charles James raised haute couture from an applied art form to a pure art form”;
  • Norman Norell – he specialised in wool jersey dresses, sharply tailored suits and little overcoats. His style was chic, focused on simplicity and captured the essence of Paris fashion in the 1950’s;
  • Claire McCardell –  Her designs were directly inspired by the life of american women. Claire McCardell was regarded for creating an American look and sportswear. Though she died in the 1958 ,she was still one of the leading american designer of the 1950’s.
Clover Leaf gown by Charles James;
Clover Leaf gown by Charles James 1954;
Dinner Suit by Charles James 1950;
Dinner Suit by Charles James 1950;

English fashion designers of the 1950s

  • Norman Hartnell – One of his most important designs was a coronation gown created  for Queen Elizabeth II;
  • Hardy Amies – he often used heavy satin or ribbed silk with embroidered panels; 
  • Charles Creed – he focused on creating elegant, well-cut coats and suits.
Coronation gown for The Queen Elizabeth II by Norman Hartnell 1953
Coronation gown for The Queen Elizabeth II by Norman Hartnell 1953; Source:

Italian fashion designers of the 1950s

  • Roberto Capucci – He focus on creating outstanding collections inspired by architecture and geometry; 
  • Emilio Pucci – One of the most respected italian designers specialised in sports clothes and casual wear;
  • Elsa Schiaparelli – continuing her surrealist style Elsa Schiaparelli pushed fashion forward with her otherworldly designs. 



“Fashion Since 1900”  by Amy de la Haye and Valerie D. Mendes 


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