1950s was an era of great actress- Grace Kelly, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Ruby Dee, Natalie Wood and so many other very graceful and talented heroines. Their fashion sense was exquisite and beautiful and all this without being over the top. Gorgeous and yet subtle! Actresses like Grace Kelly made such a deep impact with their personal fashion style that they left their impression even on designers. Grace Kelly used to carry an Hermès bag so often that Hermès started calling it ‘Kelly bag’. The bag was originally known as “sac à dépêches, So, you can imagine how the fashion scene in the 1950s worked.
1950s was all about elegance and subdued flamboyance.
It was a period of conservatism, modesty was the order of the day and both men and women practiced control in both clothes and demeanour. Obviously, fashion was not left untouched from this trend, thus 50s fashion was predominantly an era of conservative dressing. Men and women wore clothes that were modest and there was almost no skin show. Clothes like miniskirts had not entered the fashion scene, the advent of miniskirts happened in the 1960s. Women used more of frills and pretty colours to look pretty and attractive, skin show was shunned and looked down upon.
What did the women wear in 1950s?
The swing dress was the ‘in thing’ in the 50s fashion scene. This dress was essentially a tea length skirt. Then there was the wiggle dress, which was a sheath dress that lovingly hugged the figure of the wearer. The style that was popular was modest, with a high waistline and tea length. Women loved both the styles and wore them everywhere.
50s fashion for women was actually quite decent, in the sense that except for the sheath dress, all the other styles were wearable and comfortable. Sheath dress was slightly tighter and thus a little less on the comfort level.
Housewives usually wore clothes that gave them comfort when roaming around and stretching and cooking, so their dresses were simple and long. The material used was cotton, the pattern was mostly small or large prints and horizontal or vertical stripes, checks.
The most popular dress was the shirtwaist dress that had buttons all over the front. The large pockets were made to help women stuff things in them. The shirtdress was worn with a petticoat inside, this was done to give a fuller look to the dress. And an apron was worn on top of the dress, to ensure that the dress did not get soiled.
Housewives, most of the times, wore the same shirtdress even when they went outside or for other errands, but they added various accessories to give a formal look to the dress. Accessories included, necklace, hat, heels, purse, bag or something else like an umbrella. Also, the look was accentuated with a touch of makeup, like lipstick or rouge. Pearls were referred a lot.
Clothes for outside
The outside clothes for women were definitely more attractive than the shirtdress they wore at home. These were more fashionable and the focus was on glamour rather than comfort, at least to some extent. The dresses were either the swing dress or pencil dress. Material used for the dresses was woollen, cotton material, rayon or corduroy and sometimes synthetic material. Out of all cotton was everyone’s favourite.
Polka dots, checks, large floral prints, stripes and animal prints were used. There was a lot of use of buttons, belts, collars, bows, pleats and pintucks. All in all the ‘going out’ dresses were nice, practical, colourful and made to suit the fashion of the era, which was minimal.
Fashion and women
1950s fashion women were women who preferred toned down fashion. Some of the fashion trends were:
- Shirtdress with petticoats
- Tea length sheath dress
- Tailored suits
- Teens preferred poodle skirts
- Pencil skirts for grown up women
- Jeans that were high-waisted
- Blouses with Peter pan collars
- Wollen cardigans
- Swing dresses and coats
- Accessories- gloves, hats, belts and handbags
- Jewellery included broaches and necklaces made of pearls.
- Lingerie was girdles, stockings and buttlet bras
History that made the fashion scene of 1950s
1950s was a flourishing era of profits, economy was booming. Thus, the economic flourish encouraged a society that was more consumer driven.
Consequently, even if there was only one earning member in the family, the family could manage to live quite comfortably, in fact not just comfortably, they could live almost lavishly.
The economic scene had an impact on fashion trends. The fashion trend that was initially simplistic, saw burgeoning of fashion designers. Charles James came to be known for his exquisite evening gowns. There was Pierre Balmain famous for his elegant clothes; then there was Christian Dior, a quintessential American designer. Many other names came and became famous.
The evening clothes
The look of the apparels was of soft, feminine and pastel colours. World War II came and with it came the production of clothes in large quantities. It was the first time when designers came to become prominent and the women, especially, the rich ones started buying clothes from the designers.
But, a girl was allowed to wear a sexy dress that may accentuate her figure, however, nothing inappropriate was allowed—which means clothes were to cover modesty and were not meant for skin show.
Of course, like in all eras, movie start wore clothes that were different from the common women. Plunging necklines were tolerated on movie stars, but housewives had to maintain their dignity by not wearing suggestive clothes.
All kinds of accessories were worn in the 1950s. It was an era of accessories galore, here are a few for you to have a look:
one of the easiest ways to keep hands clean. Yes, believe it or not, women and men wore gloves of all sizes, mainly to keep their hands clean without washing. So there were gloves of different lengths and colours, but out of all the colours white was the most loved colour.
scarves came super handy on the bad hair days, and 1950s was one age in which bathing was not a favourite activity. So, women used scarves to cover their soiled and unkempt hair. At times, a scarf was converted into a belt, at other times, it was worn as a halter top. It was conveniently used as a rubber band too and adorned on a ponytail.
if there was one accessory that made the dull 50s colourful, it was the bathing cap. Louder the better, that was the dictum. Prints, designs and colours—everything was loud and big. And women loved wearing their favourite swimming caps, every once in a while, when they went swimming.
Fashion or comfort, what ruled the shoes?
It was a fashion for some and comfort for the others! Saddle shoes were worn more often than not; however, they were as comfortable as sitting on a broken chair. Stiletto heels and spikes were loved by women, the whole idea was to take all the attention to the legs and the calves and make the legs look longer than they actually were.
Flat shoes and ballet slippers were common but preferred for everyday wear. Flats were limited to long walks or schools.
Undergarments, did comfort exist?
This is one set of 1950s clothing that was hot and uncomfortable but had to be worn for modesty and fashion. A petticoat was worn to bring in more bounce to the dress and the girdles were indispensable.
It was the period where full-figured women were admired and it was believed that only those who had a curvaceous figure ended up getting a good catch (read husband).
And, of course, getting a good husband was where the whole focus was!
Hang the comfort
Starch, made of sugar and water, was used to give crispness to the petticoats. Petticoats gave the desired swing to the skirts that swirled around when the ladies walked. Corsets used in the previous era were replaced with girdles that kept the extra bulges off. And the bras were to lift up the sagging breasts. In short, the clothes were everything but comfortable.
Imagine! All the trouble and drama that must have been involved in taking all this stuff off!
War paint and the curls
As the look was to be soft and feminine, curlers were the popular. Very often the women slept with the curlers, hang the discomfort! Blow drying had not become common, though hair sprays were used profusely, mainly to set the hair. Short hair was quite standard, so were the ponytails tied with a bright scarf. It was in the 1950s that the poodle cut became popular.
Makeup was subtle at home, and sort of loud in the parties. From wearing pink lipstick to having rose tainted cheeks and kohl rimmed eyes, makeup was clearly not understated.
Whatever said and done, there must have been something magical about the fashion in the 1950s, which is why the trends keep coming back…