Fashion of the 1950s
With increasing prosperity and the return to the home of women emancipated during the Second World War, the 1950s saw the development of a conservative society, with an emphasis on tradition and, above all, normality. This trend was also reflected in fashion, which demanded that women wear an immaculate outfit, down to the last detail. The war had also created the technical conditions for mass production, making fashion trends, as shown in fashion magazines, affordable for everyone.
The early fifties in fashion (1950-1952)
The beginning of the decade was marked by the effects of the war and a return to classic values. The achievements of the war made it possible to expand mass production and the use of synthetic materials, which soon became a counterpoint to the elegance of evening wear. After the period of privation, there was still a shortage of fabrics, which led to the refurbishment of many second-hand garments.
Impeccably dressed—even at home
The look of the fifties is characterized by elegance. Women, in particular, were expected not only to look their best in public, but also to at home. Fine fabrics such as velvet, tulle, and silk are used for evening wear. During the day, however, manufacturers are increasingly turning to wool and cotton.
Wasp waist and bodice—ideal for the hourglass silhouette
It is not uncommon for women to squeeze themselves into tight corsets to achieve the wasp waist ideal popularized by designers such as Dior. In the United States, in particular, there was initially a storm of protest against the perfection of clothing, but it soon became a common ideal there as well.
At the same time, the trend for figure-hugging dresses and hourglass figures, initiated by Dior, revived the market for corsetry. Finally, the silhouette was also determined by underwear, so that waspies, girdles and horsehair pads saw a strong increase in sales. In addition, the so-called cathedral bra with its shaping underwires was popularized by Marilyn Monroe and other actresses.
Suits—elegant for the office
For the growing number of office jobs, men are dressing in serious, mostly double-breasted suits in muted colors, with broad shoulders and boxy cuts. With the loosening of fabric restrictions, trousers are becoming fuller and often have lapels. Knickerbockers and leather shorts add variety. Men, too, are expected to be perfectly groomed, with immaculately coordinated accessories. Working women often come to the office in a short, close-fitting waistcoat combined with loose jackets.
New Edwardian look—a touch of bohemia
Beginning in 1950, Harper's Bazaar introduces the New Edwardian look with a slightly flared jacket, natural shoulder shape, and an overall narrower cut. A bowler hat with a crinkled brim and an elegant long black coat with a velvet collar complete the look.
Nylon—the rise of plastic
With the post-war economic boom, new synthetic materials such as polyester and rayon spread rapidly. Acrylic, triacetate and spandex also make their way into the fashion world. Nylon is widely used, especially for underwear, nightgowns and the famous stockings, but also for the classic white men's shirt—and soon displaces silk stockings from the market. At the beginning of the decade, however, the tights were still not very durable; tears were commonplace, and a separate business segment developed around the repair service, which did not lose its importance until the 1960s.
Sports coats are often cut similarly to the suits of the time, but check patterns are particularly popular. Corduroy jackets, 49er jackets and car coats are also fashionable in the USA, and not just among lumberjacks and surfers. Other men prefer jackets with Wild West details, chinos or Bermudas with madras checks. Women wear capri pants, circle skirts and off-the-shoulder blouses.
Asian Style Meets Western Fashion—Identity Formation
With the end of World War II, many colonies gained their independence—and tried to create their own identity through fashion. This trend is expressed, for example, in the combination of Western suits with traditional headgear such as the astrakhan, fez or keffiyeh. In India, the Nehru-collar suit replaces the sherwani in many places, while the Mao suit is now common in green, blue and gray.
Mid-Fifties Fashion (1953-1956)
In women's fashion, the middle of the decade continues to be characterized by figure-hugging clothing that is not only glamorous and elegant, but also somewhat revealing. In men's fashion, on the other hand, little happens until a youthful counter-movement emerges in the form of rock'n'roll.
The shirt-blouse dress—an alternative to the wasp waist
From the mid-fifties, a dress style emerges as an alternative to the tight waist and figure-hugging silhouette of the New Look. Shirt-blouse dresses are suitable for everyday wear. They usually have sleeveless, ¾-length batwing sleeves, V-necklines, and cut lapel collars that do not lack the necessary elegance. Soon, designers were trying to bring the little dress into haute couture. The pioneer was Balenciaga, who designed wide suits from 1951 and dresses without waist seams from 1954. YSL introduced the trapeze line in 1958, with a high waist, dropped shoulders, and a flared bodice that made the waist almost disappear.
The Chanel suit—the return of an icon
French designer Coco Chanel made a comeback in the '50s and made her mark on the fashion world with an A-line skirt combined with a braided cardigan. The jacket falls just below the waist. The two-piece outfit quickly became a timeless classic for the older generation.
Skinny jeans and Capri pants—women's emancipation
After women's emancipation during World War II, they wanted to keep up with the times when it came to fashion. Around 1955, skinny jeans became fashionable, especially among American women, and in 1957, Brigitte Bardot and Sandra Milo popularized sporty white T-shirts. And in the years before, the trend was already evident in the increasingly common capri pants with their small slit at the end of the leg.
Bikinis — revealing skin on the beach
At first, the swimsuits were one- or two-piece, paired with a wide skirt or shorts. Slowly, high-cut bikinis became popular, but it was not until the end of the decade that they really caught on and became a fashion trend on holiday beaches. But it was Brigitte Bardot's bandeau bikini at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953 that really sparked demand.
Pin-up fashion—striking sex appeal
In keeping with the striking poster girls or the playful eroticism of Marilyn Monroe, younger women in particular presented themselves with maximum sex appeal in skin-tight pencil skirts, hot pants, halter dresses, halter necks or even extremely skimpy swimsuits, causing a storm of protest among the conservative older generation.
Cord suits—for leisure and office
From 1955, corduroy suits bridged the generation gap. Suitable for both casual and business wear, they exude a youthful chic even for the more sedate gentleman.
Bermudas and Hawaiian shirts—casual leisure wear
After pants were mostly ankle-length, worn just below the knee, or at the other extreme, very short as hot pants, Bermudas are increasingly spreading as a mid-length alternative for men and women. The combination with knee socks is also popular.
The Hawaiian or Waikiki shirt is a suitable top. Even President Truman is said to have been seen wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a nautical pattern. Short-sleeved shirts are straight cut, have patch pockets, and are colorfully patterned.
Pencil skirts and suits—two-piece for the office
Straight-cut, close-fitting pencil skirts sit high on the hips and usually end somewhere between mid-calf and knee. It's not uncommon for them to come with a matching jacket. Unlike the swinging skirts of youth, these deux pieces always exude seriousness and a touch of elegance, but over the years they have become shorter and sexier.
The Late Fifties (1957-1959)
Toward the end of the decade, little changes in the world of classic fashion. The cuts of women's fashion become a little wider, while men's fashion takes its cue from Italy and suits become narrower. For young people, on the other hand, fashion becomes more and more a means of expression to distinguish themselves from their parents' generation.
Cocktail dress—understated chic
The calf-length cocktail dress was originally designed for events between 6 and 8 pm. Unlike full-length evening gowns, this chic dress ends just below the knee, the cut is figure-hugging, and the neckline is rather discreet. The cocktail dress is most famous for Audrey Hepburn's appearance in the little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Men's Fashion—Flannel Suit and Nylon Shirt
Men's suit fashion changes several times during the decade, but never abruptly or radically. The single-breasted suit replaces the three-button suit, which remains fashionable. Toward the end of the decade, charcoal flannel suits are in vogue before Italian fashion houses bring pointed shoulders, lightweight fabrics, and shorter jackets to the world's catwalks. White nylon shirts and narrow, understated ties remain popular. Evening wear tends to be more subdued, while lighter, but always understated, shades with at most subtle patterns and slightly tailored cuts are also in vogue during the day.
Blouses and trousers—simple everyday fashion
In contrast to haute couture, which is characterized by elegance rather than suitability for everyday wear, women in the late 1950s wore simple skirts, pants, blouses and shirt dresses. In addition, the blouson was worn as a loose, hip-length blouse with a belt.
Evening Dresses—Opulent Barrel Lines
In contrast to the simplicity of daywear, evening gowns continued to be opulent. While day dresses in the Empire style often had a barrel-shaped gathered hem, evening gowns were characterized by a wide neckline and a collar that emphasized the neck. A bolero jacket is worn with it—and of course the matching necklace.
The Ivy League look—imitating the upper class
This style developed around the colleges that more young people could attend thanks to the GI Bill. Newcomers soon imitated the dress and athletic activities of the upper class. Cardigans, sweater vests, red Nantucket trousers, khaki chinos, white Oxford shirts or sweaters casually thrown over the shoulder are combined with special ties, precise brush cuts and boat shoes. This style, which often seems a bit dusty, experienced a revival in the eighties as the preppy look.
Fifties Beauty Trends
Hairstyles were initially inspired by the movie stars of the time, before the youth emancipated themselves with their own icons. In keeping with classic fashion, makeup is initially discreet and seamlessly blends into the perfect styling, in which jewelry and accessories play an absolutely essential role. It is the young generation that is setting new accents in beauty trends.
Hair—from buzz cuts to beehives
The new look is best achieved with a short, curly haircut, but hidden under a hat. However, this trend soon changed in favor of fuller hairstyles such as bouffant, poodle, and beehive, which were difficult to hide under hats. Marilyn Monroe also created a hype for feminine, blonde curly hairstyles with lots of sex appeal, and Grace Kelly epitomized the elegant curly version. More conservative men prefer a neat short haircut or a side parting.
Followers of beat culture and other emerging youth movements, on the other hand, wore their hair long and straight or simply tied up in a ponytail. Bettie Page also makes bangs presentable. For men, the young generation is dominated by the wet look, achieved with lots of Brylcreem or pomade. Elvis Presley and the movie "The Wild One" with Marlon Brando are role models for many young people.
Make-up—discreet and flawless
Developments in the cosmetics industry have led to a variety of different beauty looks. The most common is a subtle, creamy foundation, pastel pink blush on the cheeks, delicate eye shadow, red or pink lips, and mascara for the upper lashes, while the eyebrows are tapered.
Much bolder colors only come into play with youth. Rockabilly fans may want to complete their outfit with bright red lipstick and dark eye makeup.
Jewelry and accessories—attention to detail
Especially in the early fifties, an outfit does not end with the clothes. Matching hats, shoes, bags and belts complete the look. Silk scarves, gloves and pearl jewelry add to the elegance. From the mid-fifties, the nicki scarf—a small square neckerchief—is an indispensable accessory that loosens up the strict emphasis on the bust and gives its wearer a youthful touch.
On the other hand, men's wide double-breasted suits are complemented by pocket watch chains, black-and-white shoes, a fedora and a colorful silk tie to complete the look. Models with half frames along the eyebrow line, such as those worn by Malcolm X, are particularly popular.
At the beginning of the decade, wide saucer hats were popular, but they soon gave way to smaller models before hairstyles made hats almost unwearable. By the end of the fifties, a nylon scarf wrapped around the neck and knotted at the nape of the neck occasionally replaced the mandatory hat.
For men, the most common hat was the fedora, which went well with wide-necked suits. But over the course of the decade, about half of all men stopped wearing hats altogether. Especially the younger generation does not want to hide their elaborately styled pomade hairstyles under an annoying hat.
Shoe fashion in the fifties is very diverse, after 1951 the barter shops give way to shoe stores with richly stocked windows. Ladies wear saddle shoes, kitten heels, Mary Janes, ballerinas, sandals, and even sneakers, while men are dominated by discreet leather shoes in brown or black.
In 1955, designer Salvatore Ferragamo's stiletto heels hit the market and soon became popular as a complement to sexy outfits. Biker and blue-collar boots also became popular, as did the jeans with turned-up hems worn by rockabillies and greasers.
Fifties fashion icons
In the 1950s, actors and actresses were the absolute style icons, most of whom embodied an elegant, classic style. With James Dean and Elvis Presley, the decade also produced role models for the youth, who repeatedly tried to distinguish themselves from their parents' generation through clothing and music.
- Grace Kelly
- Marilyn Monroe
- James Dean
- Frank Sinatra
- Sophia Loren
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Dorothy Dandridge
- James Stewart
- Tony Curtis
- Natalie Wood
- Liselotte Powder
- Romy Schneider
- Audrey Hepburn
- Elvis Presley
- Doris Day
- Dean Martin
- Anita Ekberg
- Ava Gardner
- Cary Grant
Designers of the Fifties
The fifties are characterized above all by the name Dior, whose style is almost omnipresent in this decade. Not all designers agreed with his creations, however, counter-designs emerged that were just as important as Dior's. In any case, the haute couture of the decade is characterized by an elegance that often lacks an everyday suitability.
Christian Dior—style-defining fashion of the fifties
Although Dior presented the New Look as early as 1947, his design, which was a complete departure from the fashion of the forties, had a decisive influence on the decade. The couturier focused on luxurious, voluminous fabrics, flowing, figure-hugging shapes with narrow waists, and repeated references to the mid-19th century. The latter also defined styles such as the tulip line, the pencil skirt, and the H or A line, and inspired the fashion world of the 1950s before Dior's unexpected death in 1957.
Yves Saint Laurent—following in Dior's footsteps
After Dior's death, the 21-year-old YSL is promoted from assistant to head designer of the house—and immediately sets a fashion trend with the trapeze line. Straight cuts with narrow shoulders only widen towards the hem, which barely reaches the knee. Oversized hats are en vogue. In 1959, the French designer presented a new line that again emphasized the female figure. A narrow skirt is covered by a shorter one, gathered at the hem, and the waist is accentuated by a wide belt.
Coco Chanel—the return of an icon
Coco Chanel is considered one of the greatest opponents of the New Look. Her aversion to it was so great that she reopened her shop at 61, Rue Cambon in Paris after the war—and from 1954, her slender wool and tweed outfits left their mark on the fashion world. Jackets without collars, straight and comfortably cut skirts and the famous quilted bag as an indispensable accessory are her trademarks.
Hubert de Givenchy—the opposite of the hourglass figure
In 1957, the Frenchman presented a baggy dress that completely abandoned the waist and was a major inspiration for the tunics of the sixties. Most famously, he designed the dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but the puffy barrel look also found many fans.
Cristóbal Balenciaga—sack dresses as a new trend
Like Givenchy, the Spaniard focused on shapes that were not very figure-accentuating. In 1956, the designer launched a collection of Charleston sack dresses, which initially met with little success, but by the end of the decade were setting new trends. Wide raglan sleeves and rounded shoulders flattered even larger women.
Fifties Fashion Styles
The elegant, conservative fashion of the fifties was not for everyone. Young people, in particular, increasingly distanced themselves from their parents' generation and developed their own fashion styles, which, especially in connection with rock'n'roll, developed into entire youth cultures with social counter-designs and challenged the conservative attitudes of their parents.
Teddy Boys—Persiflage of British fashion
The Teddy Boys were one of the first groups to develop their own youth fashion style. They are characterized by an exaggerated version of British fashion with an Edwardian touch: red or light blue draped jackets, velvet shawl collars, narrow ties, and very tight, short trousers that reveal colorful socks. The result is a wild mix of dandy and American gangster, before suits generally get narrower. The women of this youth culture wear circle skirts, capri pants with espadrilles, cameo brogues and coolie hats.
Beatniks—turtlenecks and berets
After writer Jack Kerouac introduced the term "beat generation" to describe his own social circle in 1948, Herb Caen adapted the term in 1958 to describe a specific group: young people with sunglasses, berets, black turtlenecks, and generally simple dark-colored clothing were called beatniks. Striped shirts are also part of this trend, which are often referred to as the ideological forerunner of the hippies.
Rockabilly—Rock'n'Roll meets Country
The rockabilly style—a combination of rock 'n' roll and country music—is characterized by college jackets, black leather jackets and white shirts or undershirts. Jeans are combined with biker boots or work boots—and of course, the hair is gelled back with lots of pomade. The women look especially good in pink or black polka dot dresses, which they like to wear with simple pumps and eye-catching make-up.
The Greasers were inspired by Marlon Brando's role in The Wild One (1953). The fashion style is based on the clothing of mechanics and fighter pilots with their black Schott Perfecto leather jackets, blue denim jackets or alternatively canvas work jackets. Under the jacket, Greasers wear a black or white T-shirt, short-sleeved shirts with unbuttoned sleeves, blue Levi's 501s, along with engineer boots, Converse All Stars, penny loafers or other types of shoes, and cowboy boots. Although some women do dress in this style, they are dominated by college attire such as poodle skirts, petticoats, or cardigans.
The 1950s are clearly marked by the aftermath of the war and its hardships, which are expressed in a return to tradition and a desire for elegance. Movie stars were the models for fashion trends, especially in Paris. But with the rapid rise of rock'n'roll, by the middle of the decade, a counterculture of young people was emerging, who for the first time expressed their own ideas of fashion, paving the way for the groundbreaking innovations of the next decade.