50s Style Clothing

May 8, 2012

The 1950s: pretty, feminine, and ready to wear.

Several important socioeconomic trends defined the 1950s style clothing. Firstly, the improved post-war economy led to boom in spending and consumption of goods, fashionable clothes among them, at a grand scale. Secondly, new clothing market niche opened as youth culture of the forties grew into a completely new societal stage: a teenager. Lastly, technological innovations allowed development of new textiles and manufacturing techniques, removing the stigma associated with pre-war shoddy ready to wear clothes. With the tumults of the war and postwar shaking up the entire society, novel, edge-pushing trends were not the trademark of the 50s clothing styles. In fact, conformism and stability were the ‘it’ trends. In fashion, this translated into a rather limited range of silhouettes, especially in garments for women.

1950s Inspired Style from ModCloth

Femininity, softness, and fragility of hourglass-shaped outfits defined most the 1950s fashion. However, the sleeveless blouses, harness tops, and chemise dresses retained the tomboyish flair of the 1920s. Chemise dress was particularly popular because it allowed a woman to create her own waistline, thus offering a much better fit for even difficult to dress figures.

The silhouettes dominating the 1950s fashion scene first appeared in the collections of Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, and Cristobal Balenciaga. Christian Dior defined the entire trend of feminine clothes with his 1947 collection Corolle. The collection, often referred to as the ‘New Look’ had glamorous evening and simpler daywear lines that had full skirts, boned bodices, fitted tops and jackets. The straight fitted jacket was often paired with a pencil skirt. Dior launched H, A, and Y haute couture lines that introduced new concepts to fashion. His ideas dominated the fashion world for close to a decade. By the 1956, however, Cristobal Balenciaga and Coco Chanel pioneered other popular trends.

In contrast to very tailored and fitted garments by Dior, Balenciaga debuted unfitted suits and dresses. His ‘sack’ dress, shown on the runway in 1954, caused a sensation. Balenciaga went on to create a balloon dress, tunic dress, and barrel-line jacket. Despite his immense influence and popularity, the designer never produced a ready-to-wear line. Balenciaga brand as it is known today is mostly represented by a Gucci-owned line of handbags with chunky, punk-inspired hardware.

Coco Chanel, another icon of fashion and style, criticized Dior’s New Look. In mid-50s, she designed her signature Chanel suit, with a short, boxy, braid-trimmed jacket and an A-line skirt. Chanel also recognized limitations of high fashion and understood that growth of the Chanel house relied on ready to wear designer labels available to the consumers.

Another signature trend of the 1950s clothing styles is growth of the popularity of sportswear. Women’s pants were ankle-length and very narrow. The mid-calf long pants, called houseboy pants, and mid-thigh Bermuda shorts were particularly popular in the second half of the decade.

The youth subculture of the decade produced Teddy boys in Britain and the beat generation. Youth style tended to be rooted in the rebellion against mainstream conformism, in fashion as well as in other aspects of social life. Teddy boys were known for wearing Edwardian-inspired clothes, namely, tight pants, narrow ties, and drape jackets. The pants were often short enough to show off socks, a rather shocking development at the time.

The beat generation, or ‘beatniks’, channeled their downtrodden and exhausted attitude to life through very simple clothes, like black jeans, ankle boots, plaid shirts, and turtlenecks.

Beatnik Fashion

Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Anita O’Day are among the notable icons of fashion and style of the 1950s.

Dior and Chanel are available through their websites, although the original vintage pieces can be found on ebay and through auctions. ModCloth, Stop Staring!, and Vivien of Holloway offer 1950s – inspired clothes.

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