1950s Fashion

Fashion is an attitude as much as it is a physical item of clothing. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress. Fashion is also an art. It is design, color and texture. Fashion can convey style and mood. Styles of clothing can be modern or old fashioned as the wearer chooses. You can be up to date and "with it" or you can be conservative and reserved. Fashion is many things to many people. It is a career, a business or a hobby. It can be modeling, manufacturing, designing or retailing. What does fashion mean you YOU? Think about it and you might be surprised to learn something about yourself you weren't aware of.

Did you ever wonder why you wear the clothes you wear at any specific time. There are actually many factors involved in your choices of fashion. Here are a few:

Seasonality - We wear different clothes in different seasons or at least whatever the weather happens to be wherever we happen to be. With a huge accessibility to travel we may experience different climates and at many different times. This has a huge impact on how we dress, whether we are dressing for a cold snowy day or a hot summer on the beach. Climate and seasons do have a huge impact on our fashion choices.

Activity - We dress differently for different activities. What we wear while playing tennis is entirely what we wear when on a ski slope. A night at the opera requires a vast difference in our fashion than a picnic. We dress one way for school and then usually an entirely different way when we get home and go and hangout somewhere informally.

Time of Day - We might dress one way in the early part of the day than we dress in the evening hours. Few people sit around in their pajamas in the middle of the day.

Weather - We usually dress differently according to the weather. Their is a vast difference in dresssing for a freezing cold winter day than for a walk on a hot beach.

Affordability - Many people cannot afford expensive designer clothing and will buy their clothes wherever they can afford and this makes a big difference on what they wear.

Availability - Most people usually buy their clothes locally. There can be big differences from place to place what clothes are available for sale.

Dress Codes - Determine what we can and do wear depending on the rules.

Uniforms - Many occupations or jobs require uniforms. This severely limits any choices for other clothing not within the uniform code.

What's in Style - most people choose to wear what is in style NOW. You will find very few who still dress according to the styles of 20 years before.

But, what about those styles and fashions? They seemed to be in a constant state of change. In the 1950s, as in all decades, styles changed on a regular basis. Hemlines rose and hemlines fell. Silhouettes changed just as quickly. There were often many styles to choose from at any given time. Rarely was there only one style that everybody felt they had to wear unless we were subject to a severe dress code of some kind. If you were not attuned to what the fashion industry was doing from time to time it was not easy to keep current. Here are some general trends for 1950s fashion as the decade progressed:


Simplicity was the keynote of the distinctly feminine styles at the beginning of the 1950s decade .There were no revolutionary trends. There was a deliberate lack of symmetry. Wide shoulders and bodice tapered down to a small, natural waist and. Velvets  slim skirt.

Fabrics and color were especially important. They appeared in many unusual combinations. Satins, laces, brocades, woolens, and tweeds high-lighted the paradewere used extensively for trimming, as well as for entire costumes. Red and blue in several new shadesappeared this season. New color treatments included ombre, the one-color shading from light to dark values, and the all-one-color,or monotone, in which everything simply had to match.

Dresses were slim and neat, with silhouettes that followed the natural contour of the body. Bodices were well-shaped, and some bloused over the belt at the back. Waistlines were natural and defined, and hip lines smooth. Flares, bunched drapery, and gathered panels were used aside interest for many skirts. The shirtwaist style dress with a plaited or gathered skirt was a popular daytime model. Evening gowns were extremely lavish.

Suits. No single suit style was the most popular in 1949. There was a varietyof colors and fine quality fabrics. The popular trend was to mix andmatch jackets and skirts. Skirts were trim and straight. Lapels, pointedcollars, revers, cuffed sleeves, large pockets, buttons, and stitchingprovided exquisite detail. Velvet was the most popular trim. Goodthis season were semi-fitted bolero-type jackets, boxy jackets, andshort jackets with pointed collars or revers that wrapped around theshoulder from front to back.

Hats were simple but smart. Some of the newest ones were made of velour or hatter's-plush with high crowns. Helmets, pixie caps, and cloche bonnets were perfect complements for the short boyish hairdos. These small hats were simply trimmed with a jaunty pheasant feather, a single plume, a wisp of veiling, a leaf motif, or a jeweled clip. Large-brimmed hats of velvet were sometimes worn for evening. Small, stark white hats with black aigrette feathers or a jeweled embroidery trim were another evening model.

Shoes.T he open-toed, open-heeled shoes continued to be popular, in spite of the efforts of high stylists to out mode them. Jewelled slippers were specially designed to wear with the new short evening gowns. Sandals, in colors to match the wearer's gown, had studded straps.Black satin opera pumps had rhinestone heels. Stockings with sequin bow knots were $25 a pair.


The 1951 silhouette was extremely feminine. Shoulders were small and sweeping, bodices curved, and waists nipped in. Skirts were full, and puffed out with swishing taffeta or stiff crinoline petticoats. Colors and lines were softer than those of other years. The hair, worn at various lengths, was softly coiffured. Newest in hair styles was the two-inch poodle cut.

Knitwear, now produced in many modish models, was available in a variety of textures, weights, and weaves. They were popular for travel, casual, and after-five wear. One- and two-piece models were featured in full-and slim-skirt versions. A metallic thread running through the yarn added a rich glitter to some.

Dresses. One of the year's newest dress models was the princess line coat dress, which appeared in blond shades of silk faille or taffeta. Another popular model introduced in 1951 was the long basque dress. The bodice was fitted from throat to hip-bone, and below, the skirt fanned out in knife pleats. Underneath was an attached rustling petticoat. Some, those made of featherweight worsted, had collar and cuffs of white pique or lace. The short evening dress had a deep-cut neckline and a skirt that was anywhere from wide to bouffant. The elegant full-length gown was featured with fabulously full skirts. For fall and winter wear, fluffy skirts fo tulle and nylon net, organdy, or chiffon were teamed with wool jersey tops. Some had long, fitted sleeves and turtle neck liners. The bare-arm halter version fitted high up around the neck in front and back.

Coats were made of deep-textured wool. Smartest of the year's models was the poodle-cloth coat made in a loose style, topped with a massive pyramid collar, shoulder width. Sleeves were wide and loose, withdeep turned-back cuffs. The fitted, full-skirted coat was another smart model.


Fashion In 1952 was marked by two extremes. Skirts were either extremely full, or extremely narrow. Shoulders were narrow and mostly unpadded, and sleeves were deep-cut. Bodices were snugly fitted. Necklines were wide and often plunging, sometimes terminating in a deep crushed or pleated midriff. Hemlines were mid-calf length for general wear, in both slim and full cuts. The new short evening length was seven or ten inches from the floor. Floor lengths also were featured, many extremely narrow. A wide range of both natural and synthetic fabrics were used. They included tweeds, nubby wools and cottons, sheers, taffetas, and satins. Stoles graced suits, dresses, and ball gowns. Some were an integral part of the design, while others were separate. Triangular stoles were trimmed with a deep heavy fringe. Some were yards long, in plain colors or plaids. They often matched the costume in color and material. Sometimes contrasting colors were used.

Fabrics, Colors, Ornamentation. Tweeds and jerseys were the two most popular fall fabrics. They were used for evening styles in chic designs, as well as for daytime wear.


The clothes people wore in 1953 looked much like what they wore in 1952 or 1951. In 1953 the outline, or silhouette, of men's clothes changed more noticeably than the outline of women's clothes. This was unusual.

Men's Fashion. The "narrow look" or "neat look" were the popular phrases used to describe the newly accepted outline of men's clothes. Shoulders lost exaggerated padding and were not extended much beyond the natural line of the body. Sleeves were narrower atthe cuff. Trousers were slimmer at the hips and the ankles. They were shorter.

Women's Fashion. Women's clothes grew wider at the top and narrower at the bottom in 1953. The skirts of suits and daytime dresses were straighter, less full, less wide at the hem. Some were very narrow, called the pencil silhouette. Others had easy-walking fullness but were less flaring than similar skirts of recent years.

Truly full skirts continued to be fashionable in dresses worn in the ate afternoon and evening. Full skirts also continued popular for summer and resort clothes.

In the spring, suits were topped by box jackets (cut to hang unfitted from the shoulder) or boleros (shorter, snugger boxes). By fall more jackets were fitted at the waistline, some outlining the figure, other snipped in to suggest it.

The small fur collar of ermine or mink was widely used to add an interesting touch to sweaters, suits, and wool dresses.


The greatest change in women's fashions in 1954 was Christian Dior's highly publicized "flat look," which raised storms of comment and criticism. But it was Gabrielle Chanel--who had made the short straight dress with knee-length skirt the uniform of the 1920's flapper era--who suggested the trend when she returned to dressmaking in February. Although her fashion showings were not wholly successful, her influence was clear in fall styles.

Accessories. Bigger, wider, deeper hats that covered more of the head were more noticeable than in recent years. Huge "cartwheels" were often seen during the summer. A modified version of the cloche, a close-fitting helmet like hat, berets, and turbans were winter styles.White persisted as a popular color, even in the winter.


Big changes took place in the outline of women's clothes in 1955. But the change was gradual.
Dresses to be worn in the late afternoon, cocktail dresses, and evening dresses were still generously full-skirted. But sheath dresses, short for the cocktail hour and floor-length for formal dinners, were considered newer. Most women chose full-skirted dresses for evening occasions.

Men's Fashions. The most important fashion development of the year was the proof that men will change old fashions in dress for new ones as readily as women, if given the same chance.


Fashion in 1956 saw a few experiments but no sweeping changes.

The slim silhouette gained over the full-skirted silhouette in women's daytime clothes. However, the extreme pencil-slim skirt was often modified with soft fullness, detached panels, or over skirts. Most short cocktail and evening dresses kept the full skirts of previous seasons, although the trend toward the sheath appeared in higher-priced clothing. In this group, too, some dinner dresses and theater dresses touched the floor. Dancing dresses were long rather than ballerina length or shorter. A new development was the use of wool fabrics for evening wear.


Experts in Paris introduced "the sack silhouette" in 1957 .but American women, proud of their figures, were slow to switch to dresses in the new unfitted or shapeless style with no waistline.

Some United States designers ignored the change completely. Others compromised with the trend, providing belts in case the wearer insisted on showing a waistline. But the waistline had begun to lose its definition before the advent of the sack silhouette. The loose backs of earlier 1957 dresses were caught just below the waistline, and jackets hung straight to the hips. These styles continued throughout the year, as did stand-up, wide collars on wide-cut necklines, and a pushed-back look to the top of a jacket or dress.


The world over swung on a trapeze created by a youngster named Yves Saint-Laurent in 1958. Saint-Laurent is the 22-year-old successor to the late Christian Dior. By midyear, the flaring silhouette had calmed down to a gently molded "Empire line" that closely resembled the fashion of the French Empire period of the early 1800's.

The new silhouettes were the natural outgrowth of the sack and chemise of 1957. The vanished waistlines of that period left their mark in the form of an eased silhouette that was more feminine because it was belted, most often, just beneath the bosom. The line was elegant, and the waistband around the ribs constricted breathing only a little.

High-waisted fashions had either slim, straight skirts, as in the Directoire  period, or full skirts and lavish trim in the Empire tradition. Paris liked bows and roses as trimmings. The knee-level skirts Paris had advocated for almost a year took hold this side of the Atlantic, and women from coast to coast shortened hems to about one inch below the knee.


Fashion designers in 1959 returned belts to waistlines and relegated chemises and trapezes to costume museums. The fashion world called it a "return to normal." The old reliable shirtwaist dress became the silhouette of the year.

The most influential designer of 1959 was Belgium-born Jules Francois Crahay of the Paris house of Nina Ricci.  Crahay showed his first collection in January. By spring, women on both sides of the Atlantic were wearing tunic jackets, over sized sleeves, and bertha collars, all trade marks of this new star of Paris couture.

Dress Silhouettes that “shaped” 1950s and 1960s fashion

Straight dress without a waistline seam, cut with few or no darts. Also called shift, sack or pencil.


Simple fitted dress usually cut with fitted set-in sleeves, natural waistline and straight skirt.

A dress gathered or draped to one side.

Dress with normal shoulders, slight flare toward the hemline, without a waistline seam. Also called a shift.

Dress with enlongated bodice so that seam  falls to below waist.

A dress with high waistline under the bust.

A combination bodice with divided or split skirt. Also known as a Culotte.

Dress without waistline seam, fitted by curved seams originating at the shoulder (B) or arm holes (A) , extending over the bust to the hem.

A straight narrow dress without waistline seam, fitted with darts.

SHIRTWAIST DRESS A dress styled with a bodice like a tailored skirt, usually buttoned from neck to below waist, with either a straight or full skirt. Sometimes called a SHIRT DRESS if it does not have a waist.

A dress with camisole or halter type top worn for summer casual wear.

A dress with normal shoulders, no waistline seam, more flare at the hemline than an A-LINE DRESS.

A dress that wraps and fastens to one side, either front or back,

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1950s Fashion Pictures

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