Saturday, July 7

Vintage Fashion Tutorial- The 1950s

This tutorial is an extract from an article I recently wrote, to be published shortly in Antiques and Art Australasia Magazine.

After the end of WW11, naturally there was much cause for celebration. Things, however, did not return to normal right away. Rationing stayed in effect for numerous items for years after the wars' end, and it wasn't until 1947 when fabric rationing had eased in France, that Christian Dior pioneered fashions 'new look', and fashion the world over changed drastically.

Image from our last fashion parade, this ensemble is in store now

Post-war, women wanted fun, frivolity and new fashions. There were lush, full skirts, plentiful makeup, lots of accessories, and a variety of happy pastel colours to choose from. As rationing was lifted, skirts became enormous, with literally yards of fabric, hair was cut short for ease of styling, stockings with stretch (and so without the seams) were worn with gay abandon, petticoats were full and frilly, and matching accessory sets (compact, cigarette case & lighter or handbag, shoes & gloves) were mandatory.

 While the 'new look' was initially discouraged by the UK and US governments, it was so popular with the then trend-setting royal princesses Elizabeth and Margaret that in turn their designers were influenced, and the look rapidly increased in public popularity.

This was an era when housewifery, settling down, day-to-day domestic life, and just plain 'nesting' dominated. Picture the social context; for every returning soldier, there were 4 or 5 lovely young women available... the perils of war had certainly unbalanced natures' ratio. These marriageable young women knew they had to compete for men, and compete they did! 

50s lurex dress with inbuilt stiffened muslin crinoline, attached belt and matching wrap, in store now

Courses, magazine articles, advertisements, movies...there was advice everywhere on how to attract and keep a man. Once you had attracted a suitable man, the name of the game in the 50s was to please and keep him, and becoming the perfect wife was seen as the way to do just that.

Everything from cooking skills, how to throw an impressive cocktail party for your husbands' boss, how to be sexy for your husband when he arrives home from work, how to choose music appropriate for every occasion, how to be an appropriately thrifty housewife, how to grow perfectly lush houseplants, how to keep the children quiet when he arrived home, how to decorate your house in a pleasing manner, and how to knit him a 'sweater' name it, the information was there for the 50s housewife...and her maid, if she was lucky enough!

Probably the most noticeable, and long-lasting element that separates the 50s from all other decades of the twentieth century, is the fashion. Compared to the 1940s, it was lush. It was expensive. It was well-made, delicate, and dry-clean only. Women had lots of war-earned money to spend, and spend they did.

As a natural backlash from the hard times, deprivation and rationing of WW11, fashion became everything it wasn't during the 1940s...showy, fun, flash, pretty and girly. 

1950s coral soft tulle dress with matching wrap, in store now

Think big, big skirts, tulle, petticoats, sparkly rhinestone jewellery, hair flowers and pretty clips, beaded shawls and high heeled-shoes. Hidden underneath of course were tight girdles, pointy 'bullet' bras, and suspender belts. Virtuous impracticality ruled the day!

Following the then-outrageous styles of Christian Diors' 1947 'new look', fashion designers the world over began creating dresses with full skirts, yards and yards of fabric, fitted and strapless bodices, and tulle wraps. Whether they were for day or evening, the emphasis was on the feminine shape. The big-skirted tulle dress with a full petticoat and fitted bodice is the style most closely associated with the 1950s, but there were plenty of other key looks at the time that are collectable now and certainly need mentioning.

Firstly, the wiggle dress. So named because the circumference of the hem is narrower than that of the hip, thus a woman 'wiggles' when she walks in one. Popular to this day, and made in an absolute myriad of colours, fabrics, and styles, the wiggle dress is now an icon of 1950s style.

Wiggle dress styles, from a 1950s dress pattern

The Mexican and 'squaw' look. Particularly sought-after now by a dedicated group of collectors, this look, commonly seen in full circle skirts, embroidered jackets and dresses, was initially a localised style available only in the American southwest in the late 1940s. 

1950s turquoise south western squaw dress, from my personal collection

It gradually became a national trend during the 1950s, and embodied many of the well-known 1950s trends such as full skirts, light cotton fabrics, and fine embroidery. But it had its own characteristics, too- three-tiered skirts, native American colours, comfortable fabrics, and (for the jackets) colourful wool embroidery.

Dress and jacket sets were also enormously popular throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, described as 'a very smart modern look'. These dresses were around knee-length, fitted and tailored, while the matching jackets were usually short, boxy in shape, and often included fun details such as a closure at the back rather than the front or rhinestone buttons. 

1950s satin brocade dress and jacket set, in store now

Accessories were a vital part of any ensemble in the 1950s. Most collectable now are the lucite box purses, which are expensive now, but cost the equivalent of around $900 at the time! A ladys outfit wasn't complete without matching gloves, hat, handbag, shoes and stockings, and some of these pieces are now the most desired of collectables.


thorne garnet said...

the lady in the ad looks like she used something other than SOS to lighten up. That purse is out of this world

Caroline said...

I have to admit that the 1950's are my favourite fashion era. I think that there is an air of grace and feminity about the clothes that makes it stand out.


Erin said...

Oh my goodness, I *LOVE* that coral dress!

polkadotpeticoat said...

My goodness such a feast for my vintage soul.....Love every dress especially the tulle dresses and the two at the end.....

Unknown said...

Oh Kitty i so enjoyed reading this post your a lady after my own heart. I adore the 50's as you know, i so wish i was closer to you, you have the most gorgeous 50's dresses. I never seem to find them here, the brocade dress i love the whole outfit and the coral dress and the yellow one your wearing are stunning. I am after some fake fur wraps for my bridesmaids and i bet you probably have some. I am on a mission now to find a beautiful 50's dress for my hen night ;-)) dee xxx

Lakota [Faith Hope and Charity Shopping] said...

Great outfit and some gorgeous eye candy. Despite not being a girly girl day to day I do love 50s frocks, that coral one and your turquoise dress are amazing!

Melanie said...

You look fetching in your wiggle dress! And that's an incredible lucite box purse - wow. I enjoyed your article.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing! I quite enjoyed reading this!

Ms. Falcon said...

nice post ...

Anonymous said...

I covet the turquoise dress!

Unknown said...

Nice vintage dress.

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Kat said...

Awesome post! It makes me long to be back in my 50s dresses. I love the blue green floral dress. Stunning!