The 20th century saw some of the most iconic fashions of any previous era. The skirts got shorter, then longer, then shorter again. The silhouettes went in, out, straight, curved, and all around. The hair went wavy, straight, curly, big, and back again.
This week it is the turn of those warm, sunny months of the springs and summers of the 1950s.
The austerity of the 1930s was superseded by the rationing brought on by the Second World War. The 1950s felt like a breath of fresh air to the world and it was reflected in the fashions of the era. You can see how much nostalgic joy this brought to the world by how it lingered in the vintage inspired styles of the next few decades and even onto our catwalks today. The 1980s had a massive resurgence of 1950s inspired clothing, especially within the neo-rockabilly scene which was a large subculture of the time. It is in part thanks to them rescuing their parents' clothes from the attic and driving a new passion into the vintage scene that many of us can enjoy it today!
Let's start at the beginning shall we? It is indisputable that Dior's 'New Look', launched in 1947, paved the way of the future decade's style and by the 1950s it had left the fashion shows and made its way into the wardrobes of the every day woman. It lingered around throughout the decade, and into the very early 1960s in fact, inspiring fashion designers all over. Although it featured more heavily in the winter styles (more to come on that later in the year), you can see the outline in the spring and summer styles too.
The main theme was achieving that glamorous hourglass figure with a fuller bust, a itsy bitsy waist and shapely hips. If it didn't come naturally (and it didn't for many, it's important to remember that) then shape-wear underpinnings were the way to achieve the desired effect. But, it's hot out there, right? You don't want to be wearing layer upon layer of clothing. With the further inventions of plastics and other synthetic materials, underwear was undergoing a revolution. Playtex took the world by storm in the 1950s with its revolutionary underwear reforms, and even smashed through a glass ceiling by being the first company to advertise their bras on national television. The trick is to get a good cone shaped bra (you don't need to go full Madonna!) and some form of light-weight waist cincher. Team that with a waist belt sitting on your true waist and you can also get that mid-century hourglass silhouette.
The words 1950s summer fashion immediately makes you think of one thing: circle skirts. Circle skirts and dresses were hugely popular during the 1950s and continue to be a cult classic within the vintage world. They used an abundance of fabric which had previously been rationed, could be decorated with countless motifs and patterns, and looked bloomin' fantastic when you spun around in them. For more formal looks, circle skirts could be paired with a starched petticoat, but for day to day wear they were often left in the wardrobe. Oh, and they were never visible below the skirt.
To rival the circle skirts, there were the wiggle-your-hips pencil skirts and dresses. These were seen to be a bit more risque than the circle skirt, which were often worn by the cleaner cut teenagers, the Bobby Soxers, the pre-makeover Sandys so to speak. The pencil skirt, on the other hand, clung to the figure and took the bad girls of teenagedom to new levels of rebellion. Inspired by pin up sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Bettie Page, the pencil skirt revolutionised fashion for women and paved the way for bolder statements in the decades to come.
It wasn't just skirts and dresses that were brought out of the wardrobes in the springs and summers of the 1950s. Although they had been around for a few decades now, shorts were becoming more and more popular. Since the war years it had become more acceptable for women to wear trousers, and now the short revolution was in full swing. The key was to keep them high-waisted so they still gave in that nipped-in, hourglass silhouette. They were typically made out of some form of light-weight material, although some were heavier denim too, usually ended at the mid-thigh and didn't cling to the legs too much. The 1950s had come a lot way but they weren't quite ready for too much flesh. Well, in the mainstream that is! There was plenty of underground action for that sort of thing. Maybe I'll write something on that one day...
And to tie all the outfit together, naturally there has to be shoes and accessories. Heels were still a popular choice for plenty of women, especially if they were off to work or to a dance, but flats were also on the increase. We've touched on the teenage fashion of Bobby Soxers who made flat pumps and bobby socks (yup, hence the name) all the rage at schools here and across the pond, but there was also a trend of wearing sandals, and especially espadrille sandals. As holiday travel became more frequent to destinations like Spain and the south of France summer fashions became influenced by continentals trendsetters like young Brigette Bardot. As a result sandals and other styles of flat shoes became the norm as the decade continued.
Tanning had become more popular and so often young women chose to done a headscarf to protect their head (and hair!) from the heat rather than a traditional sun bonnet. There are numerous ways to tie headscarves, some of which have remained popular and prevalent in the rockabilly and pin up communities. Older women still wore hats regularly, and some would not step out the house without a chapeau, considering themselves not properly dressed without one. But now we know better, so remember to wear sunscreen, kids, and don't let yourself burn!
For jewellery, more and more was becoming accessible, especially costume jewellery such as...bangles! Bangles had been popular during the 1930s and 1940s, but remained popular during the 1950s, often leaning towards pastel colours or incorporating metal into them, like the souvenir bracelets picked up on the travels. Although more women had their ears pierced than before, clip-on or screw-back earrings were still the most popular design. Earrings often matched with the colour scheme of the outfit rather than clashed, and, again, incorporated a mixture of plastics and metals.
Ahh wasn't that a lovely trip down the history catwalk? The 1950s was a revolutionary time for fashion. It was the birth of so many subcultures, the invitation to many freedoms we take for granted, and inspiration for so many designers for the years to come. Where shall we take the fashion history mobile next?