The 1950s was an experimental era when fashion was evolving in every direction. There came new designs, new colours, new silhouettes, and whatnot. The 1950s is an iconic decade when the vintage retro fashion revival took place. Women’s fashion emphasised more on their formality, elegance, femininity, and match accessories. When Christian Dior’s new look was launched in 1947, if became everyone’s favourite and influenced the fashions of the following years largely.
Shapely bust lines, unpadded, rounded shoulders, billowy skirts, finely defined waistlines, and more feminine dresses were characteristics of a typical 1950s dress. As age progressed, narrow skirts, jeans, and blouses too became popular. An extremely popular style during this period was the Dirndl dress, either puff-sleeved of sleeveless paired with a billowy skirt. This article gives a detailed account of each of the dressing trends popular during the 1950s. Popular trends during that period included:
- Narrow fit dresses and tailored suits
- Tea-length dresses worm in petticoats
- Circle or pencil skirts for women
- High waisted heans6, Capri pants
- Cardigan sweaters
- Swing coats for winters
Let us now go through the details of each of the major categories of clothing popular among women during the 1950s.
1950s Shirtwaist Dress
The shirtwaist dresses also called the house dress was a full-skirted swing outfit, which women wore while doing household chores like cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children. Houses dresses have large, bright, prints, checks, cotton solid or plaid patterns on them. The dress was buttoned up throughout the front or sometimes only the bodice. The dress has a 3/4th sleeve, a collar, pockets, and a thin matching fabric belt to secure the skirt. Under the blouse, a simple petticoat was worn. On top of this outfit, women wore an apron to keep the dress underneath clean. When they stepped out of the house for visiting friends or doing works, shopping, or to a public meeting, women could continue wearing the house dress but accentuated their look with a few matching accessories. They wore gloves, earrings, necklace, heels, hat, and carried a purse. As we already said, women were extremely conscious of their looks in public, hence, they made sure that their clothes matched well with the accessories.
Another full-skirted outfit was the coat dress. These dresses were heavy because they featured large collars, sleeves, and buttons. Hence, they were only worn in winters and fall. They had a slight similarity to shirtwaist dresses but instead of a shirt, coat dresses featured a coat. The dress and the skirt were entirely buttoned from top to bottom and had no back zipper. The buttons were mostly oversized. Coat dresses had large-sized collars, resembling an overcoat. Every coat dress had a matching fabricated belt to keep it tight around the waist. The shoulders were mostly padded. They had long sleeves or dolman shaped ones.
1950 Summer Dresses
For attending parties or while going out, women had to change their house dresses. Going out dresses were either made up of wool, cotton, suiting, rayon, tweed, corduroy, synthetics, and knits which were substituted for natural fibres. They had contrasting collars, full pleats, large bows, smaller pockets, and handprints of flowers, solid, dot, or textured. Also, they were of a shorter length than the house’s dresses. Later, polka dots, gingham, sailor themes, and sleeveless dresses became more popular. Apart from printed works, they had an embroidered or sequinned bodice. These outfits enabled them to look much youthful and younger, which women loved. There were plenty of variations available like jumper dresses, coat dress, tulip dress, and bell. Mostly, women preferred black coloured dresses. Going to any 1950s party, you would notice 9 out of 10 women wearing black. Black was undoubtedly sophisticated and chic and also easy colour to match with any accessory and haircut.
1950 Hostess Gowns
If women had to organise a semi-formal party at their house, they wore an unusually styled hostess gown. The idea of this outfit has been inspired when Lucile Ball was seen wearing a black coloured hostess gown in I love Lucy and suddenly it became everyone’s favourite. The hostess gown was something in between a dress, capri pants, and a skirt. Women loved the casualness of the hostess gown. They were available in a variety’ of colours and were mostly simple in design.
1950 Evening Gowns
The mermaid gown was an exclusive gown style of the 1950s. So is the Grecian gown. Short evening gowns were rare, but available. To render a wide, fluffy touch to the gowns, they had several floor-length petticoats beneath. Some ideas were even borrowed from the Victorian era, but the materials used were comparatively soft and light, making it comfortable for women to wear. Mostly the ball gowns were sleeveless. Some had spaghetti sleeves. Women accessorized their gowns with matching elbow-length gloves, a shawl or jacket, and statement earrings and necklace.
1950s Prom Dresses
Prom dresses were decorated with intricate detail works like sequins, beading, glitters, ruffles, lace, and any type of embellishments that would Accentuate the grandeur of the outfit. When it came to prom dresses, every woman made sure that the outfit was glamorous. They were designed using the prettiest colours and pastels and velvet bows. Similar to cocktail gowns, prom gowns too were mostly strapless, having a tightly fitted waist. This added volume to the hips, making women look sizzling. They were available in a variety of rich shades like gold, classic black, emerald, silver, ivory, red, mint, ice blue, violet, pink, and whatnot.
If you chop off the upper portion of an outfit, you would be left with a 1950s skirt. There were various styles of skirts prevalent in those days. Apart from the description of the major skirts given below, there were other varieties of skirts too.
- Circle skirts
Full skirts made up of a single large piece of fabric is called circle skirts. Beneath them, women wore multiple petticoats to render a fluffy round look. Some skirts were pleated while others were A-lined. Plaid was a popular skirt print abundantly available in those days. Skirts having pastel shades were worn in springs while the ones with plaids during winters and autumn. Some had large pockets on the outside while others had hidden pockets.
- Poodle skirts
Another popular style of skirt was poodle skirts. They were more decorated than circle skirts and had more fabrics on their bodice. They were embellished with cute motifs like dogs, cars, mice, martini glasses, telephones, etc. The ones with such decorations were worn by children and teenagers while the ones having no design were preferred by women.
- Pencil skirts
Narrow pencil skirts were also a popular choice among women. They hung straight from their waist with or without a split. They were stiff and body fitting. Also called wiggle skirts, these were found in plaid prints or solid colours. Women usually paired them with a matching suit jacket, but sometimes they also wore a matching sweater or blouse on top.
- Gathered skirt
The gathered skirt was another popular style of 1950s skirts. They were made from a giant piece of fabric that was tightly fitted at the waist of the wearer and full towards the bottom. They looked great on women having heavier hips since their tight fitted waist gave prominence to their natural curves. The shape was more like A-line, with the fullness at the bottom instead of around the hips. gathered skirts were great for pairing up with shirtwaist dresses or button-up shirts.
1950s blouses, shirts, and tops
Women paired matching blouses with skirts and pants. Blouses were a tight fit and wore tucked inside pants and skirts. They were mostly found in prints. Some were boat-necked while others were round peter pan shaped. They were available in a variety of shades like teal, pink, red, white, baby blue, checks, polka dots, and small prints. Printed and patterned blouses were mostly preferred during summers. A few blouses had small ruffles, vertical pintucks, big bows, pearl, white, or contrasting shaded buttons and minor embroider works on the bodice. Sleeveless blouses were worn in summers while 3/4th ones or long-sleeved ones in winters. There were so many varieties of blouses available to choose from!
If women aren’t comfortable with wearing blouses, they could wear knit tops instead. They appeared similar to short-sleeved sweaters. Some had crew or roll collars while some had classic prints. During the 1950s, the dolman sleeve knit top was extremely popular.
1950s Sweaters and Coats
Also known as jumpers, women’s sweaters during the 1950s were less thick and rough, thanks to the new synthetic fibres that were used. Also, they came in proper shapes, fitting properly in women’s bodies. They emphasised women’s waist and bullet styled underwear accentuated their bust size. The term “sweater girl” became popular to denote women whose sweater were modest but have a sizzling look to the wearer. Sweaters and coats were different during the 1950s. While sweaters were comfortable to wear, coats were bulky and big. Also, they were free sized. Long winter coats were worn on top of skirts, giving a sophisticated, clean look to women. Winter coats were made up of camel hair, wool, tweed, fleece, and cashmere.
A popular kind of coat popular during the 1950s was the swagger coat. It had a tight fit around the waist, but flared over the skirt. Another style of 1950 coat was the trench coat, which women wore with wide belts and broad lapels. Coats especially worn on top of sheath outfits were tubular and had a long fit with a slight tapering at the end. Short coats called box coats were half the length of the long coats. With such a great variety of coats and sweaters available, women could easily pair their outfits with a suitable one.
During summers, women got a chance to show off their well-toned bodies and hence wore bikinis and swimsuits while on vacations. A popular outfit wore in this connection was the playsuit also called romper. It was a one-piece top and short items that was required to be worn with a skirt or buttoned down dress. Short beach robes, smocks, etc. were other coverups worn. Mostly, these dresses were light coloured and featured simple, prints of flora and fauna. Sometimes they had sailor themes. There were various types of swimsuits available like the bubble skirted swimsuit, the two-piece bikini bathing suits, high waisted swimsuits, and so on.
The plus-size women’s fashion industry has been growing since the 1920s. By the 1950sz the industry has gained much popularity and manufactured extra-sized dresses for women. The dresses largely catered to the body shapes of all plus size women. During the 1950s, women dressed smartly, at the same time maintaining their elegance and glamour. By now you must have understood that the 1900s fashion industry was all about getting a tailored, sleek, and chic look. Staple accessories worn during those days were gloves and heels. Women had to match their outfits with their accessories to get the best look. Also, they carried purses, belts, and hats to accentuate every part of their ensemble.