1950s fashion of Blossom Romantic and New Look…
With fewer wartime constraints, 1950s fashion began to blossom. In late 1940s designers smoothed off fashion’s sharp lines to crate a soften silhouette, but it was Christian Dior who had the nerve to exaggerate the feminine silhouette to cartoon-like proportions.
Wide Ballerina Skirts
With the provocative swish of a wide skirt, Dior brought fancy to life with his first ever Paris couture collection of 1947. Women were scandalised but thrilled by the fairy-tale extravagance of ballerina skirts, tapered waists and bust-enhancing bodycases. This collection dictated the 1950s fashion.
Dior thumbed his nose at the post war poverty and lack of materials, using as much 23 meters of fabric for a single dress. Governments condemned it and American protest groups denounced it, but it was too late. Forget unpatriotic, unpractical, expensive: women had already fallen in love with the romantic style which made the wartime suits look so mean, even wearing a Dior dress meant a return to the corsets and hip pads of the Belle Epoque.
Dior’s New Look
In 1947 Picture Post commented: ‘the shirt-waists and full skirts of the Nineties are fashion news today.’ Carmel Snow called it the ‘New Look’, and Dior was launched.
Christian Dior has been singled out for attention by the textile giant Marcel Boussac, who offered to fund the opening of his couture house. Boussac would not be disappointed in his choice. The young visionary had soon built his own name into an aspirational brand.
Just a Gucci would in the 1990s, Dior set the trends, everyone else copied them and the company reaped the considerable financial rewards. He tempted his couture customers with newer look each season: the H-line, the A-line, the tulip line, and the Y-line. By 1954 he was presiding over an empire, with boutiques, ready-to-wear, scent, stockings, accessories and lingerie running alongside his couture line.
If Dior was a pedlar of dreams, Cristobal Balenciaga was a 1950s fashion purist, offering sculptural drapery and sophisticated tailoring. His ergonomic suits with stand away collars were smooth, and, in contrast to wide New Look skirts, he offered tight pencil skirts with jackets that rested on the hip.
Coco Chanel classy and fabulous
Wile women were squeezing themselves into waspie corsets and stilettos, Coco Chanel, now over seventy, came stalking back with her relaxed suites and comfortable unrestricted dressing.
With the increase of ready-to-wear and muss production, couture found itself being shunted onto the sidelines. From the early days of the century couturiers had sold toilets, or couture samples, to manufacturers so that they could reproduce and sell copies of the couture looks of the 1950s fashion with the couturier’s permission.
During the 1930s Depression, America severely taxed imported couture originals but impressed no such taxes on toilets. The American mass production of copies from Paris increased markedly. During the war America had proved that ready-to-wear could work without Paris’s design influence, and that the rich would buy well designed, off-the-peg clothes if they were offered in a wide enough range of sizes. America began to lead in quality, mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing.
In the 1920s European designers such as Jean Patou had lounged leisure ranges to run alongside their couture businesses and in the 1930s couturier Lucien Lelong launched a line of dresses that were ready-made rather than individually fitted to a woman figure. After the war Jaques Fath, Hardy Amies, Christian Dior and others soon followed, launching their ready-to-wear lines; they often teamed up with manufacturers to take care of the production but designed the clothes themselves.
Everyone could now buy into a designer brand ‘off the peg’ at a reduced price. Next Europian designers started to skip the couture road altogether, with Chloe Emilio Pucci and Albert Lempereur all launching up-market well-designed, ready to wear clothes.
Fifties Free Spirit
The 1950s fashion marked the liberation of the teenager as free spirit. A rash of subcultures was spawned: biker girls rode up behind the boys in unisex jeans, boots and leather jackets and beatnik boys and girls danced to be-bop in head-to-toe black.
Manufacturers spotted a gap in the market and quickly bridged it, designing reasonably priced, fashionable clothes specifically targeted at the young.
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