Source: Jill Glindermann / State Library of Queensland, Australia on Flickr Commons
The 1950s was a decade of glamour, femininity and the return of European haute couture.
Unlike the ’40s, designers of the ’50s didn’t have to worry about the war when producing the trends of the day. Materials, styles and designs considered unpatriotic to wear just a few years prior were eagerly embraced in the ’50s.
Designers weren’t the only influences on ’50s fashion. As more Americans fell in love with the silver screen, the fashion choices of Hollywood celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepurn, Elizabeth Taylor and others influenced what a lady wanted to buy for her own wardrobe.
In the ’50s, women were hungry for style and the fashion freedom of the era inspired her gorgeous girl within to scream, “I am woman — see me dress!”
Keep reading after the jump to learn how 1950s vintage style, tastes and trends can grow any girl’s wardrobe into one meant for a woman!
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I personally believe that the ’50s was the last decade of fashion for “a lady.” Later decades never embraced the female shape and elegance the same way as the ’50s, with 1960s fashion and 1970s clothing more focused on eclectic style and self-expression.
Plus, don’t forget to check out my ’50s fashion board on Pinterest!
1950s Style Dresses from Shabby Apple
’50s Styles Embrace Our Curves
Source: Marilyn Monroe for Niagra (1953) / 20th Century Fox Productions
Thanks to the hourglass silhouette so definitive of the era, a lady’s body need not be a bean pole. Lady, you need those curves to fill out the figure-fitting styles of the day!
With the leg-baring mini skirt a decade away, the ’50s wasn’t about showing some skin. Rather dresses, tops and skirts were cut tight to the body with meticulous tailoring that hugged — rather than hang — on a woman’s frame. She looked sexy, not scandalous!
Marilyn Monroe was lusted by both men and women in the ’50s because her figure perfectly embodied the shapely style trends of the day. Marilyn’s measurements were like the formula for a scientifically proportional hourglass: 36-23-37!
Source: Jasmine of Vintage Vandal
My friend Jasmine of Vintage Vandal (above) loves ’50s style because it lets her curvy assets shine. She’s a great example of how to wear ’50s style in a modern way!
When shopping ’50s pieces to let your inner-lady roar, keep in mind that many 1950s dresses and skirts were custom-made to fit a woman’s frame. Always try on your dress or when ordering online, compare your measurements to what’s listed for the piece.
If the piece is an inch off in some places, ask your tailor if letting in or letting out the fabric is a possibility without ruining the vintage appeal of the piece.
Dress like a Princess
Source: Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) Paramount Pictures / Her Dress from A Place in the Sun
While the ’40s saw masculine cut suits in demure colors, austere cuts and made with resourceful material to conserve for the war, the ’50s went crazy for haute couture designs that resembled the opulent dresses only a royal princess could afford to wear.
This princess style of dressing represented the feminine fun that the era encouraged to compensate for the gender’s lost years of feminine dressing in the ’40s. Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain were the revolutionaries of the decade, transforming the tastes of American and European women from patriotic and plain to pretty as a princess!
Every trendy ’50s teenager wanted a replication of Elizabeth Taylor’s princess dress worn in 1951’s A Place in the Sun. The dress was so adored that it became a template for tailors to create themselves so that every 17-year-old girl could have her own “place in the sun” dress at prom!
Source: Wild Honey Pie Vintage
The ideal princess dress has a sweetheart neckline and high-cut waistline to emphasize a teeny tiny torso. Your body is lengthened into a pretty little statue with to-the-floor pleats of lace layered below with tulle crinoline to create the dramatic drape of a V-shape skirt.
I call these “cupcake” dresses because they remind me of upside down cupcakes — not to mention look just as sweet!
Christian Dior Redefines the Lady
Source: Christian Dior “New Look” Satin Dress / Wikipedia Commons
“I wanted my dresses to be constructed, molded upon the curves of the feminine body, whose sweep they would stylize,” Christian Dior said in his self-titled biography “Dior by Dior.”
God bless you, Mr. Dior! A decade before his untimely death in 1957, Dior changed fashion forever by shunning the ’40s and rather seeking inspiration from the vintage periods of the 1850s, when a women’s elegance was displayed via a shapely body created by the fashions of the day.
In 1947 Dior launched his new line in Paris under the name “Corelle,” but the line was nicknamed by fashion press as the “New Look” because it was so revolutionary for its time.
While avant garde and against the grain of the previous era, women jumped on the opportunity to finally feel like a lady again.
A woman dressed “New Look” in a dress with a full circle skirt with a tightly cinched waist. Wearing a girdle made her waist appear even tinier against the fullness of her skirt, helping to dramatize the look even further.
While the ’40s saw boxy fits and broad shoulders, the New Look fitted fabric to the busts of women embraced elegant, sloping shoulders sans pads.
1950s Lingerie is Luxurious
Source: Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) / MGM Studios
If you’re anything like me, you own a nude bra, a black bra and maybe a few more decorative bras to wear for fun.
While I own a drawer full of my mom’s slips from the ’80s, I’ve personally never experimented with vintage lingerie before. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to! And all the more reason to try because as inspired by the 1950s, a lady takes her lingerie seriously, styling her undergarments with the same meticulousness that us modern girls do our makeup in the morning.
A woman in the ’50s achieved her ideal hourglass shape with the help of garments unseen to the naked eye. These included a waist and thigh-reducing girdle, corset or corsellete. On top of her lingerie of choice, a lady wore a slip skirt or dress to smooth over any lines.
For bed, women didn’t just wear a ratty T-shirt and gym shorts! Their dress was just as elegant as their day clothes, choosing either a peignoir (a sheer overlay that ties at at the neck) or a full negligee (dress-like slip of knee or floor length).
Skirt Suits Are Sexy in the ’50s
Source: Marilyn Monroe / Los Angeles Times Archive on Wikipedia Commons
A woman in the ’40s suited up in androgynous style. Her jacket’s shoulder pads, single-breasted and collarless design with a boxy silhouette resembled something from her husband’s closet, and many women of the ’40s even wore a skirt suit as a wedding dress!
Enter the ’50s, when women wore skirt suits to look like a lady again. The length of the skirt lengthened from wartime knee-length back to calf-falling midi and was tailored to emphasize a women’s butt, bust, waist and hips. The jacket regained feminine flair a la collars, pockets and a trim waist.
Paired with heels, pearls and a matching hat and handbag, the skirt suit of the ’50s was every lady’s secret to style success.
A ’50s Dress Will Always Impress!
Source: Audrey Hepurn in Funny Face (1957) / Paramount Pictures
Wearing a pantsuit wasn’t socially acceptable until the late ’60s, and even then it was snubbed if worn in high-class restaurants with formal dress codes.
So in the ’50s, a lady was always dressed to impress whether she intended to or not! The Christian Dior “New Look” protested the masculine austerity of the ’40s by re-defining the era’s style lines to create a figure-flattering hourglass silhouette, as seen so beautifully illustrated above on Audrey Hepurn and below on Casey from Elegant Musings.
Source: Casey of Elegant Musings
Pants and shorts were part of a lady’s “sportswear” collection best suited for casual day or exercise activities.
The beauty of wearing a dress to impress? We had less separates in our closet, thus no mixing and matching necessary for less time spent on our outfits each morning!
MORE 1950s FASHION
ICON: How to Dress Like Marilyn Monroe
DESIGNER: Ferragamo Was the King of ’50s Heels
STYLE: How to Wear a 1950s Shirtwaist Dress
HISTORY: Everything You Wanted to Know About 1950s Fashion on Fashion-Era.com
OUTFITS: 3 Easy Ways to Rock ’50s Fashion Now!
TRENDS: The Top ’50s Clothing Trends for the Modern Lady
PLUS: More on Dressing ’50s Style on Fashionbloglife.com