10 Feminine ’50s Clothing Trends for Women Today

August 23rd, 2012

'50s clothing styles that every vintage lover should own

’50s clothing trends are perhaps the most feminine and sophisticated for the modern vintage lover to wear, and are arguably the last remaining era of vintage fashion that’s available in ample supply to buy from boutique and online vintage sellers.

Unlike the war torn era of ’40s fashion, the ’50s returned to a trend-focused culture dictated by the runway influences of Parisian couture. The most notable 1950s fashion designers are Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Hubert Givency, Cristobal Balenciaga and Coco Chanel.

While each designer contributed his or her own touch to the history books of ’50s fashion, for the most part the decade was truly a time of dressing like a lady in waist accentuating A-line dresses, colorful circle skirts, tight knit sweaters and for the ’50s teen, the classic “princess” prom dress!

Because there’s only so much one can learn about ’50s clothing from movies like Grease, I compiled the ultimate checklist for the ’50s fashion lover to use when compiling her ultimate ’50s “lady” style wardrobe. See if you own what’s on the list – and what pieces you may want to buy vintage next!

Whether you love the ’50s for its female-forward fashion or to channel some of that sexy West Coast rockabilly vibe into your closet today, I swear that there’s a little bit of something in the era for every woman.

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<< SHOP NOW: Authentic & awesome 1950s vintage clothing from eBay!

I even claimed not to own a ’50s piece in my previous article on wearing ’50s dresses at Hinesite Vintage. I’m happy to share that I now own a ’50s circle skirt that I absolutely adore!

I can’t wait for my next ’50s vintage purchase – what about you?

Let me know what you love most about ’50s clothing in the comments, or by saying hello on TwitterFacebookInstagram or by subscribing to my newsletter!

xx, SD

’50s CLOTHING 

Feel free to scroll through the post to see the most feminine ’50s clothing styles for the vintage lover today, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article!

#1: Polka Dot Dresses

#2: New Look Dresses

#3: Dress Coats

#4: Shirtwaist Dresses

#5: Evening Dresses

#6: Box Cut Jackets

#7: Knit Sweaters

#8: Circle Skirts

#9: Prom Dresses

#10: Beachwear

1950s Style Dresses from Shabby Apple

’50s CLOTHING TREND #1 - POLKA DOT DRESSES

a polka dot dress

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A fun and flirty polka dot dress with white dots on a blue base with a fitted waist and flared skirt to create the era’s definitive hourglass silhouette.

two 1950s polka dot dresses

Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: Polka dot design became popular thanks to the influences of Christian Dior, who released a line of dresses in the spotted design. Soon after, Lucille Ball was often spotted (pun intended) wearing polka dot dresses in ’50s TV show I Love Lucy.

The designer and celebrity influence appealed to fashion’s mainstream markets so much so that the polka dot dress became a must-have item in every woman’s wardrobe.

Flaunt Magazine published a fantastic history of polka dots, complete with photos of Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe wearing the spot-tastic print.

a vintage 1950s polka dot dress from etsy

OWN THIS DRESS:  ’50s Polka Dot Dress, $75 by Little Bird Vtg on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #2 - NEW LOOK DRESSES

an example of the 1950s new look style

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A New Look dress fitted tight to the bodice and waist of a woman’s body. The waist is usually belted extremely tight so that a corset or body-shaper is necessary for proper fit.

The skirt of the dress is an extreme A-line flare that is further accentuated by the voluminous layer of tulle or crinoline added below.

This dress design created V shapes above and below her waist, making it appear as if her entire body shape was an hourglass.

a 1950s vintage hourglass floral dress from hinesite vintage

Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: Christian Dior redefined women’s fashion when he released a line of dresses in 1947 which changed woman’s style from long and lean to fit and flared.

His line of dresses established the trend of the ’50s hourglass shape, which was called the “New Look” by fashion media in the late ’40s since it was such a stark contrast to women’s fashions during World War II.

The classic New Look dress wouldn’t become popular with the mainstream until the early ’50s, as women in the late ’40s were still  wearing broad shouldered jackets, pencil skirts and rayon dresses adopted to both dress conservatively during and conserve materials for the war.

1950s floral dress with hourglass silhouette

OWN THIS DRESS: ’50s Floral New Look Dress, $90 by The Vintage Studio on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #3 - DRESS COATS

1950s dresscoat fashion advertisement

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN:  A luxurious coat to wear in the evening over a New Look dress.

The dress coat was special to a woman’s wardrobe because it buttoned and fit her body so that the shape of her dress below was not hidden from the appreciator’s eye.

It was as if she was wearing another layer of “dress” over her dress below.

a 1950s dresscoat from hinesite vintage

Dress Coat Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: While a ’40s lady may have worn the same coat all day and four-seasons long, a ’50s lady had a “dress” coat in addition to her day coat which was worn for evening engagements when she needed to step into a setting with the same outerwear glamour of what lay below.

The dress coat of the ’50s was made from heavy wool or silk materials for a shell of warmth that looked as divine as it must have felt to its elegant wearer.

1950s dresscoat available on etsy

OWN THIS DRESS COAT: ’50s Pink Dress Coat, $246 (reserved) by Rococo Vintage on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #4 - SHIRTWAIST DRESSES

50s shirtwaist dress

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A shirtwaist dress, designed with a bodice that looks like a shirt complete with collar, buttons and sometimes sleeve cuffs.

The “shirt” is cinched at the waist with a belt and an attached pleated skirt, forming a “shirtwaist dress” worn by housewives of the ’50s for style which was functional and fashionable.

two 1950s shirtwaist dresses

Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: The shirtwaist dress was marketed to All-American housewives by women’s magazines in the ’40s and ’50s.

The advertising campaigns persuaded women that the shirtwaist dress was their go-to style staple for living the busy lives of a suburban mother/wife/caretaker.

Its basic design has been re-imagined every color and design over, but the basic structure of a shirt with a belt and a flared skirt remained the same and infiltrated pretty much every ’50s American woman’s closet.

a pink 1950s shirtwaist dress from raleigh vintage

 OWN THIS DRESS: ’50s Peach Shirtwaist Dress, $58 by Raleigh Vintage on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #5 - EVENING DRESSES

women in the '50s dressed glamorously

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A unique and luxurious wardrobe styled and worn exclusively for your evening affairs.

Like a woman would buy a work wardrobe, the fashionable (and typically affluent) ’50s lady purchased a wardrobe entirely intended for after 5PM.

1950s sequin wiggle dress

STYLE HISTORY: If you are a Mad Men fashion fan, you probably noticed the wardrobe changes Betty Draper underwent for her day-to-night events with Don. Even when not as luxurious as the high society events of the Drapers, a lady was expected to slip into something a bit more fancy for her post-work affairs.

An evening dress was typically a one-of-a-kind garment or one of a select few available purchased from a specialty department store.

From the classic LBD to a sequin stunner like that of above and below, the ’50s woman was sure to own a dress that would rival every other womans’ at the party.

a 1950s sequin wiggle dress

OWN THIS DRESS: 1950s Silk Sequin Wiggle Dress with Matching Jacket, $105 by Little Stars Vintage on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #6 - BOX CUT JACKETS

1950s boxy style skirt suit jacket in fashion advertisement

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A “box” shape suit jacket cropped to your waist as if cut like a square.

1950s box cut jacket

Jacket Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: The box cut jacket was a women’s suit staple when worn with a fitted blouse and knee-length pencil skirt. Dressing in this type of jacket relieved a woman from the binding of a corset to cinch her waist for a more “New Look” styled jacket, as illustrated in the vintage fashion advertisement above.

Because this jacket style was less sexy in appearance, I assume that the shape was more popular for the older crowd versus the trend-chasing young lady of the era with the energy to push her body into the New Look shape!

1950s box cut suit jacket from etsy

OWN THIS JACKET: ’50s Red & Cream Box Cut Blazer, $125 by on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #7 - KNIT SWEATERS

a fashion advertisement of knit sweaters from the 1950s

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A short sleeve “shirt” sweater or a long sleeve button-up cardigan in any color or design, made from knit material to fit snug against your chest.

examples of knit sweaters from the 1950s

Sweater Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: When you think of the 1950s, you probably imagine a poodle-skirt wearing girl with a bowed ponytail and in a short sleeve pink knit sweater.

The archetype has validity, considering the knit sweater was so often worn by young women in the ’50s with their aforementioned poodle, circle or knee-length pencil skirts.

The knit sweater was initially a scandal when worn in ’30s film They Won’t Forget by pin-up girl Lana Turner. Its sensation made it a defining piece of 1930s fashion because the knit material showed the curves of a woman’s chest.

By the ’50s, norms had loosened and the knit sweater was no longer considered only for the naughty girl!

a 1950s knit sweater available to buy on etsy

OWN THIS SWEATER: ’50s Button-Up Knit Sweater, $62 by Strawberry Koi on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #8 – CIRCLE SKIRTS

a woman wearing a 1950s circle skirt

Source: Fashion-pictures.com

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A voluminous “circle” skirt made possible by its A-line flare and a layer of tulle or crinoline below.

It was nicknamed the circle skirt because of its circular shape along the edges of the skirt hem.

a 1950s circle skirt from hinesite vintage

Skirt Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: The ’50s circle skirt was an extension of Christian Dior’s “New Look” dress hourglass silhouette.

While there were ladies wearing the knee-length pencil skirt styles first popular in the ’40s, the trendy ’50s girl wore a decorative circle skirt designed with bric-a-brac, embellished trim or a funky novelty print design, like the musical motif of the circle skirt from Hinesite Vintage.

a 1950s circle skirt in parisian theme from etsy

OWN THIS SKIRT: ’50s Novelty Print Circle Skirt, $255 by Red Box Vintage on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #9 - PROM DRESSES

a couple dancing in the 1950s

Source: Flickr Commons 

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A quintessential prom dress of an era when the “prom” (short for promenade) exploded in popularity amongst American high schools and became the definitive moment of an American teenager’s young adult life.

a yellow lace prom dress from the 1950s

Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: Prom (short for promenade) means “parading of guests at a party.” The prom event can be traced as far back as the co-ed parties held for the graduating class of American colleges during the 19th century.

Despite these origins, it was after World War II that the prom as we know it was born because the US economy allowed for schools and their students to invest in such a lavish end-of-year affair.

When proms moved from the school gym to the local country club or hotel, the styles of the female attendees got bigger and better, complete with princess dresses in sherbet colors, lace, extravagant draping and over-the-top puffs of bulky crinoline!

'50s yellow lace prom dress

OWN THIS DRESS: ’50s Classic Prom Dress, $175 by Millstreet Vintage on Etsy

’50s CLOTHING TREND #10 – BEACHWEAR

umbrellas on a beach in the 1950s

Source: Flickr Commons 

’50s STYLE TO OWN: A collection of cotton skirts and sleeveless/halter/bandeau tops reserved solely for the occasion of lounging and laughing by the surf and sun.

a candy cane striped example of 1950s beachwear

Beachwear Set Available from Hinesite Vintage

STYLE HISTORY: We expose so much skin today in comparison to what a woman would be comfortable doing in the 1950s. So for beach dressing, a lady wore cotton outfits of playful designs and skin-revealing cuts because the environment was appropriate for such a look.

Some of the ’50s beachwear outfits (also referred to as sportswear) are now embraced by pin-up and rockabilly girls of modern day age because by 2012 standards, these outfits are considered appropriate for anywhere-daywear today!

1950s beachwear matching skirt and halter top

OWN THIS BEACHWEAR SET: ’50s Halter Top & Skirt, $88 by Tea Street Vintage on Etsy

MORE 1950s CLOTHING TRENDS

’50s FASHION: Why You’ll Feel Like a Lady Wearing ’50s Style
HINESITE VINTAGE: My ’50s Dresses Photoshoot with This Vintage Store
CELEBRITY: How to Dress Like ’50s Style Icon Marilyn Monroe 

FROM OUR PARTNERS

FASHION-ERA: The Best ’50s Clothing Timeline on the Web from Fashion-Era
STYLE: More on Dressing in ’50s Style from Fashion Life Blog!
DRESSES: ’50s Day Dresses As Curated by Tickle Me Vintage and ’50s Day Dresses as Worn by Midnight Maniac!
BLOGGER STYLE: The Delancey Dame Wears a Gingham ’50s Dress! 
LIVING FIFTIES FASHION: ’50s Fashion Told from a Woman Who Lived the Era!
TIPS: How to Cheat a ’50s Fashion Look from Second Hand Rose Vintage

 

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11 Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    Your articles are always such a pleasure to ready, Sammy! You can feel your joy and enthusiasm with each word and turn of phrase. Thanks for your contribution to making vintage known.

    Jacques Fath also made some really cool ties for the guys. I do love the New Look silhouette, it’s so flouncy and fun. And I really loved how those dresses went wild with the floral fabrics.

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    hey Stephanie! So funny you mention Jacques because I don’t know too much about his designs. Good incentive to dig deeper. My favorite book on vintage fashion doesn’t give him much credit! There really should be books devoted to each legendary designer’s collections. Someday!

    [Reply]

  2. Bella says:

    I’ve been looking for a polka dot dress like the first photo, not easy to find these days.

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    hey Bella! oh my goodness, did you check out the Etsy sellers I listed below the vintage photo? She’s a beaut if you like/fit her!

    [Reply]

  3. kim says:

    so cute! definitely all pieces worth incorporating into any wardrobe. thanks so much for featuring my sally milgrim jacket!

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    Your Sally Milgrim jacket is a gem! Thank you for listing her ;-)

    [Reply]

  4. marie says:

    I have fell in love with 1950s fashion and it was a pleasure to read your posts. :)

    [Reply]

  5. Angela says:

    LOVE your site. I am always looking for vintage clothing and I re-sell vintage and retro items on Etsy. You really have a god eye!

    [Reply]

  6. robert says:

    jason thompsonaddme on fb

    [Reply]

  7. Annalee says:

    Hello, I am new to this site and was wondering if somebody can help me with a question I have regarding a 1950′s lace Prom dress I have. The lower part of the dress is a circle skirt, but the hem on one side (left front and side) is not symmetrical with the rest of the dress. There is about a four inch drop in the hemline, much like a train. I am not sure if this was an intentional design or a mistake. If anybody can help me understand these styles…. I would so much appreciate any advice. Thank you.

    [Reply]

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