1950s women’s fashion 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.
1950s women’s fashion was marked by elegance and femininity. The hourglass silhouette dominated, with fitted waists and full skirts emphasized by petticoats. Shirtwaist dresses and pencil skirts were common, while the iconic poodle skirt emerged as a trend among younger women. High heels, pearls, and hats were popular accessories, and coiffed hairstyles added a polished touch.
Here is how some experts have said:
One of the most iconic elements of 1950s fashion is the poodle skirt. This full, swinging skirt was a favorite among teens and young women. It represented fun, frivolity, and a touch of rebellion – Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Shirtwaist dresses and pencil skirts were crucial components of 1950s fashion. They embodied a post-war return to domesticity, emphasizing femininity and elegance – Patricia Mears, Deputy Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
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.
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 Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or by subscribing to my newsletter!
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!
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.
Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage
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 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.
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.
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.
Dress Coat Available from Hinesite Vintage
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.
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.
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 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.
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 “box” shape suit jacket cropped to your waist as if cut like a square.
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!
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.
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!
’50s FASHION TREND #8 – CIRCLE SKIRTS
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.
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 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.
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!
A collection of cotton skirts and sleeveless/halter/bandeau tops reserved solely for the occasion of lounging and laughing by the surf and sun.
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!
Perfume as the Perfect Compliment to 1950s Women’s Wear
There’s no denying the timeless charm of 1950s feminine fashion, but if you’re looking to add a touch of modern luxury to your vintage look, pairing it with a modern perfume or cologne is the perfect way to do it. Modern fragrances offer a level of complexity and depth that wasn’t always available in the past. Fragrance technology has advanced significantly, allowing perfumers to create timeless and contemporary scents.
One great example is Club De Nuit Intense cologne, a modern scent that perfectly complements a vintage 1950s outfit. Its blend of citrus, fruity, and woody notes is fresh and classic, offering a modern twist on a timeless scent. Or if you are shopping for something more feminine like Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue perfume for women is a perfect pairing for a vintage 1950s outfit. Its blend of citrus and floral notes is fresh and classic, offering a modern twist on a timeless scent that may be more your speed.
Feel free to experiment with different perfumes and colognes to find a scent that complements your vintage 1950s outfit and makes you feel confident and glamorous. After all, fashion is all about expressing yourself and having fun with your style.