Fashion Era: Fifties

The 1950’s was the decade of the “wandering waistline”. Years before there was always a set place where your waistline was, for example in the twenties the waist line was very low. During the fifties there was no set waistline, Dior designed his dresses to have a high and cinched waistline, meanwhile, Balenciaga designed his waistlines to ride lower, resembling the style of the twenties. During the fifties there was freedom within fashion, women did not feel like they had to conform to a particular style to fit into fashion norms.


In 1950, Dior launched the “Vertical line” sheath dress, which was very popular. The “Vertical line” dress had a high and tight waist. Simple, lightweight tailored coats were very in style. These lightweight coats would be made of silk, chiffon, or lace…layered over summer dresses. These coats are very similar to the duster coats we see on the fashion market today. Fur was also making a comeback from the 1920’s, but it was styled more simplistically with only fur on the cuffs of coats.

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Christian Dior brought the waistlines high, while Balenciaga channeled a 1920’s look that did not really catch on.  Sleeves were really big in 1951. Sleeves varied from smooth shoulders with ballooned sleeves, to three-quarter sleeves with bell bottom cuffs, and even ruffles.

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In 1952, coats were not as full, they became slimmer and more straight along the side of the body. The skirt length dropped one-two inches, which happens in the history of fashion. For a few years it will slowly rise, and then it will drop several inches. Very popular necklines in 1952 included polo, turtleneck, and cowl, all of which are still in style today. Fur really came back into style, after the 100% purchase tax was lowered to normal tax rates. You would see fur on everything from the lining of coats to ear muffs and fur stoles.

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1953, was known as the year of sleek and slender elegance. Hemlines and waistlines got smaller. Skirts were usually 13 inches off of the ground, but in 1953 they jumped up to 14-15 1/2 inches off the ground. That may not seem like a lot, but at the time that was a big difference. Women continued to wear skirts and dresses with petticoats and big sashes around their waists. The most popular neckline of 1953 was a wide neckline, normally the decolatage was filled with multiple strands of pearls or soft and feminine scarves. Large hoops were coming into style towards the later part of the year, but a trend that remained all year and would continue to remain throughout the decade, was the famous stole.

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In 1954, the waistline became more relaxed and belts and sashes were worn at hip height. This was meant to create the illusion of a longer torso. The pointed bosom really came into style, featured alongside with a softer silhouette. The pointed bosom was achieved by wearing pointed and padded undergarments. This was meant to give the appearance of a higher and lifted chest. Longer gowns became more typical for evening wear, and the dresses almost always came with a matching coat.

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1955, was the year of simple, young and sexy. In 1955, twenties style was subtly incorporated into the trends for the year. Sheath dresses became very popular and were rarely worn with belts. The bosom was high and round, unlike the year before when it was round and pointed. Fashion became very inspired by Asian culture, and oriental style gowns and tunics became popular. Most inspiration was from Japan and India. The majority of women only worn long evening gowns because short evening gowns had gone out of style.

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1956, was the year of elegance and intricacy. The styles of this year were more classic, personal and formal, they really shied away from the simpler designer worn in previous years.  Softer colors and softer fabrics such as silk, satin, and chiffon were all incorporated into fashions. As designs became more intricate, they upped the froufrou aspect adding ribbons, fur, and feathers. The Asian inspired look became even more popular this year, than the year before.

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1957, was the year of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, she greatly influenced the trends of 1957. She made blouses the center of attention within an outfit, tweed suits, and open coats. Her style still influences the brand Chanel’s current designs today. Christian Dior, launched the shift dress this year, sadly he died a few months later. Waistline was no longer important, but more so embellishments on clothing such as buttons, ribbons, and bows. Gloves grew longer, and hats became smaller (about the size of the head). Berets, cloches and turbans all were very fashion forward in 1957. Oh, and did I forget to mention…peals, pearls, pearls and more pearls.

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in 1958, the silhouette of dresses continued to change, many women hated the “sack dress”, a loose dress, with no waist. So, designers started trying to come up with a new silhouette, the “trapeze” triangular dress. Many women still found that this design was hard to wear and too daring. Hats, shoes, hair, and fur were the most important part to putting an ensemble together in 1958. Everything needed to match and go together and they accomplished just that.

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In 1959, designers were folding pieces of fabric along the body, and dresses had draped and sweeping necklines. This was the year of geometric designs. Sack dresses and chemises were on their way out. Chanel was still extremely popular and she still had great influence over the style of this year. Evening dresses always had a metallic brocade fabric, velvet, satin or sequins.

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Information from retro waste

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