The Resurgence of Opulence and Femininity in the 1950s
The Resurgence of Opulence and Femininity in the 1950s
By Paige McKirahan
As society was finally on the road to recovery in post World War II and Great Depression America, fashion began to reflect this return to the norm as it exploded into new directions and silhouettes. In 1947, Christian Dior created ‘The New Look’ collection, which the first from the couture house and his first as a designer. The goal of the line was to revive France’s international fame in the fashion industry and it was wildly successful; Dior’s excess use of fabric and extremely womanly forms were a refreshing change from the rationed simplicity we became so familiar with in the 1940s.
He was extremely fond of the feminine motifs used in the ‘30s and they were easy to bring back into circulation as women were greatly encouraged to fulfill their roles as beautiful, well-dressed homemakers. Influenced by Victorian era silhouettes, skirts became full and busts were padded to create tiny waists in shorter, sexier styles. Despite the fact that this collection was released in the late ‘40s, it became a huge inspiration for ‘50s fashion and set the tone for the decade’s biggest trends.
Dior’s ‘New Look’
(photo credit to harpersbazaar.com)
Fundamentally, the 1950s were a time of conformity and modesty. Women’s appearances were directly correlated to their husband’s success, causing them to spend more time shopping and updating their closets with the latest fashions in order to appear affluent. There were two main dress types popularized in this era: the swing dress and the pencil dress. The swing dress featured a full skirt and the pencil was a form fitting sheath style. Both had cinched waists are were shin length, but the sheath style was impractical to wear around the house as it didn't allow for much movement. Housedresses were full- skirted and simple in cotton, with shorter sleeves and collars. If a woman had errands to run, she could wear her housedress out and spice it up with matching accessories and a pair of heels rather than flats. Evening and cocktail dresses were glamorous and made of rich fabrics including silk, satin, lace, velvet, and chiffon.
1950s day dresses
(image credit to vintagedancer.com)
Skirts were full and commonly made of one large round piece of fabric, dubbing them 'circle skirts'. Fluffy petticoats were worn beneath them to add volume and some were pleated at the waist to give an added fullness. Pockets were common and were either hidden on the sides or adorned on the front as an added statement piece. Poodle skirts are quite possibly one of the most iconic styles to come out of this period, though they were not popular as we assume them to have been.
Jewelry in the ‘50s was clean, colorful, and ornate; as spending power increased in this decade, costume jewelry flourished and gave women the opportunity to coordinate their outfits with accessories effortlessly. Some novelty designs and patriotic motifs were still popular, but they were eventually replaced by classic shapes and colors that were easier to pair with clothing. Expanding on this desire for cohesiveness, many women wore matching sets of jewelry, which were commonly referred to as parures. At the beginning of the decade when pierced ears were not socially acceptable, ear clips reigned and were gem-laden and oversized.
Pearls enjoyed a huge boom in popularity as their chicness paired beautifully with the feminine styles of the time. Yellow- toned and rose gold was the favored choice, along with the synthetic plastic Lucite. Lucite played a huge role in jewelry innovations of the period and prompted the creation of the jelly bean pin; this style of pin was quite small and Lucite was crafted into tiny cabochon balls to form the belly part of the animal design. Trifari and Coro were both huge names in the jewelry industry as they produced the increasingly popular costume jewelry and were the largest manufacturers in the American market.
Clip on earring featuring pearl and gold accents
(photo credits to vintagedancer.com)
Small hats were worn by mature women in this time period, typically made of felt and adorned with flowers, feathers, or bows. Pill box hats, berets, plate hats, and the cloche popularized by Audrey Hepburn were all prominent styles and were created to sit delicately on the head as to not compress the hair. Hair flowers were a famous alternative to hats and were integral to the pin-up look. Scarves tied around the entire head or worn as a headband also accompanied the Rockabilly aesthetic and emphasized the hair flip style. One barely left the house without a pair of gloves, and matching them to hats and purses was a popular practice. Purses tended to be smaller and hobo styles were iconic, along with novelty bags made of unusual materials.
After two decades of rationing and longstanding economic turmoil, the 1950s was a period of overwhelming optimism and change. Dior completely altered the fashion world with his debut collection and pushed the trends of the era towards femininity and opulence. We see accentuated waists come back into style and the rise of more traditional values prevail, which greatly influenced industry trends. If this has inspired you to emulate this iconic era’s style, head over to our collection to check out some vintage pieces that are sure to give you that ‘50s feel!
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- written by paige mckirahan