50s fashion: Introduction

The 50s were a time of rapid social change and of course the fashion of the 50s was affected by that. The post WWII decade saw the influence of Rock n Roll music and pop culture icons such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe who shaped the fashion of the times.

A few of the key features of this timeless fashion era were tiny waists, feminine details and wiggle dresses and skirts.

50s fashion: Tiny waists
For women the classic feminine silhouette of a nipped in waist and full rounded hips are a distinctly 50s look which is still in vogue today. Although the ideal 50s pin up was typically a curvy hourglass (picture Sophia Loren and Bettie Page) the look is actually quite flattering to other figures. As the authors of Style Me Vintage: Step-by-Step Retro Look Book (Naomi Thompson, Belinda Hay and Katie Reynolds) note: ”A full, high-waisted skirt can hide a multitude of sins.”

50s fashion: Feminine details

Along with the curvy womanly shaped highlighted by 1950s fashion was also the details in the clothes which had a very feminine styling. Think beaded cardigans, pearls and clutch purses. Sweet floral patterns and colors considered traditionally feminine were also used.

50s style burgundy taffeta evening dress

This vintage style burgundy taffeta dress includes the feminine shaping of the small waist and flared out skirt, which was so popular during that period. The decorative feminine bow and the faux crinoline trim at the hem suggestive of a petticoat which was often worn underneath are also features of 1950s fashions.

50s fruity swing dress

This vintage fruity floral swing dress is another example of a bright floral pattern typical of swing and tea dresses in the 50s.

50s fashion: Wiggle dresses and pencil skirts

The term wiggle dress is really a modern description of a classic 50s look. It is when the hem of a skirt or a dress is smaller in width than the hips. Naturally this design keeps a woman’s legs closer together so that when she walks she ‘wiggles’.

The is the look of a classic pencil skirt or sheath style dress. Marilyn Monroe’s famously curvaceous figure was made for the ‘wiggle’.

Marilyn in a costume test for Niagara, 1953
Marilyn in a costume test for Niagara, 1953

Image ref: https://www.zootmagazine.com/2011/10/12/the-tale-of-a-glamorous-yet-vulnerable-legend-marilyn-monroe/

When it comes to hemlines, there is one simple but important rule to get the classic 50s wiggle with a skirt or a dress. As Style Me Vintage recommend “…keep your hemlines just below the knee – never above.” In fact, this rule applies to all 40s and 50s style dresses and skirts if you want to create a more authentic vintage look overall.

Remember of course you can be as authentic or playful as you want to be. As in life, once you know the rules you can break them!

50s fashion: make up

The look of the 50s face was very glamorous and was helped along with new innovations in make up. This decade saw the introduction of wand mascara. Previously it came in a block form or in a tube. The block mascara needed to be wet to become usable so most women simply spat on it. Wand mascara was definitely a glamour upgrade!

You can see the strong arched brows and red lips of the era on Audrey Hepburn:

Image ref: https://allisonbarberamakeup.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/audrey-hepburn.jpg