Although rationing dragged on until 1954 a feeling of hope and euphoria followed the end of the Second World War. Dior had led the way in 1947 with the launch of Diors New Look fashion which met the renewed desire for women to dress up in luxurious fabrics and feminine clothes. Although extremely popular there were some that struggled with the extravagance of the designs after so many years of austerity – some of his skirts required 18 metres of material. It was a dramatic change for women that had spent the war years wearing utilitarian clothes and doing jobs like driving ambulances and working in factories to embrace the new feminine look of the 50’s with padded bosom and nipped in waists.
The style most normally remembered from the 50’s are wide circular skirts using simple fabrics for daywear like gingham and printed cottons. The American influence would also use material with large motifs of dogs and cats or butterflies printed on it. For evening wear full skirts would be layered with frothy chiffon or rayon often in vibrant colours. To make the skirts even fuller layers of starched petticoats may also have been worn underneath to create the many styles of 1950’s ball gowns.
Not so often associated with the 50’s but still a popular style of the decade was the pencil skirt or hobble. A narrow straight skirt which fell from a narrow waist with little excess material and only a small slit at the back to allow some movement. Trousers were either calf length pedal pushers or narrow fitting Capri pants often with a small V at the hem to allow more movement. These were normally worn with simple flat black pumps shoes and ankle socks or bare feet. The Growing American leisure market began to influence fashion styling, a good example of this is the ski pant style trouser, very tailored, in stretchy fabric, with a flat fronted waistband and side zip.
Fur stoles were still very popular for evening wear wrapped around bare shoulders and fastened with a brooch.
The fifties decade also saw the introduction of the swing coat resembling a triangle in shape and cut to accommodate the wide skirts often embellished with large buttons. Other clothing accessories which were popular were hats and gloves. Hats were pull down bucket types, coolie hats, and wide brimmed flat picture hats.. Gloves were short kid leather for formal daywear and for the evening long satin gloves to compliment their strapless cocktail dress and ball gowns. To glam up their gloves up ladies would often push them down and wear big bracelets over the top of them.
One of the more popular styles for working class young men during the mid fifties were teddy boys. The teddy boys subverted the dress of their so called superiors by wearing long draped jackets, waistcoats with pocket chains, boot lace ties, pocket hankies, peg top trousers and shiny leather shoes which in later years wore replaced in favour for the thick crepe sole suede shoes known affectionately as “brothel creepers”.
Even their hairstyles were different, by using products like Brylcreem they kept their slick and shiny with a quiff at the front and a DA (ducks arse) at the nape of the neck. An essential accessory was a comb kept in the back pocket. As always with fashion, films and leading actors played a part in how men dressed at the time. A good example of this from the fifties was Marlon Brando playing the tough guy gang leader in “The Wild One ” . His staple item of clothing, the Perfecto leather jacket, based on a World War Two model and manufactured by Schott Brothers of New York worn with a white T shirt, heavy belt and Levi’s became the look for a generation of bikers, greasers and Hells Angels. The film, Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean was another film which impacted on adolescent fashion of the day.Another rebel persona that influenced fashion for young men of the fifties was from the music industry, Elvis Presley early stage outfits of black shirt and tie, zoot style suit and loafers had a huge following and each of his new outfits were eagerly awaited and copied by the youth of the day.
American college wear also played its part in the styling of the fifties, single breasted jackets, with ankle grazing flannel trousers and loafers was given the generic style description of Ivy League so called because it originated on the East Coast campuses. The flat top haircut, White T shirts, letter cardigans and buckled western belts were another popular college boy look.
For a smarter, more tailored look, men chose a short straight single breasted suit and tapered trousers with no turn ups, worn with plain shirt, broad tie and folded white pocket hankie. For winter, trilby and heavy overcoat. The outfit was accessorised with tie pin and smart cigarette case.