Are you interested in the fashion of the 1950s? Here’s a deep dive into the decade’s favorite trends and styles, from poodle skirts to saddle shoes and beyond!
Not Just Poodle Skirts: 1950s Fashion Trends
Most people think fashion in the fifties looked straight out of the movie “Grease,” but the reality of fashion was completely different…and much more elegant. It’s not just poodle skirts – it’s also the “New Look,” high heels, and more.
We’ve put together this guide for anyone trying to work out a costume, dating old photos, or for those who are simply interested in fashions of the past. Read on for our deep dive into the fashion of the 1950s!
Women’s fashion of the 1950s had two main silhouettes: the fit and flair similar to the New Look by Dior, and the pencil skirt. The looks were achieved with structural garments to keep the nipped-in waist – the ideal figure in the 1950s. Women also often wore high heels and matching gloves.
Despite debuting in 1947, the New Look silhouette defined the 1950s. It was a fit and flare style, with a small waist and a skirt that flared out past the hips. Achieved through petticoats and girdles, it was a very feminine cut that was meant to accentuate hourglass curves. The New Look informed the “uniform” of the mid-century housewife: the shirt dress, a cotton outfit that was comfortable yet still had a stylish silhouette.
Also prominent was the pencil skirt or the sheath style dress, sometimes called the wiggle dress. It gained its nickname because the wearer would have to wiggle while they walked, as the dress constricted movement. It was often worn by actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Women first started to wear stiletto heels in the 1950s, and the new style became incredibly popular. A shaft of metal in the heel of the shoe made it possible to have skinnier, higher heels.
The 1950s woman would normally wear more natural shades of make-up at home, but the red lip was very popular. The Revlon color “Fire and Ice” – the first lipstick to acknowledge women wore make-up for themselves and not always to catch the eye of a man – was a huge hit.
The two main silhouettes popular during the 50s involved tiny waists, so almost everyone wore a girdle as a foundation garment – it’s how women of the 1950s were able to achieve their impossible shapes. The flared skirts were achieved with one or more petticoats, further emphasizing smaller waistlines.
If you are looking at an old photo and see a tiny waist, it was most probably achieved with some kind of shapewear. This is one thing that hasn’t gone out of style, as we do the same today with bras and Spanks.
In the 50s, fashion was a lot more matched than contemporary fashion. Women in the 50s made sure all the colors in their outfits were coordinated. Many women matched their shoes, gloves, and handbag or wore complimentary colors.
Most women wore their hair in tightly set curls, which they either got done professionally or achieved by sleeping in curlers. Ponytails were popular among teenagers, but adults typically wore their hair short and styled.
For men, the 1950s was a much more formal decade than it is today. Fashionable men are shown decked out in well-cut suits in somber colors like black, grey, and dark brown.
For more casual situations, men would wear sports coats or blazers that are made of more casual material, like corduroy or tweed. They were meant to be worn with a pair of unmatched trousers.
Hats were very important to the mid-century man – one was not considered dressed for work without a hat on. Hats came in several different shapes, like the fedora or the pork pie, and made of different materials, like felt or straw.
Elvis popularized the greased-up pompadour hair that is associated with the modern rockabilly style. Younger men and teenagers definitely adopted this hairstyle, which had short, slicked-back sides and a lot of volume at the top.
Older men tended to have neatly cut short hair. Similar to the military style of the 1940s, regular haircuts were side-parted and clean on both sides.
The 1950s gets linked with rockabilly or “Grease,” when it was really a much more elegant era of fashion. The sleek formal styles are iconic and recognizable if you know what to look for.
If you are looking at a photograph and trying to figure out whether it’s from the 50s, take a cue from the decade’s distinct fashion. If there’s a nipped-in waist, matching accessories on the women, and dark colors on the men, you’ll know you have a fifties photo in hand!