Continuing with our Recreate the Look series, today I will show you some of the key styles of the 1950s, and how to recreate the looks using 1950s inspired fashion clothing of today.
The 1950s heralded in an era of great change. At the beginning of the decade, Britain was still recovering from the effects of WW2. Rationing ended as late as 1949, and the Utility Scheme was still to be in operation until 1952. Despite this, efforts were made to uplift public morale. In 1951 the Festival of Britain was held to commemorate the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition. This was a vast undertaking, with exhibits mostly held at London’s Southbank, but also spanning the United Kingdom. The idea of the festival was to revive British manufacturing, and to compel a feeling of re-generation after the austere years of the previous decade.
1952 saw the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne, with her coronation to be held the following year. This was a new era, with a new monarch to inspire the people.
The seeds of Doir’s New Look that he had sewn the previous decade finally began to flourish. Indeed, the quintessential 1950s look that one most often recalls to mind is the full-skirted, nipped waist silhouette of Doir’s 1947 collection.
1950s Leisurewear & Capri Pants
With the continuing popularity of leisure time, and as people were able to take seaside holidays again as they may have done in the pre-war years, leisurewear again became popular.
Women were wearing a variety of cropped trousers – pedal pushers, clam diggers and Capri pants. Each sat high on the natural waist, and tapered down to the just below the knee or the mid-calf. During the 1950s, women’s trousers gradually became more figure-fitting. This bares a stark contrast to the extraordinarily wide hems of women’s 1930s beach pyjamas, and illustrates how women’s figures (and how they chose to reveal/conceal them) were becoming more widely accepted in society at this time. Shop 1950s style pants and capris.
Co-ordinating sets for leisurewear were also popular. Women may wear Capri pants and a blouse of the same material, and have a pair of shorts or an over-skirt in a differing – but coordinating, fabric. This allowed for easy mix & match options, and if the outfits were being worn on holiday, less packing space required in ones suitcase.
1950s Casual Dresses
As touched upon in my 1930s recreate the look article, housedresses remained popular during this time. By the 1950s, they had altered in style from their earlier relations, in-keeping with the fashions of the time.
In the 1940s, the Swirl housedress label was born, and became one of the most recognisable housedresses of the period. By the 1950s, the Swirl dress slipped onto the body at the front, then wrapped and fastened at the back through the use of a tie-belt and a single button at the neckline. Marketing campaigns illustrated how easy it was to slip into a Swirl. Now the housedress was not strictly limited to housework – the 1950s woman could don one whilst supposedly simply relaxing at home.
The dress featured in the collage above from is an original Swirl dress, but a similar look can easily be achieved. Look out for wrap style dresses in cottons, with a simple silhouette. Pockets are of course a bonus, and add to the authenticity of the look.
In contrast to the housedress, the working woman would require clothing that projected a level of professionalism, especially in what was still a male dominated workforce. For work wear, even in the 1950s skirts were still preferred over trousers. Women wore either full calf-length skirts which nipped-in at the waist, or the streamlined silhouette of the pencil skirt. Whilst the full skirt evoked a girlish femininity, the figure-fitting pencil skirt evoked sophistication and capability. Shop 1950s style skirts.
As with the silhouette of the Capri pant, skirts became more closely fitted to the figure from the 1950s. Women have worn straight cut skirts for decades, but in the 1950s they tapered in from below the knee to mid-calf, creating a curved silhouette. Pleats and vents were added at the back which allowed for ease of movement without distorting the fitted silhouette.
Recreate the look by pairing a pencil or full skirt with a fitted top or sweater. Tuck the top into the skirt waistband to show off that 1950s silhouette.
1950s Printed Skirts
Outside of the office, bright prints and patterns were popular. The full circle skirts of the era proved the perfect base for fun, novelty prints and patterns.
These fuller skirts were either cut as a full circle – which flew out up to the waist when dancing! Or they were rectangles of fabric gathered onto the waistband, which still allowed for a generous amount of fabric to be used.
1950s Cardigan Sweaters
The perfect pairing for the circle skirts, Capri pants and pencil skirts of the decade, was the humble cardigan. Developed from a ladies jacket, the cardigan itself has been in existence from the previous century, but only became recognizable as a cardigan from around the turn of the century.
By the 1950s the craze for cardigans reached its peak. Innovations in machines and technology meant that people no longer needed to sit and knit a garment themselves; they could choose from a glorious array of designs from their local department store or catalogue.
Twinsets became popular as women wanted to wear a matching garment underneath their cardigan, with the top underneath usually being sleeveless so as the wearer remained a comfortable temperature in her layers of yarn.
Dresses in the 1950s were arguably some of the most overtly feminine designs of the century. In structure and silhouette, women’s formal dresses now actually resembled Victorian fashions.
In order to achieve the desired nipped waist, full bosom look, women wore various layers of underpinnings.
Girdles, waspie corsets, over-wire bras, suspender belts and highwaist panties were all options to hone and tone and figure. Petticoats were worn to achieve a wide full-skirted look, and added a hidden splash of color to the outfit. Shop retro lingerie and 1950s petticoats.
Key Styles to Recreate a 1950s Look
- Skirts – either very full, or a pencil skirt both hitting the mid-calf
- Capri Pants sitting on the waist
- Twinsets and beaded cardigans
- Bright novelty print dresses
- Accessories – chiffon scarfs worn around the neck or head, pearls, wide belts, cat eye spectacles. To complete a formal outfit, matching gloves, hat and handbag were worn.
- Seamed stockings
- Stiletto heel, loafers and pumps were all popular
See even more 1950s outfit ideas here.