A decade of burgeoning prosperity, the 1950s created a gallery of memorable looks that are still fun to re-create today. Gone were the fabric usage restrictions of World War II, so a number of ‘50s styles incorporated voluminous skirts. From the bombshell to the bad girl, women’s styles emphasized curves and color, with a little bit of rock and roll.
Screen goddesses of the 1950s oozed glamour in their slinky gowns, glittering jewelry and high heels. Marilyn Monroe charmed audiences in “How to Marry a Millionaire,” while Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner echoed her formula of wavy hair, doe eyes and bright lips. Dressing up like a ‘50s bombshell is as much about attitude as it is about your costume. It all starts with bright red or pink lipstick—a femme fatale must-have.
Keep your clothing simple. A column of shiny satin or all-over sequins is perfect. If you’re thrift-store shopping, look for a narrow-skirted strapless bridesmaid dress or prom dress. Next, add a flashy rhinestone necklace that just grazes the collarbone. Find a pair of elbow-length gloves, preferably in satin. Your hair should be glossy and wavy; depending on your budget, you might want to buy a Marilyn Monroe wig from a year-round costume store. Your shoes should be heels, and if you carry a bag, it should be small and sparkly. Once you’ve put it all together, walk with your head held high and your shoulders back. You’re a bombshell, after all.
The Bad Girl
In the 1950s, being a bad girl meant wearing tight pants, a leather or satin jacket and a body-skimming top underneath it. This sounds tame today, but back then, it would have earned a few raised eyebrows from parents and teachers. To re-create the look, start by picturing the Pink Ladies from the movie/musical “Grease.” It’s the accessories that really create the look here, including scarves, big sunglasses and wedge sandals.
Start with a pair of denim capris or pedal pushers. Add a halter top, boatneck tee, or tight-fitting angora sweater. The bad girl is eager to show off her curves, so make sure your shirt is form-fitting. Next, tie a thin, short scarf around your neck so that the ends hang to one side. Your shoes should be kitten-heel pumps, ballet slippers or wedge sandals. Top it off with a jacket in leather or satin; if it’s oversized, that’s just fine—‘50s bad girls were notorious for wearing their boyfriends’ jackets. Accessorize with big sunglasses, big earrings and a big attitude.
Most people looking for ‘50s dress up ideas have a bobbysoxer in mind: ponytail, fuzzy sweater, poodle skirt and saddle shoes. If you need visual inspiration, check out Reese Witherspoon’s costumes in the film “Pleasantville,” or a Doris Day movie like “The Pajama Game.” The overall silhouette is form-fitting on top and voluminous on the bottom. Girls often wore sweater sets with matching shell and cardigan; short-sleeved angora sweaters will work, as will a fitted oxford blouse or body-skimming tee. Keep your jewelry minimal—pearl stud earrings and a charm bracelet are perfect.
The skirt is the showpiece here—a wide calf-length circle that accentuates movement. They’re usually called “poodle skirts” because of the popular felt appliqués, from poodles to records to jukeboxes. Sewing patterns for poodle skirts have great ideas for appliqué themes, and most costume shops will have both plain and appliquéd versions of these skirts. Make sure your skirt’s hem falls between your knee and your lower calf. You’ll need plenty of room for people to see your footwear: white ankle socks and saddle shoes (or solid color loafers). Pull your hair up into a ponytail, and you’re ready to twist the night away.
References and Resources"Twentieth-Century Fashion: The Complete Sourcebook"; John Peacock; 1993
" '50s Fashion: Vintage Fashion and Beauty Ads"; Jim Heimann, editor; 2007