Women’s fashion of the 1950s changed throughout the decade and, for black women, this was no different. Women of the time changed with the times. Teenagers became a demographic for the first time in history and, with the end of segregation in the 1950s, change for the betterment of black women also began. They chose styles that worked for them, based on the available trends of the times, and matched their personal styles with fashion.
The dresses during the 1950s changed with the women. A Parisian influence is evident in the poodle skirts of the decade. Full skirts that came to the knee, or just below it, were commonly worn. The dress bodice was fitted to accentuate the waist. Corsets were still worn during this time to pull in the waist. Dresses were also worn tight to the knee or just below. Off the shoulder cuts or strapless dresses were popular choices during this time.
Women, including African American women, began to assert their independence and enter the workplace. Business suits for women rose in popularity. Pencil skirts, fitted and ending just below the knee, or full skirts were worn. A blouse would be worn tucked into the skirt. A tailored jacket, either fitted at the waist or boxy and cropped, was worn over the blouse. A pillbox hat, made popular by Jackie Kennedy, completed the look.
The beat poets and the era of blues greatly influenced women’s dress for the decade. Women began wearing pants fitted to their legs. Capri-length pants were often worn. Baggy shirts or men’s shirts over fitted pants were a common look. Dark clothing was popular with the beat generation. Long earrings and long hair was the style for these women. The beat generation was a time of embracing change, evident in the clothing they chose to wear. The latter half of the decade saw clothing manufacturers latch onto the beat style and begin to make the style accessible for all women.
A new style emerged, led by the teenage girls of the times. The teen fashion generally combined women’s fashions to create a new look unique to the younger generation. Teenage girls began wearing jeans, rolled up to Capri-length. The look of bobby socks and sneakers made its appearance with the younger generation. Fitted and cropped sweaters were worn with pointed bras to accentuate the body. Teenage girls did away with the hats common for women.
Jessica Daniel has been writing professionally since 2005. She has worked in the arts-and-crafts field, publishing knitting patterns with Lorna's Laces and My Sister's Knits. Daniel holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and women's studies from St. Xavier University.