The 1950s was an era that, while not particularly risk-taking, brought about many changes in the wardrobes of women and men throughout the United States. The development of mass-production clothing that the consumer could easily wash at home and still maintain its proper tailored appearance allowed for an influx of new fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, and a comforting sense of conformity. Both the designers and wearers of the clothing embraced the femininity and traditionalism that had been absent during the previous war years. With an emphasis on the shape of the body and conservatism, the clothing styles in the 1950s are still considered flattering and classy decades later.
The key to achieving the iconic housewife appearance of the 1950s is practicality. A simple wrap dress with a full a-line skirt in a solid or print pattern, such as polka dots or plaid, is a quick way to look put-together while doing everything from cleaning the house to running errands to going out to lunch. Adding a hat, short gloves and flats or short open-toed heels is an easy way to create a complete daytime ensemble.
For a more business-like and professional appearance replicating that which was worn by women in the ’50s, a pencil dress or skirt suit in a rich, dark color, and possibly made from velvet, is the ideal option. A pencil skirt that falls below your knees will showcase your figure, while still maintaining an appropriate level of modesty for the occasion. To elongate your appearance in a dress or skirt suit, you would wear a cropped suit jacket and pumps. A girdle would be the ideal undergarment for such a form-fitting outfit.
To channel the rebel vibe that the edgier crowd in the 1950s leaned towards, a pair of tight, dark denim jeans rolled up to mid-calf or figure-hugging Capri pants and trousers paired with an equally snug sweater and tee, usually in blacks and reds, would be the ideal combination. Combined with a pair of stiletto heels, leather jacket, elastic belt and an accentuating scarf hairpiece, this outfit would fit right in with the more rock-and-roll aspect of the ’50s.
If you were attending a more formal nighttime event during the 1950s, you might wear a mid-calf cocktail dress made from such a material as silk, tulle, lace or chiffon, and adorned with bows and other feminine details, with petticoats underneath to create a more voluminous skirt. A cocktail dress in the fifties could be comprised of any color and range from sleeveless to short, shoulder-baring sleeves to long-sleeves. If you were making a later appearance in the evening, you would wear a ball gown created from many of the same materials as a cocktail dress, albeit, slightly more dramatic in cut and appearance. Both cocktail dresses and ball gowns could be worn with open or closed-toed heels and accessorized with long gloves, a clutch handbag and pearl or diamond jewelry.
The average teenage girl in the ’50s embraced the trend of pastel-colored fabrics and wore a great deal of yellow, white and pink. To achieve the everyday outfit of the younger generation, you would pair a mid-calf full-circle skirt, lifted up by a crinoline petticoat, with a sweater or button-up blouse. You completed the look with the very popular cardigan sweater, possibly embroidered or beaded for extra flair, and flats or saddle shoes. Scarves were also often used to add a little flair to the common ponytail that teenage girls wore during this period.
While fashion in the 1950s was primarily geared toward the revival of femininity, ’50s men also had a distinct style of their own. To achieve the conservatively classic male image of the ’50s, you could don a wool or cotton suit in a darker color, such as blue, gray or brown, with a skinny tie of the same color. A belt, pair of cufflinks, oxford shoes and a fedora are the ideal accessories to complement the 1950s professional male dress. For a more relaxed and preppy at-home look, men often paired khakis or slacks with a button-up shirt, in a solid color, plaid pattern or Hawaiian print, with a cardigan and tennis shoes.
References and ResourcesFifties Web: Fifties Fashions Women
Molly's Emporium: 1950s Fashion
Head Over Heels: The 1950s: Bobby Socks, Rock & Roll and the Ozzy & Harriet Syndrome
Fifties Web: Fifties Fashions Men
Made Man: 1950s Men's Fashion Tips