Fashion from the 1950s is synonymous with elegance, class, sophistication and fun. Girdles and corsets were uncomfortable and restricting, yet the culture deemed them necessary in order for women to adhere to the standard feminine physique and appearance. Pants, on the other hand, represented power and freedom — a shift in the role of women in society. The 1950s wardrobe made a statement, and a few key pieces helped to articulate its style.
There were two main styles of dresses: swing and pencil. Swing dresses flared out below the waist while pencil dresses closely fit the body. Ladies wore girdles underneath their dresses, around their waist and hips, because they helped sculpt the desired hour-glass figure. Older women considered pencil dresses too provocative for younger women; therefore, girls typically wore the swing style. Pencil dresses were usually reserved for formal events. Swing dresses were interchangeable, as women wore them for all occasions. Some women preferred ordinary wrap dresses for casual activities.
The Pencil Skirt
Pencil skirts are long, narrow, and they accentuate the figure. In the ’50s, women commonly matched them with a dressy blouse as part of a suit. Popular prints for the skirt included solid colors and horizontal stripes, and popular accessories included thick and thin belts. Pantyhose was a must and a silk scarf draped around the neck added a touch of class. Dressy white gloves adorned with a classy charm bracelet were stylish pieces to complete the look.
Ballet Flats and Kitten Heels
Movie star Audrey Hepburn helped popularize ballet flats when she wore them with skinny black pants in the 1957 film Funny Face. Some ballet slippers had a small quarter-inch heel, and they came in a variety of colors and prints such as solid tones and floral patterns. Kitten heels were classic dress shoes. They came in glittery gold and sliver tones for dressy evening events. They had a small, thin heel and a pointy toe. Most were soft leather and a comfortable alternative to higher stiletto heels or pumps.
Pedal pushers are calf-length slacks. They came in an assortment of solid colors, floral prints and comfortable fabrics such as denim. A woman would wear pedal pushers with a T-shirt or buttoned blouse, and a pair of ballet flats if she wanted to sport a casual look. For a more sophisticated appearance, she would wear a collared blouse or a cropped blouse, with heels.
The poodle skirt is the most iconic piece of 1950s clothing. It is a full-length swing skirt with an image, usually a poodle, embroidered on the front. Teenagers wore poodle skirts more than adults and frequently matched them with bobby socks and saddle shoes. Poodle skirts were ideal for dancing because they were made of felt fabric and would swing and twirl on the dance floor. Most came in solid, bold colors like red.
References and ResourcesFashions of the Fifties
The Vintage Dancer
Enjoy Your Style: 1950s Fashion