Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tea For Two: Fashions of the Fifties

I asked my boyfriend which fashion era I should feature for my first post on Vintage Bulletin and, without hesitation, he replied, 'The Fifties.' It's not hard to understand why the choice came so naturally. After the strict, sexless Forties silhouette made with rationed materials and overtly reminiscent of a woman's new role in the working world, fashion in the Fifties offered a much missed nod to glamorous femininity that's now a timeless favourite with menfolk.

Two silhouettes dominated the decade. The fabulous full skirt with nipped waist and the more tubular skirt that drew the eyes to the shoulder line.
The key Fifties pieces are so simple to identify and they've stood the test of time through fashion's constant reinventions. Here are just a few of my favourite staples of that silhouette that could be both stern and sultry in equal measure.

The Twin Set
This ingenious little two piece first hit the racks in the Forties but the Fifties gave it sex appeal by making it bolder, brighter and tighter. From suggestive librarian chic to glamour befitting a first lady, the twin set packed a powerful punch. Ornate beaded cardigans also did the rounds.

The Bell-shaped Coat
The cut of this outerwear garment was distinctly forward-thinking. It went on to become an integral part of the mod style and is now more reminiscent of models like Twiggy than it is of those first glimpses of post-war style. But fashion designers like Nina Ricci embraced the bell-shape in the Fifties and teamed it with rich, striking patterns and Peter Pan collars, to which it now owes its staying power as a wardrobe staple.

The Strapless Evening Gown
What Dior offered to women's fashion in the Fifties has enriched us ever after. The self-supporting built-in bodices on strapless gowns cinched the waist and accentuated, well, everything else! The full skirts gave the gowns their qualities of dream-like illusion and grandeur. Tiers of lace, tulle, silk and polyester gathered and fell in every prom hall in the USA and on the celluloid where the movie starlets swayed across shining stages, accessorized with garish costume jewels.

Pedal Pushers
The Forties brought Western women to the helm of public life and therefore into the man's working wardrobe for the first time. The Fifties, rather than seeking to turn back the clock, chose to alter the new pieces, bending the rules to suit the mood of the decade. Getting rid of the strict outline for trousers, blazers and shorts, designers began to introduce whimsy, girlishness and a recreational/sportswear angle to the clothing that would compliment a woman's new role. Pedal pushers found favour as a playful summer alternative to pant suits and soon became a classic Fifties garment.

The Fifties introduced a plethora of styles to serve different occasions and outfits. Short kid gloves for formal daywear were firm favourites alongside the closer cut shapes for driving. To compliment the shoulder lines on all those fabulous strapless gowns, long satin gloves were worn in the evening. Wearing mid-length pairs pushed down to the wrists with bold, heavy bracelets over the top was fashionable. With the thinner pairs, large costume rings could be worn over the top for maximum effect.

As all fashion enthusiasts know, a decade never gets left behind. It always reappears in new design interpretations and the best of it can be appreciated forever. For me, the Fifties encapsulates something transitory about clothing. It was a time when the changes in lifestyle and social dynamics created a hotbed of opposing looks that ultimately all had one thing in common - modernity. It was a great moving forward and I can still appreciate that momentum even as I'm looking back.

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