The History of 1950s Fashion

Written by lorraine j. floyd
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The History of 1950s Fashion
Women wore full petticoats under their long skirts. (petticoat image by Susanne Güttler from

After World War II, female fashion in the United States changed dramatically. Leaving the period of severity and austerity behind, women wore clothing emphasising their curves.

Although women started to wear trousers more often in the post-war era, they were not a popular item of clothing for everyday life. Women still wore skirts and dresses around the house, while attending school or working.

As fashion from popular bands and movie stars influenced teen style, designers and manufacturers geared their clothes towards the new target market.

The Post-War Era

The 1950s style reflected the United States in a post-war era.

Throughout World War II, women were forced to ration food and other types of items. Due to the shortages, women practised frugality in the household. They either did not own a certain piece of clothing or shoes or they constructed outfits using unconventional materials.

After World War II, women left the workforce, returning their jobs to the soldiers coming home to the US. The fashion styles of the 1950s reverted to a feminine style, also known as the "New Look."

The Teenage Consumer

The term "teenagers" originated in the 1950s. Before the 1950s, people were categorised as two groups: youth and adult. Eventually, the term was used to describe adolescents who were not quite independent from their parents.

As teenagers had more money and earned pocket money from part-time jobs, they purchased their own clothing. Clothes manufacturers, upon noticing this trend, targeted their products towards teenagers.

Teenage fashion was influenced by popular movies and music. Teens flocked to stores in order to purchase clothing items their idols wore while performing on stage or on the movie screen.

School Clothing

The 1950s represented the era in between conservative fashion and the flashy, flamboyant styles of the 1960s and 70s. Although teenagers started to wear jeans and shorts in the post-war era, they only wore them during certain athletic activities or while relaxing in the household. In the early to mid-1950s, women generally did not wear trousers to school.

Teenage girls wore skirts, jumpers and dresses. As school and work clothing styles remained conservative, hemlines usually fell at the knee or below the knee. Under the jumpers, women wore blouses. They paired skirts with blouses and cardigan sweaters.

Women's Clothing

After World War II, women embraced feminine clothing styles. In the early 1950s, women wore sweeping gowns accessorised with gloves and high-heeled shoes for formal events.

The popular silhouette of the fifties included a corseted waist and full hips. To create the effect, women wore wide peasant-style skirts or calf-length pleated skirts. Their tops were cinched at the waist to create the impression of an hourglass shape.

However, 1950s styles also included other silhouettes. Pencil skirts, which fit tightly around the legs, were popular with women. Christian Dior, one of the most popular designers in the 1950s, introduced a "smart" outfit: a pencil skirt and a fitted suit jacket. Chanel, on the other hand, introduced a boxy jacket, which concealed the curves on a woman's upper half of the body.

Women's Undergarments

Undergarments were a vital part of a woman's outfit in the 1950s. The skirts of the era required an undergarment, such as a starched petticoat, to create the illusion of fullness. A crinoline-style petticoat was designed with tapes threaded with nylon boning. These crinolines were not as heavy and cumbersome as the hoop skirts of the 19th and early 20th century.

As curves were popular, women in the 1950s still wore girdles underneath their dresses. The girdles hid any unsightly bulges on a woman's stomach and hips. Women also wore bras with slightly pointed cups.

These undergarments were geared towards creating an ideal silhouette without the aid of hoop skirts and heavy corsets.

Today's Interpretation of the 1950s

The fashion of the 1950s remains very popular today. Women scour thrift shops for the full skirts and dress styles from the era.

When interpreting the style of the 1950s, young women often wear poodle skirts, white ankle socks, saddle shoes and cat-eye glasses. Young adults and older women are inclined towards the "pin-up" looks and purchase sexier interpretations of dresses from the 1950s.

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