The 1950s saw a return to fashions that emphasised glamour for women and swagger for men. With World War II behind them, Americans experienced rapid growth and individual wealth rebounded. It was time to relax and enjoy some of the finer things in life. That included clothing reflective of the times.
Early 1950s Fashions
Prior to the 1950s, young ladies did not have a true fashion sense of their own. Their clothing often mimicked their mothers. Emerging designers, such as Dior and Chanel, gave younger women a look that was far from the austere silhouette found in their mothers' closets. In the early 50s, pencil-slim skirts (tubular shaped and tight-fitting) were often paired with a fitted jacket. This style emphasised small figures. Full skirts, complete with stiff, nylon petticoats were used to dress up for parties and dates. The sailor look was also a popular style. Women wore white gloves for special occasions, like going to church on Sunday.
Long before we called them "blue jeans", denim trousers were known as "dungarees". Although movies of the era popularised dungarees for boys, most girls only wore these trousers when lounging about at home. Paired with a button-up blouse, dungarees were usually rolled at the cuff. However, whenever she went out, a young lady still wore a dress, including at school.
Coco Chanel struck gold with a line of boxy, square-cut jackets paired with slim skirts to create her signature look. The materials she used were richly textured, nubby wools and were easily duplicated. Soon major chain stores were selling suits based on the design and American women everywhere were wearing these Chanel-inspired outfits. The silhouette created a straight up and down, decreasing emphasis on the waistline.
Late 1950s Fashions
In 1957, Givenchy designed a dress style called the "sack." First designed as a straight dress with no defined waistline, the sack was modified into a tighter-fitting sheath with darts and later became a short, shift-style dress. By 1958, this style had really caught on, as it was more forgiving of flaws in a woman's figure. It was also easily copied and women loved the style.
Although many men would like to have spent their days lounging in their dungarees and colourful button-up shirts, the typical man of the 50s had a job which required him to dress in some form of suit and tie. Men always wore suit coats, but they had become shorter since the 1940s. Gone, too, were the shoulder pads. Dress shirts were white and starched, and men wore cufflinks every day. Topping off the proper gentleman's attire was a hat called a fedora.