The fashionable silhouette for a woman in the 1950s was the hourglass shape, which accentuated the hips and bust and created a very slender waist. As this is not a natural body shape for many women, corsets and structured underwear created the illusion of the perfect shape. Couture fashion used intricately made corsets to achieve this shape, while everyday fashion adopted a softer approach to the hourglass look.
The Origins of the 1950s Look
French designer Christian Dior's "new look" of the late 1940s and early 1950s was born out of a need for women's fashion to recapture some glamour after the austerity of World War II. NYMag.com cites the term "new look" as created by Carmel Snow, then the editor-in-chief of "Harper's Bazaar."
Dior's dresses used boning in the bodice, tapering to a narrow waist and with a full-flared skirt falling below the knee to flatter the calves.
Creating the Hourglass Shape
According to 1950s vintage fashion website Fashion-Era.com, the average, fashion-conscious woman of the 1950s looked to Hollywood and expensive couture gowns such as those created by Dior for fashion inspiration.
The hourglass shape women coveted was curvy and voluptuous, with a nipped-in waist, rounded hips and breasts raised up toward the neck.
Undergarment Options: the Girdle and Bra
Longline girdles were worn to shape the waist, hips and tummy, and smooth out any bumps in these areas to create a slimmer silhouette. Girdles also incorporated a suspender belt for stockings.
According to Fashion-Era.com, the girdle would be worn with a rigid bra, known as a bullet bra, which would force breasts upward and keep them there.
These garments were solid, restrictive and not entirely comfortable, although the increased use of rayon and development of new man-made, elasticated fabrics such as Dacron and nylon allowed some movement.
All-in-One Undergarments: the Corselette
The corselette was an all-in-one garment that provided shaping and support from the breasts down to below the hips. These were a more expensive option and, according to Fashion-Era.com, could also be made to measure.
Combining the bra and the girdle meant that it was possible to create a garment with a low-cut cleavage, which would remain hidden under a dress exposing a large proportion of a woman's décolletage.