What Women's Clothing Was Popular in the 1950s?

Updated July 19, 2017

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. Trousers, 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 hourglass 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 colours 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 popularise ballet flats when she wore them with skinny black trousers in the 1957 film Funny Face. Some ballet slippers had a small quarter-inch heel, and they came in a variety of colours 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

Pedal pushers are calf-length slacks. They came in an assortment of solid colours, 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.

Poodle Skirts

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 colours like red.

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About the Author

Ebony Haywood began writing professionally in 2009. Her work has appeared on eHow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from California State University in Dominguez Hills.