Known for their great voices and style, singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington set the tone for 1950s jazz fashion as some of the most prominent performers in the era. Dress designers of this time period pulled inspiration from the previous jazz era, the roaring 20s, and balanced it with modern materials and twists. As most fashionistas are familiar with trend recycling it was no surprise that even then history played as much a part in new season designs as innovative, and more futuristic, trends.
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1950s jazz dresses are known for their dramatic glamour, which can be traced back to the jazz era roots of the 1920s. Like the singers of the historic and rebellious speakeasies, the ladies of the 1950s wore dresses inspired by opulence. 1950s jazz dresses were a nod to both the glitz of the roaring 20s and the sophistication of modern fabrics and designers.
The Dior fashion house popularised the A-line style characteristic of the 1950s, with a fitted waist and gradual flair away from the body. Tea length A-line dresses were sweet, often sleeveless, and featured v or draped necklines. Also revolutionary for the 1950s and widely popular among the jazz scene was the empire style dress. A full-length gown that gathered just below the bust, the empire dress brought drama with its backless, halter top neckline.
The 1950s was an exciting time in fabric development. Synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester and acrylic revolutionised wear and care for all garment styles. Polyester blends became an alternative to silk and satins for dresses, increasing comfort and affordability.
Sheer polyesters, silks and chiffon of the empire style featured intricate beading and crystals. The detailing on these dresses was reminiscent of the 20s for its sparkle and over the top glamour. A-line dresses were much more classic and light on the glitz, and usually dressed up with flower corsages or brooches. These large pins were attached to one side of the dress strap and added a soft, feminine touch to the dark jazz scene.
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