Sunday, September 7, 2014

Let's Talk About: Visual Timeline of 1950's Fashion

1950's fashion has a wide range of styles, silhouettes and hem lengths. Trying to sort all of this out can be confusing. This visual time line shows fashion as it slowly changes over the decade. The images I used are from that era: no costumes or drawings are included. Most are day wear outfits. All are shown from head to toe, so the true sense of proportion is easy to see. These fashions come from popular sources, brands and labels that were what women actually bought and wore. Evening wear is not emphasized, and this shows the more popular styles worn daily by women.

This visual timeline can be used to date a vintage dress or outfit, by locating the best photos for a comparison. This also can be used as a reference in dating photos, however keep in mind the subject's intention: are they wearing their best, or some old dress to do house work in? It can also be used when putting together costumes or outfits that should look like the 1950's.

These are images of popular fashion styles as worn during each era by the majority of women. High fashion or historic fashion events are not included, rather it shows what many American wore during that time.

When using this, keep in mind that many women wore fashion silhouettes that might have been a new idea 5 years earlier, so not all people wore the most current fashion trend. This is why you will see here a blending in 1955 of the previous silhouettes, worn with a few of the new "A" line silhouette. It took a few years for that "A" line look to be more widely accepted.

In the early years, two styles were most common: a narrow skirt or a full skirt. This early full skirt is not extremely wide. The body in both dresses and suits was fit smoothly with darts or seam lines often like a corset. Three quarter sleeve lengths worn with long gloves were the most common suit look. All hemlines are at the mid-calf level.

The skirt styles shown here are the widest silhouettes that were seen during the 50's. This look was worn for several years, overlapping the "A" line skirts that began to appear in the second half of the decade. After 1955 many full skirts showed decreasing width, becoming softer in silhouette.

This set of styles show slender dresses and suits that have a natural waistline with an hour glass or corset shape. The suit jackets fit close to the body and have hip length hemlines. The skirts come to mid-calf length. In 1955 there was a new trend towards and "A" line silhouette in both skirt and dress shape. While it was not widely adopted that year, it does appear in a wider pleated skirt.

The later half of the 50's decade saw a swing away from the corset fitting bodice and into a softer or lightly draped silhouette. New suits had boxy jackets that are not formed with heavy tailoring or structure. Fabrics started to have more texture, with mohair wools and other soft looks.

At the decade's end, the "A" line silhouette had begun to fill in most wardrobes. It was worn shorter, at the bottom of the knee, so it seemed younger and more sporty. This linear look inspired all layers of fashion, and can be seen in suits, coats, dresses and skirts. All seem to have a lean, flared, clean and smooth look.

The end of the 1950's was a transitional fashion era. Many of the styles popular during previous years were still being advertised, sold, and worn, however the "A" line look affected those silhouettes as well. Both wide skirts and slender sheath dresses were available, along with the new empire or high waistlines.

Using these slides are reference, it's possible to get a better understanding of the progression of fashion styles through out the 1950's decade. All images were sourced from my own library of magazines and books. Nearly all are from advertising, showing American fashion designs that were produced in the US for middle class households. This shows most clearly how the hourglass silhouette was replaced by the "A" line silhouette over the course of a decade.

This original article on fashion is part 11 of an educational series on Fashion Design called "Let's Talk About:" that is original to Pintucks.

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Christine Tracy Moore said...

Thank you for such detailed information and photos. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.
Then Again Classic Fashions
Salem, OR

Lizzie said...

Fantastic! I love this timeline. You need to do one for every decade!

witness2fashion said...

Thank you for putting these photos together in such a careful way -- it really allows comparisons. Great blog!

Jen O said...

Thank you for your comments, I do plan to carry this idea over to a 1960's time line soon--I only have to gather up 3 to 5 fashion magazine issues per year first!