For couture lovers, the 1950s are perhaps the most exciting decade of all. These were the post-war years when people were slowly emerging from deprivation, rationing and uniforms – and many women wanted to enjoy luxury and femininity again, with full skirts and cinched-in waists to create the coveted hourglass shape. That’s not to say there wasn’t room for a bit of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion, though…
All dressed up
Christian Dior, inventor of the wasp-waisted New Look in the late 1940s, declared that clothes were there to “save women from nature”. Designs ranged from figure-hugging drapery to shape-squeezing corsetry. While Coco Chanel continued to argue for ease of dressing for women (and her trademark straight collarless suits), the silhouette was often one of tiny waists, bell-shaped skirts and the essential hat and gloves.
Although the 50s is known as the decade when women were championed as ‘homemakers’, many in fact were heading into the workforce (and returning after marriage) and thus required more professional attire. The blouse (the equivalent of a man’s work shirt) had a resurgence – the 50s blouse had soft shoulders, demure collars and a variety of sleeve shapes, and was worn smartly tucked into a pencil skirt.
It wasn’t all suits and structured styles, though – the 1950s was also when rock ‘n’ roll went mainstream and rebellion simmered. The Beats, described by Jack Kerouac as “a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters”, rebelled in their literature, lifestyles and fashion. Kerouac himself once shocked an audience by wearing black jeans, ankle boots and a checkered shirt – a look we still want to wear today.
Sew the look: Beatnik women rocked slim-cut trousers – in black, black, black (think Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face). Try the Maurice Trousers from Republique du Chiffon. Pair with a breton top like Tilly and the Buttons’ Coco, shades, and a touch of anti-establishment sass.
Katie Allen is a writer, content editor and crafter based in London. She is the author of craft book Just Sew Stories and also runs ethical clothing business Plum. She loves reading, writing and all things kitty. Follow her at @KatieFQ. Photo copyright Leonie Morse. Read more posts from Katie’s history of fashion blog series here.