September 13, 2000
What do you think of when you hear the words, “1950’s fashion?” I am sure each and everyone in this room has an image that comes to mind. For me, I visualize the traditional poodle skirt, white crew socks and black and white saddle shoes. In the 50’s, times were changing. This was the era when television was exploding onto the scene. Television brought the fashion world into our living rooms, with show like, Leave it to Beaver, Ossie and Harriet, and the infamous “I love Lucy.” The television mom’s of the fifties entertained us and had to be prepared for every occasion.
First off, let’s start at the top, with the hair. There were many different hairstyles to choose from. The women of the 50’s tortured their hair. They bleached it, permed it, put pins in it and teased it until it stood out all over. My mother was one of the experimenters of the early days. I am amazed she has any hair at all after looking at some old photographs.
The most conspicuous was the “beehive”, with the hair, shoulder-long or more, drawn up to the top of the head, back-combed zealously to give it bulk and height, then turned in with pins or surmounted with chignon, real or artificial, and finally lacquered into stiffness. (Ewing 170)
The 50’s television shows portrayed the fifties wives and moms as a happy homemaker at the breakfast table in her clinched skirt with the white blouse tucked in neatly. She had her hair done, and wore all the necessary accessories, such as pearls or snap beads. Appropriateness was everything. Young women expressed the responsibility of their positions by being as ladylike as possible: just leaving the house called for wearing a hat, going downtown shopping required gloves. Another thing, you never wore white after Labor Day.
There were tea parties, backyard barbecues, school functions with the PTA and many other social gatherings to dress up for. Television women like June Clever and Lucille Ball blazed the way for the woman of the 50’s. Setting fashion trends for the women of America.
What to wear? That depended on the occasion. The sundress was very popular, with spaghetti straps, bodice clinched at the waist and a full skirt. Another favorite was the shirtwaist dress, like Lucy made famous on the, (I love Lucy) show. These dresses could be worn at pool parties, back yard barbecues, and at night to almost any non-formal event. In 1957, the sack dress became the popular. American women bought the waist-less, straight dress by the thousands, until they realized that men didn’t like them. (Milbank 175)
For most of the decade skirts were fairly long. There were no hemline headlines. Skirts ranged from a conservative 14 to 15 inches off the ground and there were an equal number of full ones and straight ones. (Ward 142)
Dresses may have hung at mid-calf, but shorts got shorter-with rolled up cuffs. (Donovan 74) For the active woman on the go there were short pants. Capri’s and pedal pushers, narrow long pants with a side zipper, a popular look, with narrowed legs. They came in a variety of colors and fabric’s.
Formal gowns and cocktail dresses were dramatic. The evening scene was one of great formality that had not existed since the roaring twenties. (Ward 142) Full-skirted evening gowns made of chiffon, stiff satin and taffeta with whalebone corsets sown into the dress gave women their ultra-feminine "hourglass" figures. These dresses gave every woman the look and feel of a glamorous movie star.
The glamour look was also achieved with make up. Women painted their lips with dripping bright red lipstick and began wearing eye shadows. If you were a blond with blue eyes you wore blue eye shadow to accentuate the blue of your eyes, green shadow for green eyes and autumnal colors for the woman with the dark eyes.
Fashion was influenced by the popular movie stars of the 50’s. Marilyn Monroe helped to re-introduce the sweater look, and Elizabeth Taylor started another trend with her chiffon wrap-front cocktail dress, from the movie, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof.
The “Greaser,” look was popular in male fashion. The James Dean look was every teen-age boy’s inner vision of himself, and every girl’s dream. (Donovan 37) Rebellious teenager’s adopted the hoodlum look, by wearing leather jackets, blue jeans, and a white tee shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve to look cool. Let’s not forget the ducktail hair-do, (brushed back into a point that looked like a ducktail) they all sported.
All in all, the fashion of the 1950’s seemed to be a conglomeration of many different styles. The decade's fashions were heavily influenced by television and was reflected in the way people dressed. The fashion of the 1950’s seemed to be influenced by television, movies, and movie stars. As television moved into more and more households, a single TV program such as I Love Lucy could influence millions more than could magazines and newspapers. The proliferation of TV helped mass market fashion.
Donovan, Hedley, ed. This Fabulous Century: 1950-1960.
New York: Time-Life books, 1970
Ewing, Elizabeth, History of 20th Century Fashion.
New Jersey: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style.
New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989
Ward, Baldwin H. Year The Annual Picture-History.
California: Simons & Schuster, Inc., 1954
Word Count: 923