1950's Fashion Trends: A Brief History

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The thing about fashion is as hard as we try to fit trends into neat, decade long, categories, that’s simply not how it works. So, to discuss the impact of 1950’s fashion 

we have to go back to 1947. To the "Mystère" 1947 fall/winter Dior collection, or the New Look collection as it would soon be dubbed. 

This “New Look” referred to Christian Dior’s collection that exaggerated the feminine silhouette with padded shoulders and hips, heavily constructed garments, long skirts, and of course an emphasis on a drawn in waist. 

At the time of this collection's launch the popular fashions were lending to silhouettes pioneered and favored by Chanel. Straight lines, a mixture of workwear and men's wear in women’s clothes, and an almost boxy appearance. 

There were elements of what this New Look would expound upon, such as exaggerated shoulders and some attention was being drawn to the waist, in the fashion trends before Dior’s collection. But the dominant silhouette of the 30’s and 40’s was an inverted triangle. Broad, dramatic shoulders, narrow waist and narrower hips, and skirts were long and straight. 

In 1947 the world was coming out of a war and life had picked up pace and clothing, especially women’s clothing, had begun to transition more to practicality for women on the move in the workforce. At the same time there was a longing, a grieving, for how life was before World Wars. This is where we can attribute a portion of the success of Dior’s New Look.

As we all know fashion repeats itself and takes inspiration from the past. So Christian Dior looked to the fashions of the past, specifically fashions from before there were “World Wars”. The Belle Époque Era. An era characterized by wealth, progress, and optimism, as well as opulence in the fashions of the time. Bustles, puffed sleeves, corsets, trains, women wore pounds and pounds of ornate fabrics and trimmings. 

You can see elements of this in Dior’s 1947 collection, like the padded shoulders and hips, as well as the sheer volume of fabric used in the garments. Most notable instances of this are the skirts from the collection which could have up to 15 yards of fabric! A perfect example of how this collection was a call to the opulent and excessive era of a world before war.  This ”New Look” would become the prevailing and dominant silhouette of the 1950’s, becoming what we think when we think “50’s fashion” to this day for the most part. 

Now it was the prevailing silhouette, but it was not the only style gaining immense popularity. In another blog I will go into the backlash from some women over the New Look, Chanel’s return from retirement, and escapism in 1950’s fashion.


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