You might be interested in the other posts in this series: the 1940s
For America, the 1950s represented a time of increased consumerism and financial security, while in Britain (and for a shorter while, Australia), the early 50s were a time of post-war rationing and social upheaval, followed by increasing consumerism in the later 50s.
The re-establishment of the “feminine” shape following the war years was typified by the “look” that formed the iconic shapes of womenswear in the 1950s: Christian Dior’s New Look (actually released in February 1947 as two lines: “Corolle” and “En Huit”). The emphasis was on the hourglass: highlighting a small waist and contrasting it with a shapely bust and hips. This took two forms: the close-fitting wiggle dress (typical of the mid to late 50s), and the full swing or circle skirt.
Matching your gloves, hat and handbag was still popular, though it began to wane by the late 50s. Matching your lipstick and nail polish remained popular throughout the decade.
Women had easy-washing cotton housedresses that were neat and pretty, with buttons and details such as peter pan collars and lace: these dresses were designed to be worn while doing housework and running errands, so that a lady could still look feminine while doing her daily tasks in an easy to care for fabric.
If lunching or attending to business such as shopping, ladies often wore close fitting skirt suits, along with their matching hat, bag and gloves. Note that hats were day wear and were not worn at night.
Novelty prints were popular, particularly among younger women, while floral prints remained popular throughout the decade.
Hawaiian inspired designs and prints became popular in the mid 50s, with sarong style dresses and palm tree prints literally having their moment in the sun.
Jackets often had bracelet-length sleeves designed to expose the wrist so a delicate wristwatch or colour coordinated bracelet could be on show.
Higher necklines were worn for daywear, while sweetheart necklines, often with halter neck straps, were popular for evening wear. Halter necks were also seen in light sundresses.
Among younger women, pedal pushers and denim jeans began to be fashionable, usually matched with clinging knitwear tops to form the “sweater girl” look.
With increasing national prosperity came increased opportunities to socialise, so stunning formal cocktail dresses and ball gowns in satin, taffeta and silk were designed to be seen.
Hemlines throughout the decade were below the knee, with mid calf length being the most popular.
To help achieve the emphasis of the feminine figure, bras typically had a circle stitched and padded cone or bullet shape, while corselettes, garter belts and panty girdles helped to smooth and shape the body. Petticoats and crinolines were worn to give shape and volume to circle skirts.
For warmth, beaded or embroidered cardigans and twinsets were popular, while opera coats and tulle or organza wraps were common by the mid to late 50s.
Swimsuits typically featured skirted bottoms and could be one piece or two, though the gap between the top and bottom was kept minimal, with the bellybutton remaining hidden. Halternecks were popular for swimwear.
Accessories of the decade including stiletto heels, sunglasses, headscarfs and, for evening wear, costume jewellery. Loafers and sandals were also popular shoe types, for casual wear. Tanning was popular, but so were parasols to avoid getting sunburnt!
Is there anything you’d like to know about the styles of the 50s?