1950 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
The history-making fashions of 1950 directly reflected the dramatic events of that mid-century year, just as fashion has always been a reflection of the times. Accordingly, fashion followed a pattern of sharp contrasts paralleling the moods of the year. In fabrics, there were the most gossamer silks, cottons, and wools, and at the same time the bulkiest coating wools ever. A new sheath-slim silhouette arrived, in contrast to the full silhouette which had dominated fashion since the end of World War II, and which still continued alongside the new sheath. The most casual fashions were worn, many borrowed from men’s fashions; and, at the same time, very feminine, dressy fashions returned. Bold color contrasts, such as bold black with bold white, or brash gold or yellow with black, were the order.
The silhouette was still feminine, although a little less rounded than the year before: waistline less nipped in, bust and hips a little flatter. Skirt lengths crept up another inch to about mid-calf or 14-15 in. from the floor.
Because the price of clothes had soared to an all-time high, women wanted fashions that could be used in more than one way. Thus a tremendous vogue for so-called “convertible” clothes sprang up. Winter coats reversed from one side to the other to serve a dual purpose. For example, a nude fleece pyramid coat for city or country might reverse to a black velvet coat for late-day or dinner wear. Many coats had convertible sleeves that could be worn long or turned back into deeply cuffed shorter sleeves for a dressier look.
The two most important convertible dresses were a décolleté street-length dress with cover-up jacket or stole or capelet which could be worn for daytime occasions, and to dinner and theater without its cover-up; and a slim dress with button-on or tie-on overskirt which transformed it into a full-skirted dress with an entirely different look.
Dresses. The sheath silhouette swept quickly through dresses at all economic levels, and many new fashions rode in as variations and modifications of the slim sheath. Three variations were out-standing: (I) The exciting trumpet silhouette, a slim, molded, often princess, body-line, broken below the knees with low flares, godets, flounces, or pleats; (2) the dramatic tunic silhouette, a slim dress or suit with jutting tunic in varying lengths; (3) the sophisticated slim dress broken by oblique lines, such as oblique closings, oblique seaming or rows of buttons, asymmetrical details. These three fashions were sponsored by Paris couturiers Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, and Balenciaga particularly, but were adopted immediately by American designers.
The suit-dress and ensemble were the most important dress types of the year, the latter a dress with its own jacket or long coat. A slim, vertically pleated sleeveless dress, shown in the Paris February collections, became one of the most popular summer dresses and continued for fall and winter as a cocktail dress. The ensemble of a dress with long coat in a transparent sheer fabric was another summer success stemming from Paris.
Dress details which made fashion history were sleevelessness in all types of dresses, low horseshoe-shaped necklines, and white collars and cuffs, the last two also achieving importance in suits.
Dress fabrics were another story of contrasts: transparent sheers such as chiffon, marquisette, georgette, organdy, voile, and opaques such as linen, shantung, and piqué for hot weather; sheer wools, wool jersey, and yarn-dyed wools on the one hand, and luxurious silk taffetas, brocades, velvets, ottomans on the other, for fall-winter.
An entirely new fashion in evening dresses was born, one in bold contrast to the bouffant gowns that had prevailed for years. The new gowns were floor-length, slim, and formal, given movement by drapes, poufs, tunics, or other details, to relieve their severity. Their fabrics were rich, full-bodied silk taffetas, brocades, velvets, heavy satins.
Suits. Outstanding suit of the year was a feminine suit with hipline arched out by padding or stiffening, a suit made famous by Balenciaga. Back into fashion came the man-tailored suit, in direct contrast to the arched-hip suit. It was the “investment” suit for the economy-minded woman. Another suit which attracted the woman of limited means was the suit of three or four pieces which could be changed about and worn in many different ways. For example, a jacket and skirt in checked worsted might have an additional skirt in harmonizing solid color worsted, and a reversible weskit in the check and solid.
Among suit fabrics of the year, patterned worsteds were most important, especially checks and stripes. Yarn-dyed flannels were a big fall suit fabric, especially in gray. Worsted reps were the high-fashion choice, while velvet and velveteen were popular for fall and winter dressy suits.
Coats and Furs. The leading coat fashion was a very full coat flaring out from narrow shoulders in a pyramid silhouette; hence its name, “the pyramid coat.” However, a first sign of slimmer coats to come was a slightly flared box coat sponsored by Balenciaga. Short coats, either boxy or cape-like, scored for spring, while the tunic, introduced in Paris by Dior, was the new short coat for fall-winter. The reefer with hipline arched or padded was the new long, fitted coat.
Very bulky coating fabrics with dry, hairy surfaces were the smartest fashion, stemming from Paris. One of the smartest of these was called “poodle” cloth because of its curly, hairy surface. These were expensive imported fabrics and thus found only in expensive coats. Fabrics in widest usage were duvetyn types for dressy coats, and fleeces and tweeds for more casual coats. Coats in precious fibers, such as camel’s hair, cashmere, and guanaco, were the “caviar” of casual coats. Velvet and velveteen were smart in dressy coats.
Two dressy formal coat fashions were born: (I) the late-day coat, predominantly in velvet or velveteen, but ultra-smart in brocade, slipper satin, faille, or taffeta; and (2) the evening wrap, which returned to take the place of the fur coat or “little fur” which women had worn for evening for many years.
Furs expressed contrasts dramatically. Fur-like fabrics, called “fake furs,” assumed as much fashion weight as the most luxurious minks and seals. A woman in any income bracket might wear a fake fur skirt or stole or capelet or belt. In real furs, long-haired furs, such as black and white fox, returned as the fashion furs of the year.
Sportswear. One of the strongest contrasts of all was presented in sportswear, which was dressed up as never before. Yarn-dyed flannels, most popular fabric for fall sportswear, were accented with braid or ball fringe and teamed with velvet and velveteen. Wool tartan, the other ranking sports-wear fabric, was combined with velveteen. The formerly classic cardigan sweater was embroidered around the neck or on the front with beads and fake jewels. The dressmaker sweater with feminine details stole the scene from the classic sweater and made news in such versions as a winged-sleeve sweater, a sleeveless sweater, or an embroidered sweater.
“Separates” were the big fashion in sportswear. Jackets, skirts, blouses, weskits, and slacks were coordinated in fabrics and colors so that they could be mixed and matched for countless costumes. Summer’s favored fabrics were sheer cottons, silk shantung, linen, denim, and sailcloth. Fall and winter sportswear separates accented yarn-dyed gray flannel, authentic Scotch tartans, velveteen, wool jersey. Sweaters and suede jackets and weskits were also dyed to match various fabrics for wider coordination. In dressier fabrics, such as taffeta, brocade, slipper satin, net, faille, ottoman, velveteen, these coordinates were worn for cocktails, dinner, and evening.
Colors. The blue family continued to enjoy a top-ranking position, navy blue becoming a classic color, and medium blues, such as French blue and greenish Atlantic blue, making news. The beige-to-cocoa family was very smart. Red lost none of its popularity. The orange-coral-bitter-sweet family and the lilac-to-purple family were important newcomers with bright futures. Yellow and gold tones rose as new bright colors to challenge red. Both black and white were smart, and most dramatic when used together in contrast.
Lingerie. More fashion attention and color than ever before characterized lingerie. Nylon tricot, permanently pleated by a heat process, was the success of the year in nightgowns or as trimming on slips and petticoats. Convertible slips were designed with lacy or glamorous fronts or bodices to double as blouses for filling in the necklines of low-cut suits. A dramatic nightgown fashion consisted of two or three very sheer gowns in varied vibrant colors worn one over the other. Television viewing stimulated the return of lounging clothes to fashion. The pajama with tunic jacket was smartest, but hostess gowns and negligees were also worn.
Accessories. Accessories emphasized the dressy look. To small hats in such rich bodies as velours, velvet, or feathers were added jeweled embroideries, braids, and veils. The dressy suede-frame, pouch handbag became the leader. Frankly “fake” diamonds were the entire story in jewelry for daytime as well as evening. Pins or pin-clips were pinned on everything. Bracelets became more important with the increase in sleeveless dresses and blouses.
Small hats prevailed, pillboxes, toques, bicornes, berets, except during the summer when wide-brimmed hats were favorites. The news in hats was their new angle; they were worn straight-on-the-head. This trend was accelerated by the new fashion of longer hair pulled to the back of the head and worn in soft curls or with a chignon.
A very bare shoe, merely a sole with tiny strips to hold it on, made news primarily for late-day and evening. Fabric shoes won big favor in linen, shantung, velvet, satin. Dressy shoes with flat heels became the favored fashion of the young. The pump, either a plain, low-cut shell, or an open-stripping pump, led all shoe fashions.
Flowers were the common denominator of every costume. Velvet accessories scored for summer, predominantly in black. Luxurious longer gloves were requisites with sleeveless or shorter-sleeved dresses, suits, and coats.
Girls’ Fashions. For little girls, up to about six or seven years old, above-the-knee-length dresses with basque bodices and moderately full skirts were the fashion. Crisp cottons were the choice, often with a touch of embroidery. Taffetas were reserved for parties. Coats were usually fitted.
Older girls, from six or seven years up to 15 or 16, tried to look as much like adults as possible. Sportswear “separates,” jackets, skirts, weskits, blouses, shirts, sweaters, predominated in their wardrobes and were mixed and matched for the many changes they liked. Summer separates were mainly in denim, cotton broadcloth, cotton pique, cotton taffeta. Fall and winter saw corduroy rise to top popularity; also wool plaids and wool jersey. Jumpers, particularly in corduroy, worn with cotton shirts or blouses, were a favorite for winter. Dresses, which were in the minority, followed fashion trends of Mother’s or Big Sister’s dresses and were in cotton, corduroy, wool jersey, and for parties in taffeta. In wool suits, these girls preferred boxy jackets, often with pleated skirts. The younger girl liked her coat fitted, but her older sister chose a flared coat, short for spring, long for fall and winter.