1950s Fashion Trends
for 1951 Fashion
At the turn of the year 1950-51 the dominating silhouette was the slim-skirted or sheath dress and the so-called tent or pyramid coat. In February top Paris designers like Dior and Fath again emphasized a revolutionary change: the full skirt, even in suits; and it received quick, wide acceptance.
Throughout the year the slim-skirted silhouette continued alongside the new full skirt, but the dress, suit, and coat with the full skirt became the top fashion for fall, in demand at all economic levels. Skirt fullness ranged from 84 in. to 9-yd. circulars. Skirt lengths stayed at mid-calf—13 to 15 in. from the floor, depending upon the taste and height of the wearer.
Two incoming fashions in the fall, inspired by the Paris August openings, were the revived princess silhouette and a new modern Empire that gave a new high-up look to the bust and waistline but retained a full skirt.
The texture was the big news of the year in fabrics, and the whole gamut of fashion fabrics was revolutionized. The movement began in France early in 1950 and inspired American fabric manufacturers to develop marvelous new textures. These changed and enriched the color palette too, though at the same time black was brought back to a new fashion status. Italy became a bigger source of fabrics, especially of textured silks like shantungs and Renaissance brocades. New synthetic “magic” yarns appeared—dacron, dynel, orlon, each with a special purpose of wear and/or texture to take their place alongside rayon and nylon—and fresh combinations were made of old yarns with new. The new coat and suit textures, best typified by fleeces and a French fabric called poodle cloth, were so luxurious—some as high as $25 or more a yard—that many women wore them in preference to fur coats, which had soared too high in price for the average American income. These new coat and suit textures, plus a strong emphasis upon crisp, stiff silk dress fabrics, contributed largely to a revival of elegance.
As prices continued to climb throughout the year fashion countered in many ways. Rayon and nylon counterparts of pure silk and pure wools were improved and mixed with “magic” yarns. Knit dresses, with their texture interest, were so perfected that they became the uniform of the working girl as well as of the socialite, often preferred to the well-established gabardine in all qualities. Again economics aided fashion to develop-further the “double duty” or “convertibility” of clothes. The décolleté sheath dress used every kind of cover-up to convert it for daytime. More coats became reversible, for day or night, and continued their zip-in linings of various kinds to adapt them for all seasons. More suits became three- and four-piece, permitting the wearer to change about the various pieces and wear the suit in different ways. In sportswear, there was an even wider acceptance of this changeling feature than in 1950, with more people planning their own ensembles of skirts, trousers, slacks, shorts, blouses, T-shirts, halters, and sweaters. Even more, handbags had reversible or slip covers, adapting them to different occasions.
DRESSES: For the first time the Paris dressmaking approach via built-in shaping, buckram, stiffening, and lining of skirts was adapted to American mass production. What Paris and our own fine dressmakers, too, had been doing since our grand-mothers’ day, now became standard practice in volume clothes. This revolutionary change had three important results:
I) The full skirt lined with taffeta or with built-in stiffening. In addition, crinolines and other stiff petticoats returned to fashion. It became the vogue to wear from one to five petticoats.
2) The lined slim skirt—crepe dresses, for ex-ample, with taffeta linings.
3) The full-skirted suit dress, with the skirt often taffeta-lined as well as the jacket. Along with the full-skirted suit dress, the coat dress and step-in dress with full skirt developed wide popularity.
The full-skirt silhouette in dresses returned quickly and almost simultaneously at all economic levels. Fullness stemmed from a princess line or flat hip yoke or directly from the waist, via hip padding, unpressed pleats, all-around pleating, shirring, or tucking. Bodices were small and fitted, with great neckline variety, The cardigan neckline was news. Cover-ups were Eton, Spencer, and Directoire-type jackets, stoles, and shawls. Many dresses were sleeveless, but those with sleeves often went to extremes in size.
Crisp or textured silks were luxury fabrics but very popular. The crisp, stiff look was the big theme in all dress fabrics—taffeta, taffeta-shantung, faille, bengaline, ottoman, linen, pique; even thin sheers added texture in silks, rayons, and cotton. Gold printing on cottons, mostly Siamese or Indian, enjoyed a tremendous summer popularity. On the supple side, the preferred summer fabrics were opaque sheers, printed crepes, and chiffons in silk or rayon. For the fall and winter season, the new elegance capitalized the magnificently sculptured brocade taffetas, two-color ribs, lame ottomans, lame moires, and two-color, two-faced satins, among other novelties and revivals.
Skirts were often “sculptured” via tucking, cloque, herringbone and another fancy pleating, tufting, puffed shirring, and quilting, especially for after-five. The paradoxically newer note in after-five apparel was the “covered-up” look by way of the understated top with high neck and long sleeves, or the high-necked, sleeveless bolero.
News in formal gowns, both long and short, was headed by the revival of the princess silhouette, the Spencer, the covered-up look a la Dior’s long sleeves and Fath’s wheel or fan sleeves, romantic fichus, and newly textured laces inspired by Balenciaga’s ribbon embroidery and Fath’s horsehair. For the first time, even junior dresses were worn short, for formal as well as informal wear.
COATS. At the beginning of the year the very full pyramid coat led in popularity. It flared out all around from natural narrow shoulders, with cardigan neck or shawl collar, long push-up or three-quarter sleeves or convertible cuffs. For fall this fullness was modified, with side fullness, flat front, and back. In contrast, there was also the column coat, reminiscent of the 20’s, an incoming high fashion. Both often had a large shawl or cape collars of fur.
Easter saw the fitted coat as a smart minority fashion. Immediately after the Paris openings in August, the tiny-waisted, full-skirted coat with hips extended or stiff became the big new fall and winter fashion.
Both the modified pyramid and the newly fitted silhouette were expressed in the newly textured woolens that looked heavy and bulky but really were not—such as poodle cloth, doormat, zibeline, Forstmann Mirrak; also brushed-down, long-haired fleeces, and new shaggy-textured boucles. Nubby tweeds gained additional fashion status, and pattern achieved new importance in heavily textured coatings and fleeces. “Precious fibers”—vicuna, guanaco, cashmere, angora—rose to new heights because they too fitted into the trend toward elegance.
Boxy or cape-like short coats scored for spring. With the return of the full skirt in the fall they took on fresh fashion importance in the new textured fabrics. Lengths ranged from briefest bolero or hug-me-tight, about i8 in. long, to the Dior curved cardigan, the barrel, and the Balenciaga 26- to 28-inch “cuddle” coat.
Stoles and stole-capelets, of self-fabric or velvet, often attached to the coat, enjoyed great popularity.
FURS. The mink coat was still the American dream coat, and Alaska and Hudson seal, in black and brown, rose in fashion and popular appeal. Fashion news of the year was the introduction of blonde furs. These ranged through all price levels, from taupe-y Aleutian mink to lowly rabbit. Blonde otter, nutria, and beaver were luxury blondes. Blonde sheared raccoon became much more popular. The little waist-length fur coat, worn above full-skirted dresses, was very smart, but three-quarter and full-length fur coats were the most popular.
Sun’s. The Carnegie-type “soft” suit, with arched hip, rounded shoulder, and slim skirt, was the most significant suit early in the year. After the August openings in Paris skirts became fuller gored, suit jackets closed higher, and little girl collars were popular, although high shawls were also good. Cardigan necklines were high fashion. Waists were nipped in a little more, jackets were shortened to 22 in. or less, and the best skirts be-came full eight-gore, 90 to 120 in. around, with their own attached taffeta petticoats. Many skirts were pleated, and the lined suit—with both skirt and jacket lined—was a definite favorite.
News in suit fabrics came from the revolutionary French and American worsted and/or silk ribs, as wool or silk ottoman, soft-to-touch wools and worsteds, patterned tweeds, and nubby textures like poodle cloth. Among the “Ford” fabrics of the year were yarn-dye flannel and patterned worsteds, rayon ottoman and faille, silk taffeta, and especially taffeta-shantung. Gabardine declined.
SPORTSWEAR. Turtlenecks and the “sweater look” developed as a fashion for early fall and instantly swept from coast to coast, on sweaters, sweater-blouses, knitted and casual dresses. The cardigan, however, continued to enjoy enormous favor.
Corduroy staged a strong comeback via new colors, wider wales, and some prints.
For every hour of day and night there was a marked trend toward changelings or change about. Big news in separates was the full skirt, with attached or independent petticoat, and the fresh gamut of heavier fabrics, especially the revived heavy but soft-to-the-touch herringbone tweeds.
At-home clothes reflected our changing way of life. Some reflected the revived feeling for elegance. Slacks were popular, with new tapered legs.
In both casual dresses and blouses, the “sweater look” was the new trend, and blouses went to two extremes: severe, often sleeveless, or very feminine with enormous sleeves and fancy necklines.
Knitted dresses and suits, both hand-made and machine-made, came back in a big way. They ranged from lacy dressy knits for cocktail and dinner to simple daytime styles.
The one-piece swimsuit was the big success for the beach, with the dressed-up elasticized dress-maker swimsuit the “Ford,” and the dressmaker “little boy” shorts suit a smart incoming fashion.
COLORS. Black and navy looked so very effective in the new coat textures that black staged a come-back, and both black and navy enjoyed high popularity. Both were strong too in dressy suits, in all types of fabrics, and as usual in daytime dresses.
“Black with”—black yarn with a bright or light color introduced to give an iridescent effect—was the newcomer of the year and the fashion news in patterned coatings, suitings, and in dress fabrics such as slubbed silk and rayon taffetas and shantungs. Black with brown was the most popular, followed by black with gray, royal blue, gold, or yellow.
In both coats and suits, yarn-dye grays were tremendously popular in all fabrics especially in worsteds and wool flannels, with yarn-dye brown the smarter but second favorite. Sponsored by Paris in August, the whole gamut of blues rose in favor, especially in dresses and accessories; the Italian fabrics brought in the Venetian red of the Renaissance.
Carried over from 1950 was the lilac-to-purple range, a great favorite in spring and summer, which continued into fall in coats, particularly junior and girls’ coats, and in sportswear; also popular was white, alone or with black. The pastels enjoyed great favor all summer, and in the fall the beige range was strong.
GIRLS’ FASHIONS. Adult fashions continued to influence strongly all fashions for girls from 6 to 16. The full skirt produced “petticoat fever” here too and ranged through dresses, coats, suits, and separate skirts. Many of the new textured fabrics developed for adult clothes, such as poodle cloth, were quickly adapted for girls.
LINGERIE. “Petticoat Fever” was the big fashion story here. Crinoline, buckram, taffeta, starched net, nylon nets, and other stiffening materials were all popular, to give body, swirl, and rustle to the full-cut skirts.
Slips that could he be worn as neckline fill-ins for low cut suits or as bodices over separate skirts had wide popularity. The short nightie became more popular.
Nylon tricot was the “big” fabric in all lingerie except petticoats, because of its practicality, and because a sharp decline in price made it more available.
The unlined “duster” or lounging robe, particularly in spun rayon, rayon bengaline or corduroy, repeated its big success of the 1950 summer, worn as a house dress, shopping dress, beach coat, and general “throw-over.”
HATS. Hatlessness increased, especially during the summer, perhaps because there were no radical changes in hat fashions, and also because hats became more expensive. All through the year hats were predominantly small and shallow, with the shell and pillbox the favorite shapes. In the spring and summer they were worn level on the head, in the fall they were more often tilted to give movement to the silhouette. Cocktail or glitter hats became enormously popular in the fall—all-over embroidered, sequined, and/or jeweled. Veils were often worn instead of hats, also as bits of glamour.
GLOVES. Gloves followed the two extremes of sleeve fashions. With the push-up or short sleeve the longer, forearm length was favored, especially in double-woven cotton or nylon or the revived rayon. With sleevelessness, the shorty was of course preferred.
BAGS. Big bags returned to fashion. For daytime the box bag continued to top-selling fashion, followed by framed pouches, the larger the better, in suede and especially calf. Travel bags sold well in calf; over-shoulder bags in softly tanned cowhide were in demand for casual wear; and in the fall the large English frame bag became popular in plastics, especially in plastic alligator. Cocktail bags were extremely popular, in velvet, satin, and faille; in the fall bags decorated with braid or beads followed the fashion trend for “glitter and glisten” in other accessories. In the summer, bags went all out for novelty, particularly in imported Italian straws and in birdcage styles.
SHOES. The tapered toe on new lasts was the revolutionary change of the year. The halter-strap shoe was the newest expression of the closed-toe, open-back shoe. The very open stripping sandal continued a favorite during the summer and carried over into fall for dinner and evening wear. The shell pump was the number-one volume-selling fashion in all media and at all prices throughout the year. For the younger crowd, the Capezio type instep strap shell with low Louis heel or low flat heel was one of the top-selling fashions. Calf was the leading medium for spring and fall, vying with suedes in the fall because its luster was such excellent foil for the nubby, shaggy textures of clothing. At-home styles were widely developed, dressier than boudoir but not formal enough for evening, with the backless style a favorite.
JEWELRY. Glitter, mobility, and size summarize the news in costume jewelry, with rhinestones and “frankly fake” diamonds by far the most popular stones, worn even with tweeds. In overscaled pins especially they were worn not only as lapel ornaments but at the throat, on oblique closings, at the waist, on hip pockets, at jacket hems. Large rhinestone necklaces’ with rigid front ornamentation or short pendants were favorites. Multiple bracelets were the fashion, in pearl-and-link or gold chains with dangles.
1952 Encyclopedia Year Book
covering the year 1951