1950s Fashion Trends
for 1952 Fashion
Many fashion changes and successes in 1952, as usual, reflected the economic situation. This year they reflected high living costs, high taxes, and a retrenchment in spending by every family in its clothes and especially in its household budget, despite high wages, higher savings bank deposits, and virtually no unemployment. The desire of every American woman, regardless of age, to achieve more changes in her wardrobe with smaller outlays, brought about a tremendous development in separates—sweaters, blouses, and skirts bought independently from time to time for various occasions and seasons. “Double duty” Fashion. Many fashion changes and successes in 1952, as usual, reflected the economic situation. This year they reflected high living costs, high taxes, and a retrenchment in spending by every family in its clothes and especially in its household budget, despite high wages, higher savings bank deposits, and virtually no unemployment. The desire of every American woman, regardless of age, to achieve more changes in her wardrobe with smaller outlays, brought about a tremendous development in separates—sweaters, blouses, and skirts bought independently from time to time for various occasions and seasons. “Double duty” clothes, such as day dresses with cover-ups re-moved for late-day wear, and tweed daytime coats reversed to velveteen for the evening, were further developed.
The full silhouette continued, but inroads were made during the year by the slim sheath silhouette. All suit skirts were slim, as were the majority of ensemble skirts. But the silhouette in separate skirts was fullish, although not exaggerated, and the skirts of most dresses followed. Skirt lengths dropped from one to two inches for day wear; for after five and evening the “waltz length” (about ten inches from the floor) was popular.
Development of miracle-fiber yarns was a major trend and many registered instant success. As they were washable and often needed no ironing, their utility and time-saving features proved a welcome advantage. The development of orlon with wool or cotton made pleating virtually permanent. Thus the pleated skirt soared to a tremendous high of popularity, carrying with it the all-pleated dress.
“Fashion is where you find it” became a fact in 1952. To the Paris, London, and American coutures were added the growing creative talents of Rome and Florence, plus a complete newcomer, the Spanish couture in Madrid and Barcelona.
Fashion. Many fashion changes and successes in 1952, as usual, reflected the economic situation. This year they reflected high living costs, high taxes, and a retrenchment in spending by every family in its clothes and especially in its household budget, despite high wages, higher savings bank deposits, and virtually no unemployment. The desire of every American woman, regardless of age, to achieve more changes in her wardrobe with smaller outlays, brought about a tremendous development in separates—sweaters, blouses, and skirts bought independently from time to time for various occasions and seasons. “Double duty”
“Front page news makes front page fashions,” so the forthcoming British coronation began spreading its influence. Hats, jewelry, and fashion colors were the first to show the influence. Tiara-effect hats and headdresses appeared, and coronation colors—golds, purples, and reds. The traditional British Hower, the rose, returned to first fashion place.
DRESSES: For the first time in many seasons, spring in 1952 brought in daytime dresses new in both silhouette and fabric.
The wool street dress returned as a smart replacement for the suit. The big countrywide pre-Easter favorite was the coat or coat-effect dress in a crisp fabric like faille, taffeta, or silk shantung. Most had full skirts over a lining or ruffled petticoat. Waistlines wandered for a while, after the Paris February openings, between the “modern Empire” or high-waisted silhouette, chiefly in bustline emphasis and spencer jackets, and the molded-bark or “middy” silhouette, its full skirt flaring from a smooth hipline; but the normal waistline was always indicated.
Pleated skirts ruled all dress fashions, from simple daytime to formal evening. Not only skirts but whole dresses ‘became pleated, inspired by Fath and Dior, and pleating took every form. Apart from new synthetic fabrics, pleats were smart in shantung, surah, and taffeta ground prints, checked taffetas, and silk crepes a la Dior. All these except the crepes were worn over stiff crinolines in the spring, but fall brought in a trend toward a softer, slimmer silhouette.
Suits and suit dresses, especially in silks, took on a new look with pleated and flared skirts, shorter jackets, bracelet-length sleeves, tiny collars, or cardigan necklines.
One of the smart dress ensemble fashions was the long coat costume, sometimes belted in the back, or fitted and full-skirted, so the coat could do double duty and often was itself worn as a dress. The biggest spring ensemble resembled a suit with an arched hip jacket; however, fall introduced the box jacket ensemble, whose success paralleled that of the box jacket winter suit. Here a major jacket fabric was a bulky coating like zibeline, boucle, tweed, accompanied by a color-coordinated slim worsted jersey dress.
In the fall the modern Empire or uplift silhouette developed into the smartest and most important silhouette, interpreted with long or bracelet-length sleeves and narrow skirt, or in flowing princess line. The wide swathed fascia, to accentuate the uplift silhouette, quickly gained widespread acceptance.
Most cocktail dresses assumed a covered-up look, with three-quarter sleeves and low neck, short sleeves, and high neck, or long sleeves and high neck. Although the sheath skirt was smarter, the full-skirted silk dress with cancan petticoat or crinoline continued popular for after five. The skirt with its fullness swept to the back was one of the new Paris-inspired fashions.
Paris sponsorship of the beaded sheath brought back the “siren look,” in both long and short lengths. The full-length formal was smartest when slim, with back drape, back flare, or draped sash.
COATS: For spring the most popular coat was a full pendulum, with fullness flowing from side to side from below the shoulders, often from a deep yoke almost into the sleeves. The cinch coat in the full-skirted princess style, with rounded sloping shoulders and interesting diversity of sleeves, had been increasing in favor since the preceding spring and now became a popular contender. An incoming high fashion was the Balenciaga box coat, a bulky but slim version of the loose coat. Short sleeves, either push-up or three-quarter, were almost universal.
Very short waistline coats, often called “pop coats,” soared to a short-lived flash fashion to wear over full skirts. Short coats twenty-eight inches and longer declined sharply in favor of long coats. Long glamour coats in various silks and silk-like fabrics reached a new popularity in all silhouettes.
Spring coat fabrics carried on the revolutionary trend of fall 1951. Heavily textured fabrics were made in lighter weight wools, in both plain and novelty weaves. New tweeds appeared—lacy, loopy, or boucle, in plain colors and mixtures. Worsted coatings declined, even though new weaves tried to uphold their rating.
For fall the pendulum with modified fullness remained by far the most popular, although the cinch or fitted coat in bulky fabrics was the number one fashion. Big shawl, cape, or tunnel collars, and separate or attached stoles were smart for both. With strong Paris sponsorship, the bulky box coat returned as a high fashion, especially as shown by Balenciaga. A modified Chesterfield was introduced by Fath and others but was not generally accepted.
Although the coat without fur was the big fashion, the newly lowered prices of furs gave both lavishly fur-trimmed and fur-lined coats new sales importance.
Leading the fall fashion coats were the zibeline or furry coatings, especially in plain black and yarn-dye gray, some with stripes. Other fleeces, both long-haired shag and smooth, shared this fashion limelight. Boucles or loopy coatings were a close second. Tweeds of the two- and three-color curly types, as well as solid color and iridescent boucles, were the popular choice. In contrast, a conservative customer demand arose early in the fall for smooth weaves—broadcloth, melton, suede cloth, duvetyn. Alpaca pile coats—”teddy bears” —were the sensational choice of the fall season among the younger crowd, especially in wheat color.
SUITS: In spite of early signs of a big acceptance of the dressmaker suit, the classic tailored suit and the semi-tailored suit showed surprising late spring strength.
The spring season began with ribbed worsteds inspired by French wool ottomans and bengalines. The newer textured ribs were slubbed. But with the demand for the tailored suit, yarn-dyed flannel, especially gray, became the biggest single fabric. Tweeds and worsteds took on new interest in lightweight, smooth-surfaced, small all-over patterns. Glamour suits were in demand, in silk shantung, shantung taffeta, corded taffeta, and faille. Worsted jersey suits were a success at both high and middle price levels. Rayon year-rounder suits gained in volume and tweed-like cotton suits were smart. There was a strong consumer demand for miracle-fiber blends.
The box jacket suit began as a high fashion but became popular in the fall. Jackets were in bulky coating zibeline, boucle, or loopy tweed, the skirt (and often the suit or blouse) in a different but color-coordinated yarn-dye flannel, soft wool with fur content, gabardine, or worsted jersey. This fashion immediately “caught on” because the jacket could be worn separately over dresses or with separate skirts, and this double usage had great appeal.
Furs: Fur fashions were substantially unchanged. Mink was still the American woman’s dream coat. Blonde furs grew as a smart minority fashion. Short fur coats, fur capes, and fur stoles—especially mink—grew more popular. The long straight coat of lustrous black seal registered as an incoming smart fashion. Black fox and platina fox stoles also began a new fashion career.
COLORS: Black continued its undisputed reign. This held true not only in coats, suits, and dresses, but also in separates, hats, shoes, gloves, handbags, and there was interest even in jet jewelry.
White was second, including off-whites. Black with white became very popular from worsteds to cotton and especially in printed silk. Black as the background for red, blue, brown, gold, or green was strong in coatings.
Yarn-dye grays continued to be high fashion, but beiges and rich-tone mink browns showed signs of incoming trends.
Red emerged as the big popular demand color all over the country, in every shade, from hats to shoes.
Greens showed signs of an incoming trend in the fall, chiefly in emerald tones.
Navy enjoyed its accustomed place of top spring color just preceding Easter, and demand continued right through fall and winter.
SPORTSWEAR: The fashion story in sportswear was one of the separates. Each top and each skirt was an independent unit, yet it coordinated in fabric and/or color as a “mingle-mate” to form any number of smart ensembles.
The sweater and sweater-look blouse dominated. The big change was from the classic to the dressmaker sweater. The sweater influence also extended to dresses, from casual to evening. The intarsia look paced the parade of patterned dress-makers. Ombres and other stripes built up to a new volume. The orlon sweater rose to a quick success. The middy or torso silhouette was news. Cardigans, in all yarns, decorated with beads, sequins, semi-precious stones, and even mink and ermine collars and cuffs, became a popular fashion.
In separate skirts, the full silhouette was most important and ranged from 12-yard double circles to fairly straight hanging pleated skirts. Because Lorette (an orlon and wool blend) gave permanence to pleats, the Lorette pleated skirt quickly became a “must” in every wardrobe.
Pants, especially in tapered versions, increased in favor. Shirts staged a revival. The fascia and especially the wide elasticized belt called the cinch belt rose to tremendous popularity to link skirts, pants, and tops.
In the fall glamour separates came to the fore, for at-home entertaining and cocktail-through-dinner wear. All fabrics were used, from bulky tweeds (including the new cotton tweeds) and bulky fleeces and corduroys to sleek jerseys, luxury velvets and satins, often in colors, bespangled and bejeweled.
In the summer, denim and sailcloth were the popular fashion in play clothes for beach, gardening, and loungewear. The strapless one-piece swimsuit was again the big success, with the dressed-up elasticized dressmaker suit the most popular, followed by the dressmaker “little boy” swim or sunsuit.
GIRLS’ FASHIONS: Separates were further developed. For example, four-piece coordinates were featured which could be mingled and mated in as many as ten different ways. All skirts were full and flared, in dresses, coats, suits, and separates, and pleated Lorette skirts leaped to quick popularity, as for grown-ups. “Petticoat fever” persisted for the young, too. Fitted coats were definitely smarter but pendulums continued to be preferred. Fabrics followed those for grown-ups and included many of the new mixtures developed there.
LINGERIE.: The continuing fashion of the full skirt inspired a new rash of the “petticoat fever” that began in 595!. Women bought “wardrobes” of petticoats, separate styles for wear under day-time, cocktail, and evening dresses, worn three, four, or five at a time. Slips were revived as petticoat-slips with full skirts, and in the fall “theater slips” with jeweled bodices were smart for wear with suits or separates. Dominating in both was smooth fit about the bust, waist, and hips, with fullness released below. New was the boned bra-top with tiered full petticoat, sometimes finished with cancan ruffles; the cancan fashion continued popular in other petticoats, too. Nylon became a family word, and alone or blended, in net, tulle, and taffeta, took over in crisp fabrics. Cot-tons continued their summer success into fall and winter.
HATS: For the first time in several seasons there were radical hat changes. Although the small, shallow shell or pillbox dominated in spring and summer the pushed-back head-covering hat sponsored by Paris in February took hold quickly and, interpreted in angora or such. other fuzzy media as beaver felt, Melusine, Dalmatian felt, and fuzzy jersey, became the smart hat to wear, even in summer, and the sensational success of fall. The little hat continued its popularity, especially for dress-up, when it was often bejeweled, all-over sequinned, or embroidered, for day wear as well as after five. White became established as the smart year-round hat color; black-and-white ranked second; red followed closely at third. Turquoise showed strength in the spring, gold in the fall.
SHOES: The revolutionary fashion in shoes was the open banded shoe—backless and toeless. Introduced by Ferragamo in Italy in December 1951, it gained acceptance steadily through spring 1952, was the smart success of summer, and by fall developed greater popularity. But as the year ended it was more often closed up, with wider bands, back straps, and medium to low heels. There was a definite increase in soft toe shoes, particularly in the higher heel category, and in dress shoes, and the tapered toe was improved. Newest comfort idea was the foam rubber inner sole, now built into fashion shoes. Pumps maintained their popularity but, influenced by the band shoe, developed new open cut-outs at the side or instep, instead of in the vamps.
After many years of suede domination, the swing to smooth leather accelerated. Polished calf dominated for fall, as an excellent foil for heavily textured fabrics. Combinations of leathers, fabrics, and colors were further established in fashion. Red shoes were popular, even in the fall, and black and navy were strong.
JEWELRY: Glitter jewelry reigned again, especially in rhinestones and mock diamonds. Jet and black stones had a minor success. Newest look in costume jewelry was the necklace of several strands to fill in suit necklines. Short sleeves fostered the fashion for many bracelets, especially in gold and mock gold. These were worn in multiples, often as many as six or eight at once. All-gold jewelry, or jewelry that simulated the fine craftsmanship associated with all-gold jewelry, was revived by Paris and quickly came into favor here.
BELTS: The elastic cinch belt introduced by Schiaparelli early in the year zoomed instantly to a phenomenal success that carried throughout the year. Developed originally in elastic only, the fashion spread to elasticized leather and at its height belts were all widths, from cummerbund to narrow, shaped and curved.
Gache Publishing Co.
1953 Encyclopedia Year Book
covering the year 1952