1953 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
A reflection of the lives we lead, fashion is influenced by economics and emotions. It has been said that by examining the fashions of any period, one can tell more about the lives of people—their economic standards, their way of life—than in any other way.
The American way of life is becoming more and more informal. A general move to the suburbs is creating an entirely new demand in fashions—town-country wear. High taxes, higher cost of living, and a new kind of social life had led women to spend clothing dollars wisely during the past few years, and especially in 1953.
Fabrics were luxurious, rich, and beautiful during the year. Precious fibers—cashmeres, camel’s hair, vicuna-fleeces, and lacy tweeds were on the spring coat fabric roster. Yarn-dyed flannels and sheer dress-weight worsteds were featured in two-piece suits, while tweeds, ribbed worsteds, and nubby woolens were used in the suit ensemble. Cotton stayed on fashion’s agenda from fall 1952 through winter and early spring via the dressed-up dark French cottons. In April, the government, represented by Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, cognizant of the importance of cotton to the American economy, presented the first Cotton Fashion Award to Adele Simpson Inc. Cotton had never been so glamorous—ermine-trimmed, beaded, rhinestone-studded—ready for formality of any degree.
Colors were soft, pretty, feminine, and flattering. The “Pale Look” was the look for spring; white, white with black, beiges to browns, soft pink, pale blue. For fall, some brown, green, in a soft, muted leaf shade, blues to navy, gray, and most important—black.
The February Paris collections launched Dior’s “Tulip Silhouette,” Jacques Fath’s high-waisted look, and Balenciaga’s easy-suit with standaway collar and bloused waist-length or loose-fitting longer jacket. An important silhouette in Dior’s tulip or flare-top collection was the soft, wider look to shoulders with an unbelted, princess dress molding a flattering, idealized figure. This was a continuation of the silhouette launched by Charles James in America the year before. First to endorse and lead American designers to this entirely new line was Adele Simpson Inc., whose “Contour Costume” created a stir in the fashion world and even created a demand for an entirely new type of foundation.
At his August showing in Paris, Dior created a worldwide furor by raising skirt lengths to “just-below-knee lengths.” International news wires were busy reporting this and the pros and cons for several days. However, the wisdom of American women and the level heads of American fashion manufacturers prevailed. Neither rushed into a new skirt length but awaited developments, and, as a result, skirt lengths continued at a be-coming length—14 in. from the floor, or about a half-inch shorter than the previous year.
DRESSES. In spring 1953, the ensemble was the single biggest dress fashion. Dresses were combined with box jackets, stoles, long coats, fitted jackets, boleros, spencers, and the new waist-length jacket. Prints were beautiful and distinctive in these ensembles as well as in solo dresses. The patterns included nature prints, geometrics, space, scratch, or all-over prints. The early spring wool dress was again important. Dresses and ensembles were stemlike. A dressier dress that gained much popularity was the halter dress, usually with its own matching jacket, in a crisp rich heirloom fabric. This style was even continued for summer in cotton with a sweater cover-up. The “Contour” or princess sheath made fall dress news. Again the dress and jacket ensemble was featured. A new jacket was introduced called the “Roundelay,” inspired by the little round mink jacket that was so popular.
COATS. Though still comfortably roomy, the line was again stemlike in coats for spring 1953. Fullness came under the armhole leaving the front and back perfectly flat and slim. There was a dressed-up look, with beaded embroidery on cuffs, collars, or tuxedo fronts. The popularity of the silk or silklook coat soared with the ensemble.
Decollete necklines and bracelet, elbow, and above-elbow sleeves were important in spring coats.
A new coat appeared—the midseason coat, lined with a metallic, weather protection lining. Because it could be bought in December and worn through May in most climates, it was immediately successful. The summer coat in cot-tons, cut along the lines of spring coats, became a part of the coat picture, too.
By fall, the fabric roster for coats had taken a smooth turn. Broadcloth and other smooth-surfaced fabrics, such as duvetyn, suede cloth, and melton were widely used.
SUITS. The success of the winter box suit in fall-winter 1952-53, paved the way for its spring version—the matchbox jacket suit. Usually a three-piece outfit, with the blouse matching the jacket lining, some versions included a contrasting jacket that could double as a topper.
The stole suit, dramatic and eye-catching, was well accepted in sections of the country where practical.
A new spring suit fashion was the dressy, pale color in very lightweight worsted or flannel. These were beaded and/or embroidered on collars, cuffs, lapels, or pockets. They were popular for brides and bridal parties or for special occasions.
Suit necklines were lower than usual and away from the neck. Cardigans or collarless suits were important. Yokes, whether of the back or plastron fronts variety, were significant. Sleeves were usually set in and either three-quarter length or convertible.
Fall suits brought an exciting new fashion to the front—the “little boy’s overcoat” suit. This little overcoat—about 40 in. or three-quarter length—was equally significant as a fall coat.
SPORTSWEAR. Matching or blending skirts and tops were popular. The separate skirt had a slim line even while pleated or flared. Tiny box pleats, large box pleats, accordion pleats, knife pleats—all were widely used because of the miracle fabrics, Lorette, Acrilan, and many others, all with one thing in common, an orlon content to make the pleats permanent; they were presented in a new beautiful range of pastels. Summer fabrics for playclothes and coordinates were denim and sailcloth, and a miracle-blended seersucker type.
Fall skirts were presented in beautiful tweeds, novelty nubby woolens, miracle fabrics in soft muted greens, reds, royal blue, and plaids. Smooth, dressier fabrics in black completed the fall skirt picture.
Glamour separates were still holding sway, be-cause women loved the idea of changing the appearance of an evening or dinner dress by just changing the top, and because the separates were comfortable for at-home entertaining. Slim toreador pants were also popular for home wear—usually in velvet.
Swim suits made history when the “hourglass” was launched in fall 1952 for the resort season. Strapless and one-piece, this new look rounded the bust, whittled the waist, and rounded the hips, for a very feminine and pretty effect. Little boy suits were still popular, but the dressed-up lastex dressmaker was the first choice.
With lowered suit necklines, blouses became a focal point; bows, jewelry necklines, and new collared necklines were important. The over-blouse began to be seen, too. Shirts were used for everything—from at-home separates to cover-ups for the beach.
SWEATERS. Sweaters and sweater-dresses continued high style for spring 1953. Decorated cardigans were taking the place of the little evening wrap at Palm Beach, as in Southhampton. Women even started decorating their own precious cashmeres. While mink trims had been used for some time, 1953 saw a new high-fashion sweater, with fox collar and cuffs.
Sweaters had their influence on dresses too; for summer, resort, and spring wear they were combined with “under sweater” dresses.
Dressmaker cashmeres continued to be popular. A new finish was developed in orlon sweaters, to give them a finer look and hand, and assured their even wider acceptance.
FURS. Little furs—capes, stoles, cape-stoles, short coats—were popular in mink, fox, and blonde furs. Mink and black seal were important in long straight slim coats. Fox—black and platina—was seen more and more, and a new color, “Golden Fox,” was introduced in fall 1953.
LINGERIE. The “petticoat fever” continued, with the Can-Can at the top of the list, in nylon taffeta with tiers of nylon net can-can ruffles. The fitted waist and hipline petticoat, flaring from just below the hips, was preferred. Fall dresses made a back fullness petticoat necessary. An entirely new petticoat design was introduced for fall by Adele Simpson Inc. Called “tailspin,” it was shown with a new dress silhouette which this firm called “Fan-flair.” It was sheathlike, breaking in a flare and series of nylon net ruffles from the back of the knee to the hemline.
Another lingerie fashion noted for its popularity and contribution to fashion was the “cinch-bra.” It gave a smooth waistline and lift to the figure and became a big item in the lingerie wardrobe.
ACCESSORIES. Hats started the year decorated with fruits, flowers, and other trim. The February showings in Paris influenced them greatly, however, and they developed a clean-cut, uncluttered look. They were to be worn at the individual hat’s most becoming level. By fall, for the smartest look, they tilted forward and were small—serving as a costume accent.
Handbags grew bigger and bigger, and the travel-type bag or carry-all was tops on the list. Jewelry was a story of rhinestones, gold, and big, often hooped, earrings. Shoes also had a new look—a thin narrow pointed toe and thin spool heel. Evening shoes were jeweled.