How to Create a 1950s Look

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Airy scarves were iconic of 1950s style for women.
Airy scarves were iconic of 1950s style for women. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

Women’s fashion in the 1950s was in reaction to the newfound sense of freedom and increased prosperity after World War II. Styles highlighted femininity, as evidenced by Dior’s iconic “New Look” and the rise of sweater girl fashion. In both cases, creating a feminine silhouette by emphasizing the waist and the bust was key. To highlight the rise of the feminine, makeup for women also luxuriated in rich colors and sultry tones.

Emphasizing the Waist

Women’s fashion emphasized the waist, either with pencil skirts or flowing styles. Both designs emphasized the natural waist in women -- the area just above the belly button. Pencil and bell skirts both fell below the knee, keeping the look demure and feminine. In the case of full skirts, petticoats were worn so that the skirts gently swayed when worn. For pencil skirts, the skirts were deliberately kept narrow. This lead to the term the “wiggle look,” a reference to the walking method required to navigate a slim-cut skirt.

The Sweater Girl Look

The sweater girl look first began in the '40s, but it remained popular in the 1950s. Wearing a tight sweater -- with a cowl or turtleneck -- the look emphasized the conical shape of a woman’s bust as a result of the bra worn underneath. The conical look of the bust was so popular that many women’s dresses were designed to accommodate the shape. During the '50s, the turtleneck sweater became the sweater set -- a tight-fitting scoop neck sweater paired with a cardigan. These sweaters could be worn with either pencil or full skirts, as well as with capri pants.

All About Accessories

Accessories were key to making the clothes of the 1950s pop. Even women who did not have naturally well-defined waists could create the desired effect with a judicious use of belts. Even more prevalent were the combination of gloves, hat and handbag; the three were considered necessities when leaving the house. Short gloves were worn for casual occasions and elbow-length gloves for more formal events. Scarves, especially light, filmy chiffon scarves, were also commonly worn, either wrapped around the head or tied around the neck for a slight European air.

Lippy Red and Other Makeup Trends

While pastels were favored for clothing, makeup choices in the '50s were much brighter. Russian red and orange-reds were the lipstick shade of choice, as bright red lips paired with a pale complexion were considered the classic combination. The preference for a pale complexion also extended to eye color. Eye makeup favored heavy use of mascara -- to create a sultry, seductive look -- with very little eye shadow used. Rouge or blush was only applied sparingly and in delicate soft shades of pink.

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