Women's evening wear in the 1950s was graceful and feminine. New styles emphasized the female figure. This was a big change from the 1940s, when women wore simple styles restricted by rations on cloth or other materials. Dresses in the 1950s were simple and elegant, but used lots of fabric. Television allowed women to see what others wore immediately and this allowed them to prepare for a fashionable evening out.
The New Look
During the late 1940s, designer Christian Dior introduced the very feminine "New Look" and greatly influenced 1950s evening wear. Skirts were long with fitted waists and used lots of fabric. Women supported these voluminous skirts with petticoats, sometimes several at a time. Dresses accentuated the hips and breasts, but minimized the waist. Women often wore strapless tops with full skirts on formal occasions.
Shaping and Structure
Woman's evening wear in the 1950s was well structured and featured elegant lines. Designers used lots of darts to shape the waist and bust. Shoulders were natural and not padded and flat collars fit close to the neck. Skirts were so long that they were not measured from the knee down but up from her feet. For example, a woman might buy a skirt on which the hem began 15 inches above the floor.
Black was the dominant color for ladies' formal attire in the 1950s. Women often wore black tops with colored skirts in the evenings. Audrey Hepburn helped to popularize the "little black dress" with pearls and a wide brimmed hat. Women also personalized their black dresses with colorful scarves tied around the neck. Pink was commonly worn with black, but women also liked other pastel colors such as pale blue or mint green.
As popular as the New Look was, designers experimented with many different shapes. In the late 1950s designers presented the sack dress. This balloon shaped dress, also called a chemise, hid a woman's figure and the fad quickly passed.
Women did like the trapeze and A-line dresses for evening wear. These garments flattered the upper body while flaring out at the hips. Sheath dresses were very tight and emphasized a woman's sexuality. Mature women wore these to formal events, but it was considered inappropriate for college girls or teens.
Women were careful with accessories when they dressed for the evening. They wore graceful sandals or simple shoes. Flats were as popular as heels. Gloves of all lengths were popular in both winter and summer. In winter women wore generously cut "swing coats" to fit over their wide skirts. Evening wear in summer was not complete without a light shawl or stole.
- "What We Wore"; Ellen Melinkoff; 1984
- Fashion-Era: 1950s Fashion Glamour
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Christian Dior (1905-1957)
- Photo Credit George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
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