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Wednesday 08 February 2012
Words Spindle

The 1950s were marked by a large-scale revival of the 1920s, but with the silhouettes of the ‘flapper age’ so remarkably modernized that they were hardly detectable. Sandwiched between the social liberalism of the 60s and the wartime austerity of the 40s, the 1950s, like all eras, reflected the social and cultural aspirations of its time. As the economic hangover of the 40s gained sobriety, a new form of prosperity began to blossom.

Advances in technology brought about mass-production and conspicuous consumption, as the majority of people preferred the security of conformism. Everybody dressed the same and everybody was content with it, none of this ‘alternative’ malarkey.  As women discharged themselves from work, there was a push to get women back into their homemaker status. Mannish suits were no more; fragile femininity was played upon, in the form of soft shoulders and billowing skirts. Clothes became a tool by which to close up the class and age divide. By the late 50s, the look was defined by ‘the teenage thing’. Teenagers began to adopt fashions of their own as clothes were the biggest pastime in life and a symbol of their independence.

Tiny waists and visible curves returned; elusive beauty was back, epitomised by the serene beauty of starlets Gloria Swanson and Audrey Hepburn. The approach to beauty became almost otherworldly: eyes were emphasised by unashamed sweeps of eyeliner and false lashes, underscored by the blank canvas of a porcelain face.

The 50’s ‘look’ essentially originated in the 40s, with Christian Dior’s pivotal collection: ‘Corolle’. The collection juxtaposed the unforgiving wartime aesthetic against full skirts and a tight waist, fashioning the hourglass-shaped figure. Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain and Jean Patou followed Dior’s lead, creating collections of the same genre. Coco Chanel even reopened her salon post-war and presented her first collection in 1954, which too indulged in feminine luxury.

Sleevelessness persisted from the 1920s revival, admired for the ‘easy fit’ across shoulders. The decade is thought to be one of the prettiest in fashion, giving birth to velvet and translucent fabrics a-plenty. Chiffons in white and sweet sherbet tones were worn both day and night; a fundamental trend for S/S ’12, from Yves Saint Laurent’s mint green ensemble to Chlöe’s pretty pink pieces. Similarly, lace evening dresses and a monochrome palette were popular in the 50s and will be just as sought after in the upcoming season. But not to forget, the LBD was as essential as ever, yet vogue remarked that ‘It is not what you wear, it is what you wear with it’. London focussed on matching velvet accessories, yet the clashing of complimentary colour and fabric was also a recurring theme.

The newfound freedom of the 50s marked the beginning of the rapid trajectory of growth fashion has experienced to reach its contemporary position. Although most people cowardly conformed despite the opportunity to experiment with clothing, teenagers took the bull by the horns and added a new dimension to fashion. From the 1920s revival in the 50s, and elements of the 50s on the S/S ’12 catwalks, fashion, as ever, has indeed come back around.