Only a fool who knew nothing of women’s fashion would claim that vintage and retro weren’t in and it’s only about the high-street – vintage and retro are absolutely in and from no decade more so than the 1950s. Not least when it comes to the more formal end of the fashion spectrum. But why? Why are women of all ages turning to that era’s looks – and why have the ’50s always been a touchstone for eveningwear to hark back to…?
In many ways, the ’50s were about reconstruction; the West was putting itself back together in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the UK, this meant an age of austerity – sound familiar? – but in the US, by contrast, it saw booming industrial and economic development, more cash in people’s wallets (especially the young) and a desire for colour, style and self-expression after the previous decade’s restrictive war years.
Indeed, fashion designers became genuine household names across the planet (the likes of Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy); they resurrected haute couture and rebelled against the austerity-influenced styles of the 1940s by producing clothes that thoroughly celebrated femininity and the female form. For that reason alone, 1950s eveningwear – with its elegance and oh-so easy-on-the-eye appearance – has remained a constant standard against which much of the eveningwear that’s followed has been measured, as well as influencing so much of what’s come in the decades since.
Specifically, 1950s dresses suitable for a night out on the town were all about figure-hugging shape at the waist and above but blossoming out with lots of fabric beneath. It’s a timeless look, all right, and understandably popular for women’s eveningwear today – for everything from formal events to school, college and university proms. Colour too was in; as bold and vivid as you like, or more delicate with vibrant floral prints. The emphasis then was on the silhouette (as so often with women’s fashion, of course), but in this decade it was firmly on celebrating the natural female hourglass figure. That said; a mini-revolution occurred with Dior turning his attention to slim-figure-favouring A-line dresses and the take-up once again of the notorious little black dress (LBD).
Technically speaking, the multi-media age pre-dated World War Two, but it really kicked into gear in the 1950s, as the West recovered from that conflict’s widespread and deep destruction. Like never before then, the very biggest celebrities were fully-fledged multi-media stars; if they weren’t on the big screen, they were being interviewed on TV or being featured in several-page-long spreads in glossy, colourful, hugely popular and influential fashion magazines. Most of the time, of course, they were appearing in all three at once.
To this end then, the female icons of the age were bigger fashion icons – and walking advertisements for the fashion industry – than ever before (and in a way we relate to greatly nowadays). Indeed, such icons are still revered today; perhaps more than anything else for how they dressed – so to say that fact didn’t inspire what became fashionable (and remains timelessly fashionable still) would be a big understatement.
But who were they? Well, we’re talking the likes of Grace Kelly (the Hollywood princess who became a real princess) and Marilyn Monroe (the sex symbol who wasn’t afraid to hide her vulnerable soul), both unforgettable in those voluminous dresses of the era; then there were the European glamour pusses that were Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren (both with their hourglass figures and on-trend fashion to match) and, conversely, the slim-lined gamine appeal of the adorable Audrey Hepburn (whom effectively served as Givenchy’s muse). These are unforgettable names today, the mere mention of which summon up visions of unforgettable images – and 1950s style dresses, of course.
Thanks to all these factors then, it’s no surprise that stylish, elegant women’s fashion from the 1950s not only continues to influence the very best of today, but is turned to by women throughout the world when dressing themselves up to the nines whatever the special occasion. In short, you can’t beat the ’50s look – it’s a timeless era of fantastic formal fashion that’ll always be a touchstone, always be relevant and always be wearable.