Nostalgia 1950’s Edition: Looking Good Never Goes Out of Style

Liv Combe, News Editor

Dior’s launch of the New Look shaped the fashion of the late 1940s. Dior himself failed to realize, however, just how influential his collection of nipped-waist dresses would prove. Shortly after its release, the early 1950s fashionable set wore nothing but Dior’s trademark hourglass shape, and other designers had to copy the look or risk losing clients.

Unfortunately for most women, the ideal hourglass is not a shape that occurs naturally in nature. In order to achieve the cinched-waist look, 1950s fashionistas donned corsets, as well as girdles, conical brassieres and corselettes (a corset/bra combination).

These fitted tops accentuated narrower waistlines that blossomed out into fuller, longer skirts, with styles ranging from circle skirts to the iconic poodle skirt. Fitted jackets were hemmed at the hip, and the emerging fad of wearing high heels elongated ladies’ legs.

Hairstyles, as usual, fluctuated along with the decade’s sartorial fashions. Influenced by gamine film star Audrey Hepburn, in the early 1950s, short, close-cropped hair was in vogue for women. By the end of the decade, a more Elizabeth Taylor-style bouffant was the fashion, while men opted for conservative, neatly groomed crewcuts. Although charcoal grey suits were the ubiquitous fashion of chice for 1950s Ivy Leaguers and aspiring businessmen, students — such as those pictured in this 1956 photograph of an Oberlin crowd — preferred jeans, khakis and casual button-down shirts.

If nothing else, post-World War II America was most notable for its atmosphere of “new prosperity”: after two terrible decades of economic depression and overseas warfare, people wanted to revel in the security of conformism. That’s why, when we think of the 1950s, the portrait of the perfect housewife immediately comes to mind, a June Cleaver type dressed to the nines in a fitted skirt and stiletto heels, preparing a lovely meal for her hard-working husband.

However, as the decade wore on, this trend towards suburban conformity didn’t last for too long. By the mid-1950s — coinciding with Elvis’s 1954 signing with Sun Records and the 1955 release of Rebel Without A Cause, starring a dreamily moody James Dean — the American youth had had enough of the picket-fence dream and the hourglass figure. The increasing popularity of Elvis Presley and James Dean pointed to the emergence of a new American subculture, one that consisted of angsty, leather-jacket wearing youth who were creating their own styles of music, dress and expression.

While Presley, with his DA (“Duck’s Ass”) haircut and sexually-charged hip gyrations, was one of the heroes of this revolution, Beat poet Jack Kerouac also exerted his own influence on 1950s teenagers. His philosophy of bumming, hitchhiking and illicit drug use severely clashed with the mainstream values of the 1950s. Additionally, just as wearing a leather jacket and sporting a greased-up DA haircut served as sartorial shorthand for youth rebellion, the Beat uniform of black jeans and sunglasses became synonymous with resistance to suburban conformity.