Fifties fashion key trends
There were some key style trends that evolved in the Fifties and continue to influence fashion designers and their catwalks today. Here are some of them:
- Prêt-à-Porter or ready-to-wear: Fifties fashion saw the advent of ready-to-wear dresses and separates, mass-produced rather than handmade, and affordable by everyone.
Where previously, the fashions created by high-end designers were considered haute couture and available only to the select few, ready-to-wear fashion took its inspiration from the fashion shows and reimagined them into accessible Fifties wear that anyone could afford.
This trend drove the popularity and adoption of the Fifties styles and fashion that originated in the big fashion houses of Europe and America. For example, Christian Dior trends of A-line dresses, dolman sleeves, boned bodices and net petticoats saw their way into the closets of fashionistas everywhere.
- Popular fits: Fifties feminine styles evolved in two directions. One trend was all about the hourglass shape of dresses with tiny waists over full skirts, made even fuller with multiple petticoats.
The alternative trend was the sexy secretary look of tight-fitted knee-length pencil skirts worn with cropped fitted cardigans or tucked-in short-sleeved blouses.
- Fifties pencil skirt look: Taking a deeper look at this trend, we see that although it evolved in the 1950s, it is alive and well today. This iconic style pairs a narrow-cut, longer-length skirt, usually with a slit in the back hem, with an equally fitted top for very feminine yet fully covered silhouette.
- Fifties Sweater Girl style: Paired with the pencil skirt or with cigarette slim cropped trousers, the sweaters of the Fifties were cropped, fitted and embellished with Peter Pan collars, short sleeves and contrasting trim on both.
- Fifties full skirts: in keeping with the fit-and-flare silhouette, full skirts are an iconic 1950s look and were exaggerated by layers of multi-coloured net petticoats underneath, making the skirts even fuller.
These skirts were usually worn down to mid-calf length, emphasizing slim ankles and offsetting a narrow waist, which was further amplified with a large belt in the same fabric as the skirt, or in a contrasting fabrication and colour.
Now that you’ve perused some of the top trends of the Fifties, read on for a deeper dive into the components that made up these fashion trends.
Breaking down the Fifties look
Fifties dressing trends can be broken down into their individual elements of dresses, skirts, tops, coats and underwear to find the key styles that resonate for today’s dressing.
- Fifties dresses: Christian Dion presented the “New Look” in the 1950s, epitomized by a full skirt, fitted high waist and full sleeves.
This look evolved into the iconic fit-and-flare silhouette that continues to be a fashion staple today since it is universally flattering to the female figure, no matter your size.
Another dress style from the Fifties was the line or sheath dress, styled with a high waistline and a long, mid-calf length skirt. This look skimmed the body for a comfortable yet stylish outfit that hinted at the curves beneath.
Cocktail dresses in the Fifties were an elevated take on the day dress fit-and-flare look, done in rich fabrics like lace, taffeta, silk or velvet, and in primary colours like black, white or jewel tones. This look was embellished with long gloves, a ladylike clutch and high-heeled pumps.
The hostess gown was another spin on Fifties dress styles, worn for casual evening events at home and usually loose-fitting and combined with capri pants, playful costume jewellery and whimsical feathered mules.
- Fifties skirts: a spin on 1950s dresses, Fifties skirts came a few key styles.
The full circle skirt was inspired by the fit-and-flare silhouette, and just like these dresses, was worn over many layers of mesh petticoats, with wide belts of self or contrasting fabrics and colours, worn with a fitted blouse and pointy-toed kitten heels or flats.
The timeless pencil skirt in heritage fabrications and patterns like houndstooth, tweed, plaid and wool, was an alternative to the full skirt look. Worn with button-down long-sleeved shirts or short-sleeved blouses and cropped cardigans, this cut never went out of style.
- Fifties twinset cardigans: the essence of ladylike dressing, twinset sleeveless tops worn under matching short cardigans were a popular Fifties style and continue to have a place in classic, timeless dressing today.
Usually styled in pastel knits with a short string of pearls around the neck, twinsets go perfectly with Fifties full skirts or pencil skirts, whatever your mood or occasion. Wear them to the office or take them to a cocktail party in sequin-embellished black with jewelled buttons – they can fit any event.
- Fiftiescoats: outerwear in the 1950s was classic and timeless in style. The swing coat is perfect over skinny trousers, a fit-and-flare dress or a pencil skirt. Made out of heritage fabrics like tweed, glen checks, wool or houndstooth, this jacket cut is as flattering today as it was in the Fifties.
The swagger coat was another way to cover up in the Fifties and was nipped in at the waist and had a full skirt, perfect for layering over a day dress or full skirt.
And finally, the trench coat is alive and well and rocking it today, in classic fabrics and colours like camel, black or cream.
In addition to these classical styles, the modern woman of the Fifties rocked the rebellious look of a bomber jacket, a motorcycle jacket or a parka over her cigarette pants or pencil skirts. These choices came in menswear-inspired fabrics like suede or leather and edgy colourations like black or tan.
- Fifties underwear: all those fitted bodices, full skirts and twinset tops worn by various artists and 50s celebrities needed plenty of support from foundational under garments.
The bullet bra, net or tulle petticoats and silky full slips were some of the most popular underwear options in the Fifties.
Strapless bras or padded ones amplified the look for evening wear or sweater dressing.
Corsets and girdles were also widely used in the Fifties, helping provide that nipped-in waist and hourglass look under sheath dresses or pencil skirts.
Petticoats in stiff gauze, net or tulle in all shades of the rainbow went perfectly under full skirts, peaking out to add shape, colour and individual style to the ensemble.
Now that you’ve taken a closer look at the components of Fifties dressing, continue on to learn about key trends in 1950s workwear.
Fifties workwear evolution and trends
The Fifties saw women joining the workforce in droves, continuing their evolution from housewives to office, factory and farm workers that started during World War II. With their new-found independence, women remained in the work force in the 1950s and each industry saw its own distinct workwear styles.
- Fifties factory workwear: Women working in factories during the 1950s work utilitarian clothes like overalls layered over short-sleeved shirts and blouses in warm weather and over sweaters in the winter.
These utility clothes were constructed of sturdy materials like twill or cotton, and came in workman-like colours like khaki or beige.
You can have some fun reworking these heritage outfits today with a few fashion-savvy spins, like wearing an overall in denim or corduroy over a brightly-coloured turtleneck in the winter or a polka dot blouse in the summer.
Add some white sneakers for warm weather days or ankle booties when it’s cold outside, and you have a retro-modern spin on Fiftiesfactory wear.
The denim jumpsuit was another common style for factory workers in the Fifties and we all know how au courant the look is today. Wear it with long sleeves and self-fabric belt paired with white booties for an instant one-and-done mod look.
Or wear it sleeveless over a white T-shirt, with hems cuffed up and your favourite sneakers for a casual yet stylish spin on Fifties work wear.
- Fifties style for the office: the 1950s woman rocked many different style options at the office, many of these trends continuing into today’s fashion.
Menswear-inspired dressing was big as women entered the once exclusive “club” of office life. Button-down fitted shirts tucked into pencil or A-line skirts made out of heritage fabrics like wool or tweed were all the rage.
Shirt dresses were another Fifties office wear trend that remain a classic style today. They came in all variations of colour, fabric and cut, from sleeveless to long-sleeved, with self-fabric belts or contrasting leather ones, but all of them flattered the female form with a fitted bodice, narrow waist and full or A-line cut skirt.
Skirt suits cut along an hourglass shape were another popular office wear look. With peplum jackets worn over straight or full skirts, these suits were anything but masculine.
Whimsical spins on fit-and-flare dressing were also a cultish trend, with playful prints like florals, polka dots or checks expressing fashion personality in the office.
All these timeless classics were embellished with coordinated accessories like structured handbags, pillbox hats and short white gloves.
Shoes were oxfords with stacked heels in black or brown, and jewellery was usually a tasteful strand of short pearls around the neck or a pretty shiny brooch on a jacket lapel.
On the farm
- Fifties style on the farm: The 50s woman labouring on the farm did not lack her share of style. Yes, it was sensible, durable dressing but still flattering and definitely a look that can be mashed up with today’s pieces for an on-trend casual look.
Heavy-duty denim jeans worn with vintage flannel shirts and paired with sturdy work boots was a farmgirl’s outfit back in the day. Rock this look today with a pair of in-style Doc Martins and a cross-body bag to take you from grocery runs to weekend street festivals.
- Fifties workwear done the menswear way: Why should guys have a monopoly on pant suits and traditional fabrications that never go out of style, like glen checks, houndstooth and plaid?
The 1950s woman took her workwear inspiration from her male colleague’s closet, spinning the traditional man’s suit into a feminine look with high-waited full-legged trousers under nipped in fitted jackets and finished with a string of pearls for that lady boss look.
As you can see, the Fifties gave us so many classic styles and trends that continue to come back every fashion season, so be inspired to find yourself some Fifties vintage pieces and work them into your current outfits for a throwback look that is very now.