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Unforgettable 50s fashion trends that are still relevant today

October 21, 2017

From the iconic pencil skirt to shapely wasp waists & capacious skirts, 50s fashion trends were the result of a “coming out” for womens fashion for the next decade.

The years immediately after WWII didn’t just mark the liberation of Europe, but ushered in 50s fashion trends that live on even today!


50s fashion trends defining moment

1950s fashion for women saw a defining moment when Christian Dior unveiled his “New Look”. Fashion until then was a rather constrained affair, largely overshadowed by clothes that were “minimalist” due to the scarcities created by the war, and forced upon clothing fashion designers and retailers.


Enter Christian Dior’s New Look in the late 1940s, and the seeds for the 50s fashion trends are sowed. With his fresh ideas and new designs, 1950s women fashion was no longer relegated to the beauty salons or behind closed doors. Women actually took 1950s fashion onto the runways and cat walks of major capitals around the world, and into the streets of major cities like London, New York and Paris – in a big way!


Here are some defining moments that set the wheels of other 50s fashion trends into high gear:

Dior’s New Look

Officially made fashionable in 1947, Dior’s New Look defined how dresses and the skirt would look over the next decade or more. His hour-glass shaped designs set a new bar for womanhood. The new 1950s fashion look meant that no longer did women have to hide their figures behind minimalist outfits.


Dior heralded a set of new 50s fashion trends that contained some key characteristics, including


  • Wasp Waists


  • A full-length dress skirt


  • Softer shoulders


After years of being stifled by rationed fabric and styling accessories and materials, designers like Dior were making a fashion statement: Take liberties in your designs, and think out of the box! That was good advice that saw some of the 50s fashion trends cast their shadows way beyond that decade, even into the Noughties. The guiding principles from one of Dior’s signature clothing fashion pieces from his New Look, the Bar Suit, have seen a resurgence on catwalks and runways off-and-on even as recently as 2011.

Sexy 50s fashion trends

In some ways, 1950s women were coming out from nearly a decade of being stifled and suppressed. The highlight of fashion from the era prior was shapeless work clothes and overalls! It’s no wonder then, that when Marilyn Monroe stepped into the limelight in 1953, 1950s dresses were no longer the same!


One of the iconic 50s fashion trends was launched when Miss Monroe exploded onto the international scene as a sex goddess in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  From then on, wearing shapely outfits with lots of skin and contours showing became popular.  When Marilyn sang Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, she ushered in a new era of 1950s fashion that redefined “womanliness”.

Royal 1950s dresses

Until the late 1950s, few would equate popular styling to a royal household. But Grace Kelly changed all that in 1956 when she played a real-life princess by marrying Prince Rainer III of Monaco. Kelly’s penchant for being fashionable on-screen was well accepted by then.  But when she dawned on her wedding gown, created by designer Helen Rose, she set a new bar for 1950s women and wedding fashion!


The 1956 wedding of the century meant Kelly had to wear something much bigger and more elegant than she’d ever worn – either on or off screen. In doing so, she created a lasting image for other royals, shopping for their wedding dresses, to emulate.


Kelly’s wedding outfit was one of the 50s fashion trends that apparently inspired Kate Middleton when she was for her wedding dress!

50s fashion trends and royalty

Three years earlier, in 1953, there was another royal impact on 1950s fashion – one that over 20 million Brits tuned in to witness. Decades earlier, the Queen Mother showed what it was for a bride to be fashionable in the 1920s. Following in her mother’s footstep, Queen Elizabeth reaffirmed what wedding fashion means for 1950s women.


The Norman Hartnell dress that Her Majesty wore featured lots of jewellery on a richly embroidered dress, and included a cape with gold tassels. While Briton got a new monarch, the world gained a new styling queen!

1950s bikini bombshells

One of the most endearing of 50s fashion trends was the bikini. True, it was officially launched in 1946, yet more than Dior’s dress skirt and Wasp Waist, the bikini stole the limelight in the 1950s women fashion scene.


Thanks to bombshell figures, like those displayed by sexy Bridget Bardot, the bikini became a must-have clothing fashion accessory for women in the fifties. Her risqué display of the bikini at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival forever cemented the place of that scant garment as one of the icons of 1950s fashion.

1950s dresses from Cristobal Balenciaga

Women’s silhouette from the 1950s was also influenced by designs from Cristobal Balenciaga who, like his peer Christian Dior, blazed a trail of 50s fashion trends that are emulated even today.


Balenciaga Baby Dolls, Empire Lines, Tunic dresses and Balloon Jackets made women feel “feminine” once more, erasing the stifling feeling that came from dark and dreary fashion from the 1940s.


So rich and powerful was Balenciaga’s influence on 1950s dresses and women’s fashion in general, that clothing fashion design students at the London College of Fashion are today x-raying his creations to learn from their stitching patterns.

Pulling off retro 50s fashion trends

More than half-way through the first decade of the new millennium, women’s clothing fashion designers still looking back to the 1950s for inspiration. If you want to recreate a 1950s fashion experience, then here are a few things to consider:


  • Head to toe versus mix-and-match: Vintage fifties fashion is very popular However, you can either emulate the look in its entirety, by recreating all of the popular 50s fashion trends, from Pencil skirt to Petticoat, to Crew Neck Cardigans and Bullet Bras. However, you may need to browse through several vintage stores to put together the suits, skirts and accessory pieces you need for the head-to-toe look.


Alternately, because some of the common 50s fashion trends were so versatile in their application, you could more easily pull off the mix-and-match approach. Styling your outfit by mixing and matching 1950s dresses from a retro boutique store with a contemporary piece that you have in your closet, might be less of a challenge to pull off.

1950s accessories

  • Popular accessories for the finishing touch: Designers from the 1950s were adept at creating ideal accessories to compliment the dress skirt or flowing gown of that decade. Whether you choose the head to toe approach, or prefer to mix and match your wardrobe, without the appropriate period accessory, it’s almost impossible to dress 1950s and pull it off!


A few of the styling accessories that you can strategically use include cinch belts around your waist for the shapely look; chiffon scarves to mimic the 1950s breezy evening look; and a pair of vintage gloves that 1950s women often wore to complement their gowns and coats.


And lest we forget, to imitate any of the authentic 50s fashion trends, you definitely need Lippy Red lipstick – just to seal it all off!


Above it all, to successfully dress 1950s, you need understand what makes you feel good, and not what was considered fashionable during that period. The look you want to pull off must reflect who you are – Girly Girl? Career woman? Tomboy?


Dior and Balenciaga wanted 1950s fashion to be all about women of that era feeling “liberated” in the dresses and skirts they choose to wear. They experimented and gave us a number of fashionable designs that fitted women of all ages, tastes and shapes. If you want to successfully pull off a particular 1950s look, make sure you feel comfortable in it.


And don’t worry – because 1950s fashion is so vast and adaptable, you’re bound to find exactly what you want. Just keep looking!




Dior 1947

christian Dior shows some-of the underwear needed for his new look creations-1947

Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)

Grace Kellys wedding dress

Princess Elizabeth gets married-1947

Hawaiian print bikini pin up girl.

Balenciaga ensemble – 1950s – photo credit- louise dahl wolfe

The dresses and the atmosphere

Compacts of Character in the 1950s.