1950s Fashion: 12 Big Style Moments That Defined The Decade

Caroline Leaper
Caroline Leaper

From Dior's New Look to the allure of Marilyn, we explore the pivotal moments that defined 1950s fashion...

Fashion has always been about change, and the 1950s fashion scene saw more than its share. Post war, style moved from the salons to the streets as inventions in easy care fabrics and speedier manufacturing systems meant that new silhouettes could be made for the masses. Having the latest thing was no longer a concept reserved exclusively for the rich and while people hadn't quite reached the street style heyday of the 1960s, fashion was more accessible than ever before.

It was an era like no other for spotting future fashion and beauty icons, too, as newcomers Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn were the first to showcase new ideas - from the bikini to the IT bag, to Christian Dior's New Look. The 1950s were, without doubt, one of fashion's favourite decades.

Christian Dior’s New Look

Actually unveiled in 1947, but without doubt the defining silhouette of the decade ahead, Dior's New Look redefined women's wardrobes in the 1950s. His nipped, hourglass shapes heralded a new era of womanliness and after years of fashion oppression and fabric rationing during the Second World War, the lady was back and looking better than ever.


Marilyn Monroe
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes launched Miss Marilyn’s career in 1953 and an international sex symbol and style sensation was born. One of the greatest, most recognisable fashion and beauty icons of all time, she defined glamour for a generation when she belted out Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. They really don’t make 'em like this anymore.


Queen Elizabeth II
Over 20 million loyal fashion subjects tuned in to watch the Queen's Coronation back in 1953 and, perhaps more importantly, to see that Norman Hartnell dress. Elizabeth didn't disappoint on the bling factor either, working a gold tassel cape, rich embroidery and 'more is more' jewellery on her big day. All hail our new style Queen.


Grace Kelly
Both on and off screen actress Grace Kelly's outfits were some of the most talked about (and copied) of the decade, but her wedding to Prince Rainer III of Monaco in 1956 called for a bigger and better dress than any she'd worn before. Still cited as one of the most memorable, elegant wedding dresses of all time, her Helen Rose gown even went on to inspire a future royal bride-to-be - Kate Middleton. Now that's what you call timeless appeal.


Alfred Hitchcock And Edith Head
The legendary director and his go-to Hollywood costume designer were a formidable team, giving us some of the greatest on-screen fashion moments ever - sometimes completely by chance. A Hitchcock heroine was nothing without her accessories, as Grace Kelly proved over and over again in To Catch A Thief (1955), even giving us the first ever IT bag. Hitchcock and Head increased the costume budget to allow Grace's character Francie to carry an Hermes bag and a few years later, the style was renamed the Kelly in her honour.


Brigitte Bardot
The scene is the Cannes Film Festival, 1953. Newcomer Bardot is stealing the show, working a hot floral bandeau as only she can. The bikini was invented in 1946 and by the mid 50s, every moviestar worth their bombshell status was grabbing headlines by parading the new risqué style on the beach. But it was Brigitte who worked it first, securing the bikini's status as a must-have fashion item and her own future career in the process.


Cristobal Balenciaga
Like Dior, Balenciaga's influence on the 1950s silhouette is now legendary. Between 1953 and 1957 he gave us the balloon jacket, the tunic dress, empire lines and baby dolls - all contributing to a fluid but feminine look.

Picture: VintageWind.Com

Elvis
Swoooon. The poster boy of 1950s fashion invented his own brand of preppy Rockabilly, giving us biker chic, guyliner and high waisted trousers way before that Simon Cowell bloke. With his first album release in 1956, Elvis made his mark on both men's and women's wardrobes in the late 50s, securing his place on the world's pop culture radar.


The Chanel Suit
Coco Chanel was already making big waves in the fashion industry before the war, but she had another major trick up her (stylish) sleeves for the 1950s. Introducing the Chanel suit as we still know it today - a slim tweed number with contrasting bound edges which aimed to offer an elegant but looser alternative to all those New Look nipped waists. Now a fashion icon in its own right, the Chanel suit reinvented season after season by Chanel's successor, Karl Lagerfeld.


Sophia Loren
ANOTHER fashion and beauty icon who first came into the spotlight in the 1950s? Yes really, Italian pin-up Sophia Loren landed her first acting role in Aida in 1953 and became as renowned for her quick wit as much as her looks. 'Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti,' she once quipped back to a reporter who commented on her natural hourglass figure. Now there's an IT girl diet we can get on board with.


Audrey Hepburn And Givenchy
A lead role in Roman Holiday kicked off Audrey Hepburn's career in 1953 and, as the parts came flooding in, the world's new favourite on-screen beauty knew she'd need a better wardrobe. Cue Hubert de Givenchy, a then little-known Parisian designer ready to make his fashionable mark on the big screen. Givenchy's first costume design was the gold embroidered gown below for Audrey's character Sabrina in 1954. The results were so beautiful that the pair became friends and Givenchy went on to make many more of the star's costumes, including that little black dress in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Read more about Hepburn and Givenchy's collaborations, here.


Fiona Campbell-Walter
You know all those vintage 1950s fashion shots that you just can't resist boarding up on Pinterest? Well the woman whose elegance we still desire is Fiona Campbell-Walter, model of the moment circa 1956. In her heyday, Fiona could command up to £2000 per shoot - big, big money for the times, but clearly worth the price tag if the images are still being shared 60 years later?! We wonder if Cara Delevingne will have the same impact in 2076?



Loved reading about 1950s fashion? Why not swot up on the biggest trends from the 1920s or the 1970s next?

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