When it comes to the fashion world, the 1950s are remembered the most for its unique styles and fashion breakthroughs. To think of 1950s fashion is to think of patterned prints, leather jackets, and tiny, tiny waists. Many of our minds jump to pinups and greasers, but the styles of the decade were so much more than that. It was truly an era like no other for sporting future fashion and for beauty icons, too.
To give you a deeper look into what made this decade a modern favorite, in this article, we’re going to delve into everything you need to know about the fashion of the 1950s. From its history to its styles and its most famous icons, let’s dive in and get started with a guide to 50’s fashion for both men and women.
History of 50’s Fashion
Now, before we dive into some of the most popular styles and biggest icons of the decade, to fully understand this era, we’re going to dive into a brief history of how the fashion of it changed from the 40s to 50s.
Now, while the 50s were often known to be a vibrant era of hard work and regaining stability after the war, it was also one of the biggest transitional periods when it came to fashion. This was majorly thanks to Christian Dior, who changed the fashion industry entirely in 1947 by going against the social norms and offering people what was referred to as the ‘new look.’ This ‘new look’ consisted of shoulders that were soft instead of squared, a figure that was feminine instead of boxy, and short skirts of the past now went down mid-calf. This look was entirely opposite of the look that had thrived in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Many women of the time were unhappy with the changes made in the fashion world at first and even held protests targeting Dior. However, after the loss, fear, and obstacles that came with the war, people knew it was time for a change, and that included changes in clothing, too. So by the start of the ‘50s, everybody was wearing the ‘new look,’ and soon, it became loved by just about everyone.
50s Fashion Icons
Now, when it came to the icons of the decade, the swift transition to the ‘new look’ was majorly thanks to a few notable people in Hollywood who shined a light on the exquisite design of Dior’s pieces and made them something to be desired. While there were a large number of famous actresses who majorly influenced the fashion world in the decade, men certainly had their fashion influencers, too. With that said, here are some of the major fashion icons of the 50s for both men and women.
Female fashion icons
1. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe’s blonde hair, red lips, and luxurious wardrobe were a major influence of the women of the time.
2. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was often seen as one of the most elegant figures of the time and was vastly adored for her short hair and minimalist style.
3. Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor was known for her bold style of plunging necklines and her love for diamonds. She was a role model to many women and became a true staple in the way they would dress during this period.
4. Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly was a timeless beauty, and her classic, chic style was a hit with women around the world.
Male fashion icons
1. Elvis Presley
For male icons of the 1950s, the Rockabilly boy of the 50s inspired men of all decades with a trendy biker look and high-waisted trousers with his first album release in the mid-50s.
2. James Dean
Next, known as one of the most iconic and handsome men of the 1950s, James Dean had a style that blew everyone’s mind. It’s funny because the true key to James Dean’s style was effortless. With a minimalistic style, Dean’s signature look featured a leather jacket and blue jeans, with a staple quiff. It was simple, easy, and classy, and everyone loved him for it.
Popular Styles for Women of the 1950s
Next, when it comes to the styles of this period, fashion in the 1950s was incredibly diverse, especially compared to the decade prior. There were new silhouette styles, unique colors and patterns, and different styling options for just about everyone. And just like nowadays, people all dressed differently for different occasions. However, there are quite a few key styles for the decade that was more favorable than others. Here’s a quick guide to them.
The first and perhaps most notorious style that took the spotlight in the 1950s was pin-ups. Inspired by the cheeky poster girls, the ’50s pin-up style was all about feminine sex appeal and flaunting your body. Therefore, the clothing that was typically involved in the pinup look was quite revealing. Key pieces for pin-up fashion included:
- Tight-fitting pencil skirts
- Hot pants
- Halter neck dresses
- Bustier tops, and more.
Pinups were also the first time that bikinis really started to grow in popularity with the public, despite their origin time of 1946. You can also read more about pinup style, and it’s influence on 50s fashion here.
Next, the pencil skirt was also a popular look of the 1950s and can best be described as a tight, narrow straight skirt that would come down to mid-calf. The pencil skirt would typically give a mature and sophisticated look for the office to a woman when with heels. However, pencil skirts could be worn at any age and could be paired with sweaters or flats for a more casual look. These skirts also typically came in plaid or solid colors.
Now, for casual wear, women typically turned to skirts paired with button-down blouses. This style was always worn tucked in and fit snuggly (although wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable). Popular colors for a look like this typically included pastels, red, blue, black and white. Patterns for these tops and blouses were common as well, especially in the summer, and were often mostly decorated with polka dots or plaid.
Additionally, the 50s were the time in which the trend of women wearing pants started to grow in popularity. Therefore, a woman who was casually dressed could also often be seen wearing cigarette pants, tailored slacks, denim jeans, or capris paired with a blouse or patterned shirt.
When it came to work fashion, the majority of women still played the role of housewife in the 1950s; therefore, work fashion was almost non-existent for females until later on. However, the few women who did go to the workplace wore tailored wool suits with blouses. Certain dresses and skirts were also an appropriate option for the office.
Next, let’s talk about shoes. In the ’50s, there was a variety of different shoes for every occasion. From work to home, shoes were vastly unique and different for every occasion. Here were some of the most common shoes you would find women wearing in the 1950s.
1. Saddle shoes
The first and most common pair of shoes of the decade was saddle shoes. Saddle shoes were black and white in color and worn by just about everyone in the 50s. However, the trend around since the 19th century but didn’t reach a high level of popularity until the 50s. This was because teenagers in the 1950s, typically referred to as ‘bobbysoxers,’ started the fashion of wearing saddle shoes with socks. However, not long to follow, housewives would wear these shoes around the house because of how comfortable they were, and soon, they could be found on the feet of just about everyone.
2. Ballet flats
Next, ballet flats were another common type of shoe worn by women in the 50s. While these shoes had been around for centuries, they weren’t considered to be much of a fashion piece until Rose Repetto reintroduced them in her 1947 collection. Soon to follow, Audrey Hepburn said that ballet flats were her favorite shoe to wear, and therefore, brought them into the light of trendy fashion. Soon, teenagers were wearing them just as often as they did their saddle shoes.
Next, babydolls were another popular trend for running errands and going out and about during the day. Babydoll shoes had very round toes that resembled a doll’s shoes, hence their name, and almost every woman of the 50s owned at least one pair of them. This was because they were much more comfortable to wear than a pair of tall heels and were perfect for a woman who was going to be on her feet for many hours.
4. Kitten heel pumps
And lastly, kitten heel pumps were also a big deal in the 1950s. These heels were often referred to as ‘training heels’ for young women who weren’t comfortable wearing larger heels, such as stilettos. However, many famous women of the time, including Marilyn Monroe, had even been photographed wearing them.
When it came to accessories, women loved to adorns themselves with lavish designs and colorful jewelry pieces. Costume jewelry was quite popular for this reason, and most jewelry designs featured pearls. Pearls had always been a popular choice of jewelry for women of many decades, but in the 1950s, pearls and faux pearls shot up in popularity again, most likely thanks to Grace Kelly, who was frequently seen wearing them. Pretty soon, they were part of a woman’s daily outfit. Additionally, rhinestone and gold pieces were also very popular in the 50s and would often be worn for special occasions.
Hats and gloves
When it came to the 50s, hats were an absolute must accessory for women. With the rise of the ‘new look,’, bulky hats of past decades became smaller and more feminine and were often adorned with feathers, bows, and ribbons. Common hat styles of the time typically included the round coolie brim or mushroom brim. However, berets also became popular in the 50s towards the end of the decade and were highly sought-after by women of the time. This was majorly thanks to the influence of both Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, who popularized the trend.
Additionally, a well-dressed woman of the time was also often seen wearing gloves whenever she was out and about, with longer gloves for elegant evening occasions and shorter gloves for suits and business occasions.
Hair and makeup
For hairstyles, updos, pin curls, rockabilly styles, poodle looks, bandana-wrapped styles (made trendy by Marilyn Monroe), and pixie cuts (as flaunted by Audrey Hepburn) were some of the most common. However, some women of the time preferred to go against social norms and leave their hair long and straight. These women were considered to be more free-spirited and artsy, and were often referred to as ‘beatniks.’
When it came to makeup, women loved to wear bright colors in clothing and makeup, and it was a staple of the decade to match your eye makeup with your lipstick color. In general, the makeup of the time consisted of a foundation, light eyeshadow, pink blush, red or pink lips, and mascara only on the upper lashes. Filling in eyebrows were also a thing, but they were, for the most part, to be kept light, thin, and feminine. This was also the decade where winged eyeliner became popular and is something that is still a major staple point for many women of today.
Popular Styles for Men of the 1950s
Next, the ’50s was also a time when the greaser’s subculture was going full force, and men, women, and teens were drawn to the fashion. This looks heavily consisted of a blend of rockabilly and pin-up styles that created a more edgy, and rebellious look. Key accessories for this look typically included:
- White shirt (sleeves rolled up)
- Blue jeans (rolled up cuffs)
- Leather jacket
- Chain accessories
- Leather gloves
- Motor boots,
- Belts, and more.
Basically, anything that would be described as a rebellious fashion of the time could be found being sported by a greaser.
Next, the rockabilly subculture was also widely popular in the ’50s and was based around the music genre known as rockabilly. Rockabilly was an early form of rock music that originated within the south and was popular from the 1950s to 1960. This music genre was a unique combination of rock and roll and country and was especially popular with teenagers. We included this in the men’s section; however, women we just as involved in this subculture as well. The fashion for women typically consisted of a mixture of pin-up styles and swing looks. As such, many rockabilly girls wore swing dresses, tight pencil skirts, and bullet bras.
Men, on the other hand, often wore comprised leather biker or denim jackets, plaid and bowling shirts, black jeans, and boots. Most rockabilly men also commonly wore a quiff or slicked-back hairstyle for a more edgy look.
Next, when it came to men’s casual wear, they could typically be seen sporting pants, trousers, slacks, and shorts, and a casual shirt. A good rule of thumb for men’s fashion of the time was to have a mix of both textured and solid colors for a more casual appearance. Because of this, neutral shades were very popular when it came to pants of the decade, while pastel and plaid button-down shirts, Hawaiian shirts, and traditional white t-shirts were a common way to go for a more leisurely look.
You can also read more about men’s casual fashion of the decade here for further information.
Now, when it came to working fashion, just as how we all must dress differently in modern times depending on the job we have, it was no different in the 1950s. However, generally speaking, men sported suits solid colored ties, overcoats, and hats in the workplace. As time progressed in the decade, men’s suits changed from looser fits to a more tailored style fit and begun to vary more in color. However, the 50s work fashion certainly remains a staple point for what we see men wearing today.
Next, sports coats were another popular trend of the 50s that nearly every man wore. Sports coats were pieces that men would wear outside of the office that mimicked a business design but with a more casual appearance. The main difference between the two could be easily seen in the material and color. Sports coats were typically made of brighter and bolder colors, such as red, green, and blue, while suits were almost always solid dark colors, such as brown or grey. A sports coat, on the other hand, was rarely so boring.
For the men’s 1950s shoes fashion, men had a wide range of shoes they would wear to work or to outings, just as women did. However, in terms of classic and common 50s shoes, these were what you were most likely to see a man sporting.
1. Saddle shoes
Just like women, the black and white saddle shoe trend reached men of all ages as well. While these were worn in decades prior to the 1920s, they weren’t much of a trend until 30 years later. Soon, teenagers, adults, and even elderly people could be caught wearing them thanks to their comfortability.
2. Oxford shoes
Next, the most popular dress shoe for men of the 50s was Oxford shoes. These shoes had a smooth body with a brown color. Soles matched the body color in either leather or rubber. This lace-up dress shoe had become the staple of every man’s wardrobe since the beginning of the century and only grew from there.
And for around the house, men loved to wear a pair of comfy moccasins when they would relax. These were a favorite by many because they could easily be slipped into without any effort, which men loved. They were overall the ultimate casual shoe for men after a long day of work and were always preferred over lace-up dress shoes.
And lastly, yes, believe it or not, the converse we know and love today were actually being sported back in the 50s, and were commonly worn by men for sporting activities. These stylish shoes were made famous by the rebellious actor James Dean, who frequently wore them, inspiring other rebellious men alike to hop on the trend, too.
For accessories, men of the 50s almost always wore hats, and the fedora hat was the most popular choice amongst them. However, the fedora was mainly worn for business attire only, rather than just casual wear. However, men would also wear caps for casual hats and sporting events that were in a floppy in design, and most often made of tweed, wool, or silk, depending on the season of the year.
And lastly, for hairstyles for men of the 50s, you typically saw a variety of the pompadour style (which was also seen in Hollywood amongst James Dean and Elvis Presley), a messy quiff, rockstar sideburns, and a ducktail style. However, men would also often slick their hair back or to the side for a cleaner look, or for greaser fashion.
Overall, the 50s were a time of transition and change in more ways than one. From moving away from the times of the war to making breakthroughs with men’s and women’s fashion; truly no other decade saw movement the way the 50s did. And while times may have been tough for men and women, it was a staple period of fashion that still continues to shape our modern world today. And for that reason, the 1950s will always be a decade we look at and cherish forever.