cultural studies

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Womens Fashion Fads In The Fifties Cultural Studies Essay

When a new style emerged at the beginning of the 1950s, it brought many sought after and modern fashion trends that were better suited to fit the lives of women. After WWII ended, there was a greater need for simplicity and versatility, leading to more clothing that was inspired by and which later reflected the culture and everyday lives of the people who lived during this decade. Many elements of fashion were created by new talents both overseas and in the United States during this time, featuring staples in women’s and girls’ fashion that included a wide variety of clothing and accessories. In addition to the many new terms created during this era, there were a couple of basic terms used to describe all the clothing created during this time period as well: stylish, comfortable, and affordable.

There were many reasons for why there was a great desire for change in the fashion industry. Before the war, there was no sense of identity or style, with the only real fashion appearing in Hollywood movies. Women no longer worked their factory jobs, but now were housewives, when “domesticity and femininity were the watchwords.” Barbeques, car trips, get togethers, and other social gatherings called for relaxed, comfortable and sophisticated clothing. There was also a need for clothing that didn’t just make the designer look good, but also complemented the person wearing it. “When I get dressed up, I have little time to make up to the dress, I want the dress to make up to me,” said a New York mother in the May 2, 1955 issue of Time Magazine. Lastly, there was a need for affordability. Bathing suits and play clothes were priced $10-50, dresses were $20-100, and suits and coats were $89-150. With the $8 billion clothing industry, there was no barrier put on style, according to Life Magazine (1956).

Beginning in the 19th century, Parisian designs were popular for women in both America and Europe. As the 50s approached, more and more oversea designers set trends, with designers including Jacques Fath, Pierre Balmain, and Christian Dior being some among them. Their designs were know as “Haute Couture”, having the best fabrics. In 1947, Dior’s “New Look” showed off curves and an hourglass shape. Due to this, his designs became very renowned, when it was noted that sexuality and maternity restored the population. The skintight tailoring emphasized the bosom, skirts were mid-calf long, hips were padded, there was complicated tailoring that featured full, extravagant fabric, and there was a slender waist, also called a “wasp” waist. However, the simple concept remained: these sensuous designs should show that women were still women after the years of wartime deprivation. International designers also became very popular among women. Starting in the 1950s, the fashion scene was changed when more than two dozen new designer’s emerged. Each one’s purpose was to create comfortable and chic clothing that “complimented the wearer, not necessarily the designer.” These fresh new faces ranged from 24-35 (1955) and helped establish the “American Look”. A 1955 Look Magazine article said, "The `American Look' is a young look because it comes from young minds. It’s an American look because these designers are independent and free-wheeling, wary of imitating, anxious to create. They share a pox-on-Paris spirit.” These designers included Anne Klein, Claire McCordell, Rudi Gernreich, and James Galanos. Lastly, Mary Quant, an English fashion designer who started visiting America in 1955, offered outfits for normal woman, not film stars, who were under 25. Her designs caused Parisian dictates to be irreverent. “Snobbery has gone out of fashion,” she said.

With the addition of so many new fashion designers, there were new fashion trends and styles for women. Most of all, one of the most worn clothing was dresses. They came in a wide arrangement of colors and styles, ranging from casual to formal. The chemise “sack” dress, which looked like a bag but concealed the hips and bust, made the biggest fashion splash in the 50s. The main theme was still overall comfort, so women also wore hooded dresses, and housewives wore shirtwaist dresses. For formal occasions, evening dresses were a necessity! They were full skirted, ethereal, and romantic, made with exotic colors and materials including silk and taffeta. Others were narrow and had clinging sheaths or sequins, inspired by two icons during this decade, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. In addition to dresses, there were many other popular styles that women wore. Wool suits, shorts jackets and silk blouses were worn by career women, with keeping the ideal silhouette, long and shapely, in mind. There were also more casual clothes worn, including jersey jumpers, tailored socks, Bermuda shorts, and short sleeved golf dresses in warmer weather. In the fall and winter, ponchos, shawls, cardigans, and sweaters made of cashmere or angora were key pieces in a women’s wardrobe.

An area that did not go unaffected during this time was the teen market. Clothing manufacturers used television and print ads to attract the younger generation after WWII. Hence the terms “preppy” and “greaser” were created. Preppy girls wore sweaters, bobby socks and skirts to create their own style. Two important types of skirts were the poodle skirt and the pencil skirt. The poodle skirt was a wide, swing skirt, with a fabric poodle on the bottom right. Pencil skirts were the opposite with long hems below the knee and very tight fabric. Saddle shoes, heavy, stiff, sneaker like shoes were also popular among preppy girls. Another “term” given to girls who dressed a certain way was “greaser”. Greasers were all-American rebels, wearing heavy makeup, tight sweaters, short skirts, and stockings. This style was considered very rebellious during this time period, but was disapproved by society. However, both types of youth culture reigned supreme by mid-decade. All these new fashions soon began featured in advertisements. Harper’s Bazaar (1958) had a regular section called The Young Outlook, and Vogue (1952) wrote about the “blueprint teenager”. Spending among teens was not far from ordinary. "We just find it neat to spend money,” said a Los Angeles girl in a 1957 Newsweek article. In 1957, teens had $9 billion disposable income, most of which was used to establish a personal sense of style.

The perfect addition that completed every outfit was an accessory. “Lady like outfits” were completed with heels and gloves, both worn with skirts and dresses. Gloves came in all styles and lengths since they were necessary for all formal and social occasions. The “girdle” was also necessary under skirts since it helped women show off their curvy bodies. Swim caps were also worn to keep hair dry, and belts were worn as hair ties, or wrapped around the neck. Lastly, hats were essential as well. A 1959 survey showed that the average woman owned 4 “chapeaus”. Most hats were large, but berets and pillboxes were an exception. Although accessories were important, another essential part of a woman’s appearance was makeup. There was excessive emphasis on painted lips in the color of fire-engine red, as well as painted eyes.. Hairstyles were also very important for women. Soft, curly styles, not long and straight, were popular. Hair was often tied in a ponytail with a pink chiffon scarf. Pin curling, rollers, and hairspray helped achieve the desired look during this time.


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