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Fashion Philosophy: The 1950s


Fashion Philosophy: The 1950s
Source: Elle

Welcome to another Fashion Philosophy post, where we explore the many factors that impact a person’s fashion choices, from cultural influences to life circumstances and even personality types. We also show you how to apply those attitudes to your modern wardrobe and lifestyle.

This week, we’ll be deviating a bit from our usual format and exploring the fashion philosophy of a decade instead of a famous person. By popular request, we’ll be exploring the fundamental aspects of fashion in the decade that launched I Love Lucy, Elvis Presley, and Nina Simone – that’s right, the 1950s.

A Little Bit of Context

  • Life was hard during the Second World War. Many men were serving the military and the women at home were responsible for taking up the men’s abandoned jobs. There were also many shortages due to the financial strain of countries’ war efforts and the lack of raw materials for production. In reflection of this, women’s fashion during the early ’40s was very practical and very masculine.
  • After the war ended in 1945, there was a huge cultural shift. Men went back to their jobs and women were once again expected to be housewives. Furthermore, many people had died during the war, and the western world was in need of a Baby Boom.
  • These influences, combined with women’s desire to be ladies again (as opposed to the pseudo-men they had to be during the war), inspired fashion in the 1950s. Women abandoned their simple coats and working overalls in favour of feminine dresses, luxurious coats and chic accessories. The 1950s was all about luxury and embracing traditional notions of femininity. 
  • The fifties were a feminist dark age, but hey, at least everyone looked fabulous. Luckily, sixty years later, we women have a way more control over our own lives. (Though, of course, we still have a long way to go!) Thanks to the successes of the feminist movement, nobody can force us to leave our jobs and the rules of fashion are not as strict. Nevertheless, the fashions of the 1950s were endlessly chic and classy. We modern ladies can take a few fashion tips from our grandmothers while still owning our independence.

Elements of Style in the 1950s

Stereotypically Feminine Silhouette

Red peplum
Source: Elle

After wearing very masculine clothing during the Second World War, women opted for exaggerated, stereotypical displays of femininity in the 1950s. The starlets of the time were known for their hourglass figures (think Marilyn Monroe) and many women regularly wore girdles to nip in their waists and bellies.

To look like a fifties chick, really play up your natural curves. Use peplum, ruffles, or shoulder pads if you feel like you need a bit of a boost, but just have fun with creating a girly silhouette.

Immaculate Makeup

Clean makeup
Photo Credit

Makeup was an absolute necessity for the fifties lady and this was the decade where fun products started taking over the market. You could buy a powder compact shaped like just about anything, from pool balls to pianos, and lipstick came in all sorts of fun new colors. Women also began to embrace full, dark brows (think Audrey Hepburn).

As fun as it was, however, there were very strict rules surrounding makeup. Magazines in the fifties would be full of instructions on what sort of makeup should be worn for every possible occasion and a true lady was expected to always have her makeup on. Though the messaging is less overt now, there are still many women who feel as though they’re expected to wear makeup, so it’s clear that the marketing messages of the ’50s are still having an effect.

If you’re like me, you thoroughly enjoy applying your makeup in the morning – if that’s you, too, cool. But always remember that it’s a luxury, not an obligation. At the end of the day, you should only wear makeup if YOU want to. Your face – and what you put on it – is your choice, and yours alone!

Instead of obsessing over your makeup like our grandmothers did, channel their look in a healthy way by focusing instead on looking fresh and put-together. Keep your nails tidy and make sure to get your hair trimmed every few months. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and drink plenty of water to keep yourself looking (and feeling) healthy. If you want to wear makeup, make sure to fill in your brows and keep your makeup clean-looking for the ’50s look. No smokey eyes!


Mulberry purse
Source: Elle

Fashion in the 1950s was all about structure and rules. Women wore shoes that matched their handbags and earrings that matched their necklaces. My grandmother once had two dates on the same day and had to rush home after the first one because, of all things, she couldn’t wear the same gloves on two dates and needed to put on a new pair.

Their clothing was also literally structured – you didn’t see many maxi dresses or slouchy cardigans back then!

Though I love my slouchy items, too, I’m also a firm believer in collecting structured pieces. If we can learn anything from our grandmothers, it’s that a good coat and a structured purse can totally pull together an outfit.

Channel the fthormality of the 1950s by incorporating structured pieces into your outfits as well as wearing complementing (if not matching) accessories.

Putting It All Together

Fifties Formal

Fifites' formal
Earrings - Sweet Romance, Gloves – Accessorize, Clutch –, Dress – J.Crew, Necklace – Blue Nile, Powder – Nordstrom, Lipstick – Nordstrom, Shoes – Dorothy Perkins

This is a formal outfit closely inspired by fifties fashion. (If you’re in high school, this would make a really cute prom outfit.) Wear a fabulously girly pink dress with a sweetheart neckline and structured bodice – I love that this dress shows off the wearer’s arms, waist and décolleté. Add gloves and pumps in creamy colors to complement the dress. The heart-shaped earrings, locket and purse are in honour of a fifties lady’s love of matching accessories. To complete the look, wear plenty of face powder and Marilyn-approved red lipstick.

Contemporary and Classy

Contemporary and Classy
Hat – Layla Grace, Nail Polish – Target, Bag – Chicnova, Scarf – Mytheresa, Blazer –, Jeans – Buckle, Lip Gloss – Amway, Shoes – Sperry Top-Sider

This outfit is much more appropriate for day-to-day life. I would totally wear this to school or even out on an assignment. (I’m a freelance journalist.) I chose a fitted blazer and stretchy, curve-hugging jeans that show off the wearer’s shape in an understated way. The leopard-print scarf and loafers are a nod to the tradition of matching one’s accessories. I chose the fedora and purse because they were both structured; I also love the feminine green of the bag. Finally, I think that a simple glossy lip and newly painted pink nails would go well with this look and make the wearer look girly, polished and fresh.


What do you think of 1950s fashion? Any other people, decades, or time periods you’d like me to cover in the next Fashion Philosophy post? Leave a comment below!

Posted on on March 10, 2013 / Filed Under: Inspiration / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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15 Responses to “Fashion Philosophy: The 1950s”

  1. 1
    March 10th, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    I love the formal outfit!

  2. 2
    March 10th, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Loved this piece!! Great work!

  3. 3
    March 10th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    This was a fun read! It’s always nice to have a little refresher on our fashion history :)

  4. 4
    March 10th, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    The second look is nice

    Although I will have to say, women didn’t have a desire to be ‘ladies’ again
    They realized that they do not need to be confined at home
    Second Wave Feminism recognized this and became a stronger force later on

  5. 5
    March 11th, 2013 at 2:37 am

    I love these fashion history posts, but I’m somewhat astounded that someone could write about the 50’s without mentioning Dior and the New Look!

  6. 6
    March 11th, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Fashion aside, which is great as always, I agree with Aish. Women’s didn’t desire to be ladies again- they were no longer “needed”, had to get out of the way for the returning men looking for jobs, and were forced back into the house. It was imposed on them rather than a self-chosen return.

  7. 7
    March 11th, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I’m really glad you mentioned the fact that make up is not something you should feel made to wear. Although I personally love wearing make up and experimenting and I love carving out a good amount of time to do my make up in the morning because it relaxes me, I often see people either getting the wrong idea about why I wear it (because of insecurity rather than it being fun) or I see friends who feel like they have to wear it for fear of being judged, despite the fact that they hate wearing it. “A luxury not an obligation”- I love that.

  8. 8
    March 11th, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for the note about not needing to wear makeup, I personally love to get dolled up, but I know that not everyone feels that way. College Fashion is almost always great about including all sides of an argument/ looking at every side of an issue before posting it (even something small like this.)

    In other news thanks for the article! A couple days ago my hairdresser was talking about how much she loved the fashion in the 50’s and I sort of nodded along because I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about (I’m very much a late 60’s/ early 70’s kind of girl). So thanks for educating me today :)

  9. 9
    March 11th, 2013 at 10:12 pm


  10. 10
    March 12th, 2013 at 8:57 am

    I am more of a mod/60s girl myself but I do love the glamour of 50s style. The only thing I don’t like is the matchy-matchy feeling of it all so I like to modernize 50s style by adding pops of color, mixing prints, etc.

  11. 11
    March 12th, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    I love this post! Super cute outfits! Could you try doing one for the 1960s? The more retro stuff? :)

  12. 12
    March 14th, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    I love this article! 50s glam is my most favorite! I’m a sucker for Marilyn Monroe and possess an hourglass shape, so fitting! (Pun Intended!) :)

  13. 13
    March 18th, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Hey everyone! Thanks for the great feedback!

    I just wanted to acknowledge that, absolutely, women were forced to return to being housewives. In addition to that, though, according to my research and my understanding of the time, was also a desire among women to be (for lack of a better word) “girlier.” After all of the shortages during the war, everyone was glad to be a bit indulgent – and for women, that included wearing full skirts and makeup in pretty packaging.

    I probably should have expressed that more clearly in the post. My bad.

  14. 14
    July 21st, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I disagree with the person who wrote this article. She knows very little about 1950’s fashion. Skirts were definitely NOT short! They were quite long, full skirts, or slim skirts below the knee. (I remember hemming all my skirts to 15 inches above the floor, as fashion dictated.) They were very elegant and well made. About 1956 or 7, pointed toe shoes were introduced, and we discarded all our round toes.
    I was young in the 1950’s and I remember what I wore and what other women wore. Under very full skirts, we wore crinolines – as many as ten (10) petticoats at a time. Clothing was modest. We had no desire to show everything. We wore makeup, but not so much as now. Grace Kelly was our favorite movie star, and she was always elegant. See her in old movies to see how fashion was then.
    About 1955, black and pink were popular colors together in clothing as well as home décor. I had a friend who bought a new pink refrigerator.
    In the late 1950’s turquoise or aqua was wildly popular in clothing and home décor. The 1950’s was a lovely decade of fashion.

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