The pivotal moments of fifties fashion

The pivotal moments of fifties fashion

The 1950’s gave us plenty to be thankful for on the fashion front. Often described as the golden age of fashion – the post war era saw a return to glamour and the birth of high fashion as Christian Dior launched his new look - setting a standard for dress making and high-end fashion that to this day has rarely been surpassed.

But it wasn’t just the couture houses that made fashion in the fifties so influential; from advancements in fabric care and speedier manufacturing to the allure of Hollywood icons showcasing new looks, we take a look at the pivotal moments that made 1950’s fashion.

Hollywood icons

An era like no other for providing an abundance of style icons, it’s no wonder it’s one of the fashion industry’s favourite decades. Many influential designers of the time dressed stars such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor both on and off the movie set, creating key looks for which they became known and that are still admired and copied today.

Audrey Hepburn’s look inspired Givenchy, Hermes created the famous Kelly bag for the actress turned princess and Doris Day, symbol of the healthy girl next door beauty gave us the gingham checks we are still so obsessed with.

Fashion houses

Christian Dior gave birth to 50s fashion, but many other fashion houses and designers were hugely influential during this period, becoming global brands in their own right by the end of the decade. Coco Chanel re-established herself as a designer after World War II with wearable clothing. She introduced her signature quilted handbag with a gilt chain strap in 1955 and it is still popular today. Balenciaga gave us the 3/4 length sleeve – a design that offered a looser style that released women from stiffly structured tailored garments. His 1957 sack dress without a waistline evolved into the shift-style dress that became so popular in the 1960s. Givenchy was famous for creating clothing for his favourite muses Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy and stood behind several of their most iconic looks - simple and glamorous - with a focus on the fabric and silhouette rather than details.

New ideas

The 1950’s saw the rise in popularity of the bikini. Although originally launched in the 40’s, they were still considered risqué – that is until Bridget Bardot famously wore a bandeau bikini at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival – sending demand soaring.

Audrey Hepburn gave us many classic looks – the little black dress and cropped denim for example - but cropped cigarette trousers that just skimmed the ankle became her second signature piece. A classic and chic look that is still popular today.

Women’s trousers formed many new fashion trends in the 50s. When women pulled on pants to work in the factories during World War II, they discovered a new kind of freedom and comfort. From loose hostess pants to tight knit slacks and short shorts, trousers made real inroads into women's fashions during this decade.

Christian Dior

Famed for its cinched waists, sloping shoulders and full busts, Christian Dior’s fashion house, which launched in 1947, became an overnight sensation. The opposite of the very masculine wartime fashions, his designs were voluptuous, elegant and ultra-feminine with many saying his collections defined the silhouette of the following decade. John Cavanagh, a London couturier described it as ‘a total glorification of the female form.’ And Carmel Snow who at the time was editor of the US Haarper’s Bazaar, coined it as the now famous ‘New Look.’ Initially condemned because of the amount of fabric it took to create a garment in the collection, it soon gained widespread popularity as well royal following when Princess Margaret adopted the look.


The glamour of 1950’s clothing is perhaps thanks to the one and only Marilyn Monroe. One of the greatest and most recognisable fashion and beauty icons – certainly of the era, if not of all time. When she was launched into the limelight after the release of Gentleman Prefer Blondes, an international style sensation was born, and her style continues to inspire modern trends, from red carpets to runways.

Public interest in the star now is still huge, with a Monroe musical launching in Vegas in 2018. She is also still one of the biggest stars to be immortalized through impersonations with 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley alone, for visitors to enjoy while seeking out their casino bonus on the strip.


The advancement in fabric care and speedier manufacturing systems revolutionised women’s wardrobes across this period and moved style out of the fitting rooms and ateliers and into the streets and boutiques. It was the first decade to see affordable and more accessible fashion for the masses – having the latest trends was longer exclusively for the rich, and the diversification of styles and trends meant new clothes could be purchased more regularly.

With the changing social and economic climate, fashion and style was more accessible than ever before. Garments were manufactured at greater speed and in greater quantity and as production speed increased, clothing naturally became more affordable, and off-the-rack manufacturers hurried to copy the designs of haute couture. Television also began transforming entertainment and news, influencing trends and depicting fashion on a wide scale.

Don’t forget the chaps

It’s not just womenswear that saw huge change in the 50s. Men’s fashion in this era saw a big move towards a more informal look, influenced in part by Hollywood star James Dean, whose portrayal of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause had a remarkable impact on men’s fashion. Along with fellow actor, Marlon Brando’s characters in A streetcar Names Desire and The Wild One, their iconic but casual image consisting of white t-shirt, Levi 501’s, black leather jacket and slicked back hair were emulated by young men across the globe and became a pervasive look throughout the 1950s. The rise in Teddy Boys in Britain also drove the dramatic change in men’s fashion and it was these young men who really started the youth culture of the time.