The Trendsetting 1950s Women’s Fashion
The Trendsetting 1950s Women’s Fashion
Written by Hannah Mae Webster
The 1950s witnessed countless iconic style moments that defined vintage clothing and greatly inspired modern trends. Women such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor aided the mass popularization of 1950s fashion trends that are still highly relevant today.
1950s fashion icons and their trendsetting influences
"We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle."
Marilyn Monroe’s 50s style will forever be admired as she effortlessly celebrated her curves, exuding a powerful air of femininity. Her top 1950s style moments included both understated casual pieces, such as cigarette pants, and glamorous form fitting gowns.
Marilyn Monroe’s Top 3 1950s looks
Hot pink gown — “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” 1953
Arguably Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic look of all time, this pink gown was designed by William Travilla for Marilyn’s role in the 1953 film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Paired with long gloves and featuring a huge bow, this eye-catching ensemble fueled an enduring obsession with hot pink, a shade previously introduced by Elsa Schiaparelli — referred to as “shocking pink.” Pink started to gain popularity as bright pink filled the cover of British Vogue in 1953 and muted shades were becoming common for special occasion dresses.
White halter neck dress – “The Seven-Year Itch,” 1955
The iconic white halter dress, another William Travilla creation, was worn by Marilyn in the 1955 film, “The Seven-Year Itch,” Travilla stated that the dress was his favorite creation and the image of Marilyn over the subway grate went down as one of the most iconic and recognized moments in cinematic history. The 50s saw halter necklines grow in popularity as both Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe wore matching spotted halter dresses to sign their names in the concrete at the TCL Chinese Theatre in 1953. The halter neck gave the illusion of regular straps from the front, whilst revealing more of the back, therefore a popular statement neckline in the 50s.
Want to add a Marilyn Monroe inspired piece to your closet? Check out our Marilyn dresses: check out our Marilyn Dress
Capri Pants, 1953
This simple and classic look was worn by Marilyn Monroe for a 1953 photoshoot by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The monochromatic outfit featured white capri pants and a black turtleneck. This understated outfit portrayed a relaxed version of the actress and inspired casual fashion trends. Marilyn’s minimalistic off-duty looks became legendary and are still recreated today. Her casual style featured a range of basics and staple pieces, likely the reason why this style has retained its appeal and continued to inspire modern fashion trends.
Interested in reading more about Marilyn Monroe’s style? Check out our article on Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic style moments.
“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It's the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”
Audrey’s role in the 1953 film, “Roman Holiday,” featured a range of relaxed trendsetting style moments, including white rolled sleeve shirts, full midi skirts, sandals, and neck scarves.
Check out our Ann shirt inspired by Audrey’s white shirt in “Roman Holiday.”
Trends popularized by Audrey in the 50s
- Ballet flats
- Cigarette pants
- Black turtlenecks
Audrey’s youthful 50s style inspired so many simple and classic trends that are still present today.
Want to get the iconic Audrey Hepburn look? Check out our classic little black Audrey dress.
The name Grace Kelly will always be synonymous with elegance. Throughout the 50s Grace Kelly’s unforgettable style set long-lasting, classic fashion trends, the most memorable being her bridal look.
In 1956 Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and her choice of gown inspired bridal style for decades. The lace gown was designed by costume designer Helen Rose and featured a high neckline, silk taffeta skirt, and hand-sewn pearls.
“I favor pearls on screen and in my private life,”
Grace Kelly opted for an embellished Juliet Cap and a spectacular 90-yard veil. Her bridal look was highly modest yet strikingly beautiful, and repeatedly sought out by many brides.
Why not add a piece of Grace Kelly style to your closet with our stylish Grace sunglasses ?
Elizabeth Taylor’s 50s style was defined by glamour, opulence, and feminine silhouettes. Taylor’s great jewelry collection is just one example of her extravagant taste, including her highly enviable range of engagement rings.
“I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can't possess radiance, you can only admire it.”
Some of Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic 50s style moments
Casual Attire, 1953
Elizabeth Taylor embraced a relaxed and casual style, wearing ballet pumps, a shapeless sweater, and loose-fitting trousers whilst holidaying in Capri in 1953.
Full skirt femininity, 1958
Elizabeth arrived in Spain in 1958 wearing a voluminous-skirted floral dress. She effortlessly accessorized with a silk scarf tied, belt, and stiletto heels.
Beaded dress, 1959
Elizabeth Taylor wore this iconic silver beaded dress at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in 1959.
Other key style Icons included
Relaxed but elegant styles including flowy full-skirted dresses, headbands, boat neck tops, and trousers.
Want Brigitte Bardot inspired clothing? Check out our gorgeous Brigitte midi dress inspired by Bardot’s effortlessly feminine 50s style.
Sultry feminine looks, corsets, cinched waists, embraced and enhanced her curvy body shape.
“A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.”
Key fashion designers that shaped the decade
The introduction of his ‘New Look’ collection in 1947 sparked the trend of fuller skirts, hourglass figures, and ultra-feminine styles throughout the 50s.
More on Dior
“A dress is a piece of ephemeral architecture, designed to enhance the proportions of the female body.”
Christian Dior revolutionized womenswear in the 1950s as he worked to frame and enhance curves and create the illusion of a tiny waist, a look that was highly desired by many women. He introduced hyper-femininity through voluminous skirts and padded hips. The impact of Dior’s 1947 New Look remained strong throughout the 50s as he created lavish feminine gowns which served as a direct contrast to the minimalistic, practical wartime clothing styles.
Check out our gray Alla dress inspired by Dior’s New Look.
Hubert de Givenchy
The collaboration with Audrey Hepburn started in the 50s and became one of the greatest partnerships in fashion history.
“She gave life to the clothes – she had a way of installing herself in them, that I have seen in no one else since… they just adapted to her. Something magic happened. Suddenly she felt good – you could feel her excitement, her joy.” – Hubert de Givenchy”
Known as The Master of haute couture, Balenciaga was a key figure in reshaping silhouettes.
He introduced the shapeless sack dress in the 50s which offered a contrast to Dior’s defined silhouettes.
Designed super-feminine styles. He gained attention during the 50s when he popularized the stole for daywear and eveningwear. Created pieces for Marlene Dietrich, Brigitte Bardot, Katharine Hepburn, and Sophia Loren.
Coco made her comeback in 1954, introducing the iconic 2.55 handbag in 1955 and the trimmed tweed suit in 1956.
Chanel’s two-tone pumps were introduced in 1957 and remain a classic staple today. The ballet flats are one of the most iconic trends introduced in the 1950s that have retained such a high level of popularity for years.
"Fashion changes, but style endures."
The hourglass shape
The hourglass shape was of great importance in Dior’s creations and was enviable by those wanting to achieve this striking display of femininity. Stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren flaunted hourglass figures on screen, further inspiring another enduring trend. Shapewear and lingerie were predominantly responsible for enhancing and creating the exaggerated hourglass silhouette, including girdles, bullet bras, and waist cinchers.
The bullet bra was first released in the 40s under the name Perma-Lift, and featured no unwires, only stitching to keep the structure. The terms bullet bra and torpedo bra were used to describe the conical shape, linking back to the wartime influence of the 40s. The bra gave the illusion of a fuller bust, adding to the hourglass shape.
Did you know?
The term wasp waist referred to a tiny waist shape created by using corsets and girdles. However, this was sometimes considered unsafe and unhealthy when taken to the extreme.
For more details on body shapes read our article where we tell you everything on dress types and body shapes.
Casual wear of the 50s
Whilst the 50s introduced a variety of extravagant evening wear styles, casual attire was experiencing a buzz, with countless fashion trends reaching popularity.
Casual pieces included:
- Trousers – capri pants (mid calf length), cigarette pants, pedal pushers, tailored slacks, wide leg, denim jeans (dark blue, became popular for young women and teenagers).
- Poodle skirts – felt circle skirts featuring designs of poodles on leashes. They were common among young women and teenagers and were often paired with bobby socks, saddle shoes, and short gloves.
- Cropped sweaters
- Ballet flats
- Tailored blouses
- Shirtwaist dresses – often worn by housewives during the 50s.
Did you know?
The term “sweater girl” referred to actresses such as Lana Turner, Jayne Mansfield, and Jane Russell, who wore tight sweaters that fit snug to the chest area to flaunt their shape whilst retaining an element of modesty.
Popular dresses and skirts in the 50s
- Swing dresses
- Circle dresses
- Shirtwaist dresses
- Dresses with a draped appearance
- Full skirted dresses
In his 1954 autumn/winter collection, Christian Dior introduced a modern pencil skirt that was very well received, becoming an iconic new workwear choice for women in the 50s. However, the slim-fitting garment originated back to 1908 when the first female passenger on an airplane, Edith Berg, wore a long skirt. There was a concern that her skirt would become entangled and caught on the machinery and so a cord was tied around the skirt below the knee to keep it fitted. The pencil skirt is viewed as the ultimate sexy and feminine piece due to its curve-hugging shape and extremely fitted silhouette, often causing a slight difficulty in walking due to the inability to move the legs very far.
50s necklines included:
- square neck
What colors were popular in the 1950s fashion?
During the 50s, pastel shades including yellow, lilac, powder blue, light pink, and aqua were very popular during the spring and summer months, whilst darker shades such as rust, royal blue, olive, navy blue, and brown were a hit in the colder months.
Polka dot garments were very common during the 1950s with women wearing the trending print for many different occasions. Plaid prints were also highly popular.
Footwear of the 1950s
Like any other decade, the 50s had a distinct and recognizable array of footwear, many of which have made a trending return.
50s footwear included:
- Ballet flats
- Saddle shoes
- Stiletto heels
- Kitten heels
- Exposed toe sandals
- Winter boots
Accessorizing was of utmost importance in the 50s and was a top priority for almost every woman when choosing an outfit. Top accessories included clip-on earrings, a silk scarf, short gloves, bobby socks, smaller hats, pearls, and belts.
Cat-eye sunglasses were extremely popular in the 1950s due to their stunning sharp and feminine design.
What is pin up style?
Pin up style was a key part of 1950s women’s fashion and referred to the highly feminine aesthetic that accompanied ‘pin up’ girls, which were images of models, glamour models, and actresses intended to be pinned up on a wall. The phenomenon gained attention during the time of World War II.
Top tips to get the pin up look:
- Create the illusion of an hourglass shape – accentuation of the waist and hips.
- High waisted clothing such as jeans, capri pants, or pencil skirts.
- Wear a petticoat to add volume and shape to skirts.
- Polka dots, stripes, cherry prints, leopard print, and check patterns are all pin up inspired.
- Heels or wedges.
- Accentuate eyes and lips with makeup.
- Victory rolls, bangs, and pin curls in hair.
- Include bold solid colors such as red, pink, blue, yellow, and white.
Cinema was a very important part of 1950s culture, with stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brigitte Bardot gracing the screen with trendsetting costumes.
Top films that inspired 50s fashion:
- Funny Face, 1957
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953
- To Catch a Thief, 1955
- Sabrina, 1954
- High Society, 1956
- Rear Window, 1954
- How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953
FAQ for the 1950s fashion trends
What are the 3 biggest fashion trends of the 1950s?
- Ballet flats — they were introduced as an enduring, simple, and practical shoe that clearly withstood the test of time as they are extremely popular today with designers such as Chanel still producing the iconic pump.
- Curve-accentuating, hourglass shapes — were highly desirable due to the influence of Christian Dior’s hyper-feminine silhouettes and designs. Foundation garments such as bullet bras, corsets, and girdles were therefore used to achieve this look.
- Sweater girls — gave a look desired by many women as they could flaunt their figures with the tight-fitting sweaters without showing skin or being overly revealing.
What did 1950s housewives wear?
Shirt dresses were common choices for wearing around the home. These dresses would often have white collars and cuffs. Lucille Ball’s style in the 50s sitcom ‘I Love Lucy’ greatly influenced housewife style.
What did girls wear in the 50s?
Young women and teenagers would favor more youthful styles including the new trend of the poodle skirt, or denim jeans. Cardigan sweaters and full skirts were also a popular choice for the younger generation.
What did older women wear in the 50s?
Higher necklines with longer sleeves were favored by more mature women, with solid colors and subtle prints being a popular choice. Slimmer shapes and silhouettes were often chosen instead of petticoats and full skirts.
What was the most popular dress in the 1950s?
The shirtwaist dress was arguably the most popular style of the 1950s as it was the go-to outfit for many housewives due to its comfort and practicality, yet the fuller skirt still retained a sense of femininity.
“It is not money that makes you well dressed: it is understanding”