Beauty is Shape By Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era com

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Chanel's Attitude and her 50's Silhouettes

Chanel was already criticising the boned bodices promoted by Dior as backward looking.  The emerging new society was only too willing to agree with her.   However as mentioned above, Dior's looser freer styles were partially the starting point for Quant's early designs.

Chanel was astute enough, to know that couture had a limited future.   It's influence was morphing into one that would culminate in branding and ready to wear designer labels in the next decades.  Couture Design House survival now depended not on the depleted 3000 private rich customers, but on selling designs to the mass market. 

A Chanel Suit Design

In Britain, Haute Couture models began to be licensed to companies like Wallis and soon provided a useful source of income.   Macy's of New York paid huge sums of money for an individual Toile, a linen or calico copy of the designer model garment.  

Every piece of information they needed to make the garment as a near copy would be provided.   Details of trimmings, buttons, fasteners etc were all part of the price paid.   With thousands of copies constructed, Macy's could afford to sell a dress worth $1000 for $100.   If they sold a superior more exact version as a limited copy, they could sell it as a designer original and reap the reward of a higher designer price.

New Synthetic Fashion Fabrics

Many of the 1950's fabrics were synthesised from petrochemicals. They were promoted for their easy care wash and wear qualities which often meant a quick rinse and drip dry with  minimal or no ironing required.  Initially they were novel, but expensive materials.  Crimplene at first could only be bought in high class Madame shops.

Nylon (Polyamide), Crimplene (Polyester) and Orlon (Acrylic/ Polyacrylonitrile) were all easy to look after and were soon affordable.   Crimplene enabled everyone to wear white and pastel colours because they could be washed easily as polyester does not yellow like white nylon does with age and sunlight.  The fabric also tailored well and could be made into button front, double breasted, wide collar dresses and retain a crisp appearance through washing. 

In the early fifties, America had easier access than the UK to really attractive man made fibre goods.  Many UK people had their first nylon goods from America in parcels sent by American pen pals.   I recall receiving beautiful silky lemon nylon pyjamas one Christmas and being so excited about them.   But best of all, I received the following year a beautiful lemon nylon, tiered party dress even better than the PJs.  I will never forget how wonderful that frilled and very pretty dress seemed - Sheila Sapp of Oakland Avenue, Ohio if ever you read this I thank you.


The Alternative Slim Silhouette of the 1950s

Sketch of typical double breasted shirtwaist slim line 1950's dress.

Such dresses were usually made of hardwearing wool Barathea suiting material and often had a large white organdie collar and cuffs with a bias bound edge that could be detached and washed, then sewn back into position.  Such cuffs were called French cuffs. The handbag is a style similar to the famous Kelly bag.


The new fabrics of nylon and polyester were ideal for women's trousers and ski pant styles. Mock suede or suedeen jackets were made from the new fibres and were worn with tapered nylon stretch knit trousers often made by Slimma or Marks & Spencer

1950-60 Hairstyles

Throughout the early 50s the ponytail was a popular youthful hairstyle and it matured into the French pleat.  Fashionable hairstyles began with simple ponytails and ended the decade with complex beehive arrangements.  Popular hairstyles in the 1950s and 60s were the poodle cut and the French pleat and later the beehive which began at the tail end of the 50s. 

For the more sophisticated, a permanent wave in the styles favoured by Elizabeth Taylor and the young Queen Elizabeth II were universally worn.  Their popular bubble cut hairstyles were easily copied with the advent of improved hair products, particularly home perms.  Other stars that captured the look of the day were Leslie Caron, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Doris Day.

Hairdressing was so big, that by 1955 almost 30,000 salons had sprung up in Britain.   As products such as hair lacquer sprays and plastic rollers came into general use it was easily possible for ordinary women to create more and more complex hairstyles of height. 

By the late 50s, outrageous backcombed bouffants, beehives, and French pleats led the way for the intricate coiled hairstyles of the 1960s.   Women mostly bought their hair lacquer from their hairdresser and decanted it at home into nylon puffer spray bottles.   By the end of the 50s, hair spray in cans, commercial shampoo, conditioner and rollers all became big business that boomed in the sixties.

Dusty Springfield and her Beehive Hairstyle. 

Dusty Springfield the British singer and her beehive hairstyle.  This half up, half down style was a compromise between wearing the hair up and wearing it down.

Get the video 1950s -Music, Memories and Milestones that defines the 1950s - Click here 0032031160330:Product Link on Barnes &

Dusty Springfield's beehive and eye make up was copied throughout Britain. Lavish backcombing was hair sprayed and the style teased, prodded and smoothed into a high mound.  After Dusty Springfield's beehive came the Beatle cut and Vidal Sassoon's five point cut bobbed style.  Mary Quant sported a Sassoon haircut A softer fringed haircut followed the Beatles rise to fame and a cover album where all four Beatles wore black polo neck sweaters. 


1950's Teenage Consumers

Until 1950 the term teenagers had never before been coined.  Children were known as girls and boys were called youths once they displayed signs of puberty. Then young people were grown up at 18 and fully adult legally at 21 when they often married and set up a home of their own even if it was rented room.  Getting married was a way of showing the adult world that you belonged to their world and was a way of escape from puberty.

During the 1950s a range of influences including film, television, magazines and the rock music scene created a new market grouping called teenagers. A sudden flurry of consumer goods denied to war torn Europe were available and a consumer boom was actively encouraged.

You can read more about 1950s teenage consumers and teddy boys and 50's teen fashion idols in another special 1950's page and in denims.


Whit Sunday in the 1950s

Most of the British nation still kept religious holidays like Whitsunday and Whit Monday when the mixed congregations from chapels and churches would march through British towns parading their chapel banners and wearing their Sunday best.  The clothes would follow the up to date fashions of the time and be sparkling clean often in the new fabrics.  Girls dresses were almost always in nylon with skirts puffed out with petticoats.

Children and families would be gathered together for a few family photographs to be taken with cousins and neighbours.  The photographs were often only taken at Whitsunday and show how formal the dress of girls was even then.   They always wore gloves for the occasion and sometimes fake flower corsages usually made from stiffened fabric such as organdie or cotton. 

Young women attempted to be as glamorous and grown up looking as their mothers or especially as royalty or film stars of the day.  Film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Marilyn Monroe were poplar icons of their day.


Whitsunday Best Clothes in the UK in the mid 1950s

Mid 1950s

 7 and 15 year olds dressed in Whitsunday best.


I am wearing a paper nylon striped raspberry pink and white modern nylon dress next to my teenage sister who is only 15 yrs, but is dressed to look older. 

She wears a green and white, striped pique cotton, starched dress with whitened shoes and gloves to give a lady like look.  But look at her narrow waist and you realise she is very young despite the glamour make up.

Accessories of the 1950s

The pointed pre formed conically stitched bra was actually a fashion accessory as without one the sweater girl look was certainly not right.  Fashionable accessories included popper beads and spectacles with enormous wings that arched in twirls upward that could be studded with rhinestones. 


Seamless stockings were introduced in Britain in 1952, but the masses did not take to them as the early shaping was so poor compared to regular fully fashioned, shaped, seamed stockings.   Only later in the fifties did they gain approval.   Get stockings at Marks & Spencer. 

Stocking sizes ranged from size 8 to size 11 going up in half sizes.  The fit varied from brand to brand, but fully fashioned seamed stocking were well shaped on the foot and heel although the yarn used was not stretchy and sometimes a little bagging could happen so that fine wrinkles appeared. It was essential to either check your seams were straight using a back mirror or get a sister or friend to tell you nothing was crooked.  Stockings are discussed more in the part 2 of selling and collecting 1950s vintage clothing  and also on this page of 50's stocking adverts.

Early 1950's Shoes

Early 1950's shoes were often very high, but with rounded or peep toes and low cut front uppers.   Strapped sandals with finer heels were popular as were heavier thicker heels for lower shoes, but by the mid fifties kitten heels and metal tipped steel stiletto heels replaced styles that owed more to designs that had been brought out to compliment the New look of 1947.

Read more about fashion in the 1950s in my other pages such as 1950's accessories and stiletto shoes on the 1950s Accessories. I also look at teenage fashion and teddy boys of the 50s and sewing dressmaking patterns from the 1950s.  Social history is covered and compared to today in the Way Society Lived in the 1950s, plus the 1950 to 1960 Brief Timeline Chart


The Second World War left women craving for glamour, style and swathes of fabric where scraps of material had once existed.   Dior's full skirted and waisted designs fulfilled all the early dreams of the feminine woman in the early 50's.  As a new, more liberated society evolved, women moved toward freer more relaxed clothes and began the move away from the dress rules and associated formality of decades.

Talent was the prerequisite to success in the 1960s. For the first time ever in any fashion era the young became the leaders of fashion.  They led with new and radically innovative fashion styles, with little girl woman androgynous looks for women that swept away the sophisticated sweater girls of the early sixties.  The picture of Twiggy in the header defines her as the epitome of a sixties baby doll woman.

Fifties Fashion Hangs on until 1966

In the 21st century it's easy to associate all fashions of the sixties with short skirts, but the short skirt was not really worn by many until 1966 and not nationwide until 1967.  Just as in the 1920s for half a decade clothes still showed signs of belonging to the late fifties.  The fore runner of the mini dress the straight shift, which had developed from the 1957 sack dress, was still well below the knee. 

In the early sixties pleated skirts set on a hip yoke basque were worn with short sleeved over blouses which were cut not unlike the shell tops of today.  Straight skirts had front and back inverted pleats called kick pleats and were ideal for doing the twist dance craze as they allowed the knee to move freely.  Straight sweater dresses in lambswool or the synthetic acrylic variety called Orlon were worn belted with waists nipped in. 

Pencil skirts were still worn with sweaters or even back to front cardigans that had been pressed super flat.  Before the days of tumble driers many women lay their washed rung out knitwear in paper tissue and then brown paper.  They put it to dry under a carpet for two days. When it was removed from the tissue, the footsteps that had pounded over the knit gave it a flat dry cleaned as new appearance.  Laundering of delicates could still be a problem, but everything changed when mass produced synthetic garments arrived.

Mary Quant

By 1966 Mary Quant was producing short waist skimming mini dresses and skirts that were set 6 or 7 inches above the knee.  It would not be right to suggest she invented the mini. In 1965 she took the idea from the 1964 designs by Courrèges and liking the shorter styles she made them even shorter for her boutique Bazaar.  She is rightly credited with making popular a style that had not taken off when it made its earlier debut.  

Quant found London girls seeking newness only too willing to try her new daring shorter dresses.  The fashion trend took off because it was so different and to wear it well you had to be youthful to get away with an outfit that was so controversial particularly among adults. The Quant style was soon known as the Chelsea Look.

The shapes Quant designed were simple, neat, clean cut and young.  They were made from cotton gabardines and adventurous materials like PVC used in rain Macs.  They almost always featured little white girly collars.

Quant was also sported a sharply cut geometric hairstyle.  One of the most famous and favoured cuts of the era was the 5 point cut by Vidal Sassoon. 

 The five point hairstyle that say 1960s.

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Provincial more bouffant variations of the asymmetric cut fringe circa 1968.





That Was The Week That Was 

The London TV Saturday night programme 'That Was The Week That Was', watched by half the UK nation had some time earlier shown a model wearing a dress with a belt that enabled the model to lift the dress up showing the possible various shorter lengths that designers were forecasting hemlines would rise to in the next six months.  The audience laughed and gasped and viewers across Britain tittered, but within less than a year the shorter length was firmly established with under twenties and soon after with their mothers too. 

Typical of the era the opening lines of the show were 'that was the week that was, it's over let it go...'

It was typical of the 1960's attitude of let's get on with the future, making it a very fast moving decade in fashion, lifestyles, innovations and morals.


 The length of a typical late sixties mini skirt.



Death of Stockings

What made the mini really acceptable was the introduction of pantyhose known mostly today as tights.  It was hard to wear a mini dress with stockings and feel confident, but with tights there was protection from the elements and no unsightly glimpse of stocking tops.  Stockings died in the mid 1960s and were only revived as leg wear in the 1990s or else kept for the bedroom. 


When tights were first introduced in the 1960s it liberated women from girdles, roll-ons and suspender belts. It's difficult to know which came first the skirt or the tights, but the introduction of seamless stockings had started the tights revolution. What is certain it is unlikely the one could have existed without the other as no groomed young lady ever went out bare legged then.

A pair of Wolsey tights cost about £1 in 1965 and with careful daily washing they could be made to last a month.  Obviously planned obsolescence has been introduced since then for all brands, as most of us now find it difficult to make them last for more than a day or two's wear.

Tights in the late 60s were often patterned with arrangements of diamonds or other motifs and a favourite colour of the era was a golden brown called American Tan.  Fishnet tights were also popular briefly.  Lurex glitter tights in gold or silver were a hit for the Christmas period. 

1960's Footwear

Lower kitten heels were a dainty alternative to stilettos  Pointed toes gave way to chisel shaped toes in 1961 and to an almond toe in 1963.


Flat boots also became popular with very short dresses in 1965 and eventually they rose up the leg and reached the knee.  A cult for Dr. Scholl clog sandals worn in offices and outdoors was all the rage in the mid to late sixties in the same way that Birkenstocks were popular in the 1990s. 

Pinafores and Knits

Knitted twin sets were still worn, but often the items were worn as separates.  Square, V or round neck pinafore dresses in plain or tartan wool fabrics were teamed with polo neck jumpers or tie neck blouses.  Other combinations were burgundy plum pinafores worn with white or mustard blouses.  A sleeved variation of the button through version of the pinafore was called a coat dress and it was worn with or without a skinny rib fitting sweater.  It was often worn with a half belt at the back waist. 

All clothes were narrow shouldered and cut in at the armholes to properly reveal the arm and its shoulder joint.  Even short sleeve versions were set well into the armscye.

Dresses of 1967 with cutaway armholes. 

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Baby doll dresses of 1966 were full and flared into tent shapes mostly with cutaway armholes or/and a halter neck.  They were made of transparent tulles, lace or chiffons plain or tree bark mounted over a matching lining or could be made of crinkled cotton crepe fabrics. 

Lace of all types from Broderie Anglaise to guipure to crochet effects over coloured linings or flesh toned linings were often seen. 

Black polo neck sweaters made popular by the Beatles cover album were often worn under check pinafore dresses.  The dresses were usually solid colours of red or purple wool material. Checks of black and white such as dog or hound's-tooth or Prince of Wales check.  Black and white was a sixties combination and was used in op art dresses and block pieced dresses worked in Mondrian style.  Black patent accessories complimented all these combinations.

One of the easiest ways to get the sixties look was to wear short little coloured gloves with a hole cut out to reveal the back of the hand.  The gloves were similar in appearance to golf gloves of today.  With the gloves coloured plastic beaded raffia knit bags and plastic coloured bangles and chandelier earrings made of large sequin discs were all high fashion accessories that lasted about 5 years.

All of these trend setting outfits and accessories could easily be obtained from Wallis, Richards, Etams or Chelsea Girl shops. 

Outdoor Clothes

Outdoor looks were achieved by using fabrics like wool, Terylene or cotton gabardine, corduroy, leather, suede or mock suede fabrics made up as car coats.  Also cheaper alternatives such as padded nylon diamond quilted anoraks or cotton anoraks with toggles and Austrian peasant embroidered braids were quite common.


The mini dominated fashion and women sometimes needed a practical alternative smarter than jeans that could be worn day or evening.  Quite formal trousers worn with a tunic, shirt, skinny rib or matching suit jacket were acceptable in certain work situations and liked as alternative evening wear when made from slinkier materials.

Trousers were made from Courtelle jersey, cotton velvet, silky or bulked textured Crimplenes, lace with satin, and Pucci style printed Tricel.  Hipster versions were popular and very flared versions developed by the late sixties, with every style ultimately translating into denim jeans. Its worth noting that the hipsters of the 60s were not quite as low cut along the pelvic line as low rise jeans of 2005.


So Many Influences on 1960's Styles

Many things influenced fashion in the 1960s.  Social mobility, daring fashion photography, easier travel abroad, the Vietnam war, new music of the Beatles and their much copied hairstyles, retro military and ethnic clothes, musicals, pop art and film all played a part.


Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s wearing her trademark pill box hat and three quarter sleeves.

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I have already looked at Mary Quant and the role of pantyhose, but other major 60's influences included the trend setting globally photographed Jackie Kennedy as well as Emilio Pucci's exotic psychedelic beautiful fabric prints, Courrèges's space age sculptured designs and the fresh approach to fashion of the then youthful designer Yves St.Laurent.

Courrèges clean cut sharp 1960's design. 

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Yves St. Laurent's much copied Mondrian inspired shift dress.


See and buy great 1960s photographs at

Rock Around the Clock

By the 1960s the Twist, the Shake and the Locomotion ousted the paired dancing couples of earlier generations. Only for the last few dances of the evening was the Smooch allowed for couples to romantically hold each other as they made their play to walk a partner home.  Some stalwarts continued to rock and jive and to wear Teddy Boy gear. 

New Synthetic Yarns in the 1960s

Many of the fashions of the 1960s existed because of the fabrics.  They introduced new fabric properties and when synthetics were mixed with natural fibres there was improved performance in wear.  Some had been invented years earlier in the 1930s and 1940s, but it was only in the 60s that huge production plants for synthetic fibres sprang up globally. Meanwhile as man made fibres gained a hold, the Yorkshire woollen industry began to contract at an alarming rate.  Job losses were inevitable and yet so often the newer man made yarn companies settled in areas where there was already a body of knowledge and a heritage of spinning, knitting or weaving.

Du Pont and ICI were the giants of synthetic manufacture producing a wide range of fabrics under trade names relating to Polyamide, Polyesters, Polyurethanes, Polyolefins, and  Polyacrylonitriles the polyvinyl derivative.  All the fibre bases could be used as bulked or fine yarns dependant on fibre extrusion method and final finishing.  The name often related to the country or plant where the fibre was produced for example Enkalon was Irish made nylon whereas Crylor, an acrylic yarn was made in France.

Polyamide is nylon.  It came under trade names such as Nylon 6, Celon, Enkalon, Perlon, Bri-Nylon, Cantrece and others. Polyester was known variously as Terylene, Dacron, Terlenka, Trevira, Kodel, Diolen, Tergal and Lavsan.  Polyurethane is the generic name of the elastomeric family of stretch fibres like Spandex, Lycra and Spanzelle.  All began to be used in bras, underwear, swimwear and sportswear.  Lycra eventually found its way into fabric mixes to aid crease recovery, wearing ease, fit and stretch.  Polyvinyl derivatives produce polyacrylonitriles and this includes Orlon, Acrylic, Crylor, Courtelle and Creslan.  Modified acrylics such as Dynel and Teklan were first used to make fake furs and fake hair for wigs in the sixties.

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