Whatever happened to the 50’s?
A poised head will make you look confident even when you don’t feel it. (Gestures Younger or Older, November 1957)
An unexaggerated bosom, a concave middle, a close hipline, a seemingly long leg. Even if you weren’t born with this figure, you can achieve it. That was the new figure, declaring the 1950’s body line. There were new ways to obtain perfect undulations: diet, exercise, massage, posture, brassiere, corset and finally, there was a cut of the new fashion themselves, with bulk placed one way or
In 1950, we celebrated a half-century of fashion, not realizing that it had come a full circle. Instead of a whalebone, there was elastication; propriety had been replaced by poise. Tiny waists and visible curves returned. The elusive beauty was back. There were, though, two new issues to be addressed:bclass and age, as defined by dress. The rules were about to change. Invigorated by the new decade, designers continued their experimental line. In September 1950, Paris focused on the trumpet skirt.vThe following month, the watchword was ‘oblique’: Christian Dior’s oblique corselet, EdwardvMolyneux’s oblique overskirt, Jacques Fath’s oblique fin-flare and Cristobal Balenciaga’s oblique wishbone buttoning positioned on a wool Ottoman suit.
While Paris was enchanted with acute angles, London played safe. At the beginning of the 50’s it was fabric technology, not design talent that was seen as being the future of British fashion. Nylon was produced in a huge new factory in the middle of Monmouthshire, while British wool- acknowledged as the best in the world- continued to be woven by craftsmen in Scotland, Yorkshire and the west of England. In 1951, in came Chinese jackets, collarless collars, lemon yellow and mauve. Skirts that hung 13 to 15 inches from the ground, natural waistlines and black-and- white themes continued. Dior’s collection was his best since his first sensation. Balenciaga equalled his last year’s wonder. These top names of the fashion industry were joined by Pierre Balmain, Jean Patou and Madame Grès. Thy whys and wherefores of length were translated into question-and- answer sessions: Where is the waistline? How full is the skirt? What about the sleeves? The new corsetry controlled and redistributed weight, but there was no room for manoeuvre (practical much?) Dieting was fashionable, Givenchy made its debut. Audrey Hepburn, who later became his muse, was heralded as a combination of ‘ultra-fashion plate and a ballet dancer.’ On June 1953, Queen Elizabeth was crowned in Westminster Abbey. International fashion was back on track. In Paris, Dior was in the eye of the storm, London designers stayed true to their vision and in 1956, Vogue concluded, ‘London is not a city for revolutionaries: in fashion, as in everything else, she shows modernisation, painstaking detail, above all, a deep consideration for people. Here, the couturiers design for their customers, there are no stunts. But that is not to say there is no news.’
Coco Chanel reopened her salon at 31 rue Cambon Paris and showed her first post-war collection in 1954. She was 71. Knowing that her classic style had been relentlessly copied, she finally conceded that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. By the end of the 1950’s, synthetic fabrics flooded the market and stockings were trending! Space travel was on the horizon, the Futuristic movement spearheaded by Pierre Cardin was underway. The gulf between England and America was narrowing. New York became the IT fashion capital, Yves Saint Laurent took the stage and produced the Trapeze line- simply the most important and fully formulated in Paris. What did fashion represent? Decoration? Armour? Disguise? A mood of society? For millions of working people, clothes were a symbol of independence, not (I repeat- NOT!) a sign of delinquent.