In the 1940s, during World War Two, clothing styles were affected by rationing and the limited quantities of fabric available. As a result, people tend to opt for simple outfits made using as little of these resources as possible. Although, once we get into the 1950s, when the War and rationing had ended, a new availability of types and quantities of fabric available allowed new styles to bloom, especially in Europe. In particular, fifties dresses, became enormously popular, made using lots of fabrics, with intricate detailing, such as pleats, gatherings and petticoats. Clothing became an important way to show one's place in society during this time, as it became a way to express both conformity and individual identity.
When the war ended, there followed an economic boom, as men went back to work in droves and women resumed their roles as domestic housewives. The family was one again the fundamental building block of society; a post-war baby boom began to fuel increased consumerism. If you look at any of the many clothing catalogues that were available in the fifties, they are primarily aimed at women. They also feature product descriptions that promise women that their swing style dresses and other accessories will help them find a husband, or delight the one they already have! Even the descriptions of men's clothing indicate that there was an expectation that women should be the ones to choose and purchase the clothing for their husbands.
It is also quite clear in this period of fashion that there was a certain way that ladies were expected to look. Adverts promoted the ideal body shape for women; they should have a slim waist with defined hips and shapely bust - what we would nowadays term the "hourglass." The fifties also saw the development of different types of outfits for women that each had a definite, and defined purpose, and these were:
- Clothing for domestic housework
- Clothing for running errands or conducting business
- Work Uniforms
- Maternity wear
- Party appropriate clothing for social gatherings (usually a vintage swing dress)
These different styles were meant to impress and please others and were less about the individual identity of the lady wearing them and more about conformity.
This look was prevalent throughout the fifties and so meant that there was not a huge choice of styles available. A lot of clothing tended to be similar in style and shape with variations in colour, pattern and material only. There was an expectation to match and keep up with neighbours and friends and impress others; the term "keeping up with the Jones'" epitomises this. Matching outfits were also popular, especially with mothers and daughters, and these are some of the most memorable outfits from the period.
Around the middle of the fifties there began to be a separation between adult and child styles, and this gap was filled with clothing specifically aimed at teenagers. Teenagers were influenced by the economic boom, as they began to get pocket money from their parents, and many of them picked up part-time jobs. They also started to have more leisure time, and the combination of this with more disposable income led to an increase in shopping! Around 1955, there was a definite shift in marketing towards teenagers, and this can also be seen in the music, television and films of the period.
With a greater emphasis on this age group, more formal fashion began to be targeted towards them as well, as school dances and proms were becoming an important part of a teenager's life at this time. A dress, such as the Lindy Bop 'Marilyn' Swing Dress, is definitely aimed at being worn while dancing in the high school gym with your boyfriend!
At the end of the fifties, we start to see less conservative clothing styles appear; tighter shirts, skirts and dresses become more acceptable for women to wear. Women and girls also start to get more clothing options, with pedal pushers, Bermuda shorts and tapered leggings all being big style trends as well.
Therefore, fashions from the fifties tended to showcase the mood of the decade and emphasised the desire for conformity and increase in consumerism.
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