Fifties Dress Styles – Popular Vintage Style Looks

Today many women find that jeans and tee-shirts are the most used items in their wardrobes. However, fashion in the 1950s was very different. In the 50s, dresses were a wardrobe staple, and they came in a variety of colours - yet there were just two main popular silhouettes. A ladies shoulders had to be seen to be narrow and soft, and the bodice was tight down to the waist - which was pulled in as small as possible. On a typical fifties dress, the skirt was where the main two silhouettes were seen - either a very tight sheath like skirt or the total opposite, a very full skirt.

The availability of fabrics in the 1950s was quite good as after the end of the war women tended to have access to a wide variety of fabrics from which to make their dresses out of. The choice of fabric for a dress was, and still is, very important as it can make the dress look more elegant or casual whatever the silhouette. For example, if a fifties dress were made from cotton it was for a woman's casual wardrobe, where a silk shantung would be used for a dress for an evening occasion.

The use of colour was also quite popular in 50s dresses, with a wide spectrum from pastels to bold bright being seen. Jewel tones such as ruby, emerald and amethyst were popular for swing dresses as these tended to be worn in the evenings. All-over patterns were popular too - everything from small florals, through gingham checks, to more novelty themes such as science fiction characters. During the end of the decade, it became chic to wear patterns in a border around the bottom of the skirt to make a dramatic fashion statement.

Embellishment was a key trend on fifties dresses too, with hardly any dresses being left plain. Be it a fancy collar, such as a peter pan collar, mandarin collar or shawl collar, or some fancy buttons - women in the 1950s liked to put their own stamp on a garment to make themselves stand out from the crowd.

Some of the popular Fifties Dress styles are:

The Swing Dress


                                                                        Orange Gingham Audrey Dress

The Swing Dress is the most iconic style in 50s dresses and was launched by Dior in the aftermath of the Second World War as a reaction to the years of rationing. The bodice on a swing dress is very fitted to the natural waistline, which then billows out to a full skirt. These dresses were designed to be worn with a thin underskirt for ease of movement, or you could slip on a net petticoat to give added fullness.

Most of the adornment on the swing dress comes on the bodice. The bodice was usually tailored close to the skin, but a variety of necklines were seen - including scoop, boat and sweetheart.

The Shirtwaister Dress


                                                                 Voodoo Vixen “Keira” Vintage Dress

The shirtwaister was the uniform of all housewives in the 1950s! Based on the popular swing dress style, it featured a button down top that ended at the waist. The buttons would then extend a little bit below the waist to allow for ease of getting into and out of the shirtwaister dress. Housewives in the 50s loved it as it was easy to put on, easy to move in and easy to clean. It was made in cotton for daywear, but with its growing popularity it did move into evening wear too, where it was made in such gorgeous fabrics as taffeta and silk, and embellished with rhinestones and crystals!

The Wiggle Dress


                                                    Lindy Bop “Vanessa” Polka Dot Pink Dress

The other popular silhouette for 50s dresses was the total opposite of the full skirted swing dress style, although certain elements were the same. The bodice remains slim-fitting and cut close to the body, but where the skirt on the swing dress is full and wide, on a wiggle dress it was as closely fitted to the body as possible. Usually, a vent or kick pleat was added to the back to allow the wearer to actually walk!

Whatever style of fifties dress you prefer, head on over to our website at to see a wide array of swing dresses, wiggle dresses and much more.

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