The fashion world definitely went through a fundamental, social, and conceptual shift in the mid-20th century with the arrival of Christian Dior and his models who wore garments with enhanced busts, open shoulders, and fitted waists that culminated in long flared skirts. The Dior woman was always fitted with wide hats, gloves, and high-heel shoes among other accessories.
Thus, the new and elegant female figure departed, once and forever, from the sobriety and restraint they had endured for centuries, particularly what women had inherited from Victorian times. The milestone of this momentous change was the presentation in Paris of the Corolle Dior collection on February 12, 1947, ushering in the new “Golden Age” of fashion and haute couture.
The birth of the “New Look,” an apt name coined by Claire Snow, editor of Harper’s Bazaar, marked a turning point in the aesthetics of fashion. Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Chanel, and Balmain were perhaps the most prominent examples of the new image. The 1950s shaped the decade that saw the division between adult and youth fashion. This division would later be blurred by contemporary designers inspired by the transformation and relevance of pop art and popular culture.
The adult fashion, finely represented by the “Dior style,” was elegant, worldly and sophisticated. Meanwhile, young women dared to wear loose and informal clothes like jeans, baggy sweaters, and skirts with flat shoes. The need for renewal and differentiation drove the rise of couturiers and the “do it yourself” revolution.
The movies were a critical factor in the creation of fashion trends. Famous stars like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot adopted — for them and women in general — the fusion of these two feminine styles so different from each other. We owe them the popularity of loose shirts with skirts or pants and flat shoes for everyday life, and on the other hand, elegant gowns for parties, formal events or nights out.
Men also followed the fashion trends: the white cotton bottomed-down shirt or with short sleeves, a black leather jacket, and jeans was actively promoted by the “look” masterfully epitomized by the teen idols of the time; Elvis Presley and James Dean.
In 1946, the French designer Louis Réard created the bikini, which immediately was labeled “a sinful garment”, to the point, that Réard’s models refused to wear it in public. However, and thanks again to the movies, actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress dared to wear it on the screen, definitely affirming the two-piece bathing suit as the preferred swimwear for women all over the world.
Hair could be straight, curly, long or short; the important thing was the frequent color change and blond was the most demanded hue. Accessories started to be indispensable. Large glittery earrings, pearl necklaces, scarves, sunglasses, and wide belts became key pieces in feminine attire.
To enhance their face women used eyeliner on the upper eyelid, thick eyebrows shaped like “dove’s wings” and the lips were highlighted in red, fleshy, very “Marilyn” tones.
The 1950s marked, no doubt, a definite change towards a new appearance that shifted women’s perception of fashion and themselves. ■