Fashion in the Fabulous Fifties: Ladies Wear!

Hi everyone I’m Dee and Bob has invited me to be a guest author on his Fabulous site! As a retro-gal I love mid-century fashion, particularly from the 50’s decade. I guess you could say I’m obsessed with 50’s clothes.

The 1950’s were a time when both women and men took great pride in how they looked. The war was over and it was time for women to be feminine again and to pull out all the stops in their clothing choices.

The most prominent look for women in the 1950’s was the ultra-feminine “fit and flair” silhouette. This was introduced by designer Christian Dior. French Romanticism was a big influence on women’s fashions in the 50’s. The tiny nipped in waist and the elegant flared skirt was a look not only for the most fashionable ladies, but for everyday ladies as well.

Now, when most people think about what ladies wore in the 1950’s, they think of poodle skirts, soft cardigan sweaters and saddle shoes, finished off with a scarf. Although that look is probably to this day the most iconic, it is only one of the styles from that era. The poodle skirt look was strictly for young women (teen-agers) in high school. And not even they wore poodle skirts all the time! Before I knew any better, I used to think that young women in the 50’s wore nothing but poodle skirts. I used to picture them sitting in class, their hair in ponytails, dressed in poodle skirts complete with petticoats as if they were going to jump up any minute and perform a number from Grease. But in reality, the poodle skirt ensemble was only worn to the Sock-Hop on a Saturday night.  In school, young ladies wore simple, wool skirts, with a modest sweater or blouse or sometimes a long “shirt” dress that buttoned up to the very top of the collar. In warmer weather, they wore cotton dresses that hit way past the knee, but above the ankle. The necklines were relatively high, compared to the dresses that came later in history.

Both blouses and dresses alike had Peter Pan collars, and many blouses included built in ties that were neatly made into a bow. Everything was neat and tidy and extremely conservative. Gals did not ever wear pants to school (that was against the dress code for all schools, both public and private.) School was a serious business and dressing appropriately was not an option. That said, the saddle back shoes were indeed appropriate for daily wear and worn in school, as they were both neat-looking and practical.

On weekends, some girls would trade their skirts in for jeans. In those days jeans (or “dungarees” as they called them) were somewhat loose, with a high rise and ALWAYS rolled up at the cuffs. Sporty gals would wear jeans with a cotton button-up shirt, perhaps with a gingham plaid pattern, or stripes. Gals didn’t have many opportunities to wear dungarees in public, but if you were just spending a casual day around the house or playing softball, they were acceptable.

Young women, particularly the teen set, also wore cropped pants called “pedal pushers”. These were high waisted and usually black or sometimes other solid colors. They could also be in the popular black and white gingham print. To this day, these kinds of pants are a classic style.

The next most common look of the 50’s for women was the “Housewife” look. This was basically a house or “day dress” that was comfortable enough to wear all day doing house work. The dresses ranged from cute to dowdy-looking depending on the patterns. They usually had a belt to nip in the waist, a full skirt and were made of cotton. They were “tea length” falling past the knee, but above the ankle. Patterns could be floral, striped, polka-dot, plaid or gingham. Colors were not generally too bright (that came later).

My favorite look of this era is the Formal Wear, or what women wore for special occasions. This could also be considered the “Golden Age of Hollywood” look, which would include the the fabulous, iconic dresses of stars such as Elizabeth Taylor. Special Occasion dresses of that day also included the classic 1950’s Prom Dress, with its sweeping skirt, sweetheart neckline and multiple layers of tulle. Older ladies also wore dramatic dresses with full skirts, although their’s were a bit more sophisticated. For example, Prom dresses were often a girlish pink, while adult women might wear dresses that were black with chic-looking gold accents. The look was opulent and glamorous, and often included an accessory shrug or fur wrap around the shoulders. Formal wear dresses could be strapless or not, some with only one shoulder.

Overall, the common elements of dresses from that era consisted of one or more of the following: a bateau neckline, a sweetheart neckline, taffeta, chiffon, Chantilly lace (yes, like the song!), tulle, and velvet.

Not all dresses were fit and flare, although those are the most remembered from that era. Some were straight and often included a matching jacket could be removed. The one thing all dresses had in common from that time is the length: nothing was above the knee. Like I tell my readers, if it goes above the knee, it’s not authentic 50’s!

Pencil skirts paired with a boat-neck top is another famous look from the 50’s. However, the skirts were not completely form-fitting. Just like with the straight dresses, there was some room between the person and the garment. Modern day adaptations tend to make “wiggle” dresses and skirts too tight and clingy. Nothing was skin-tight in the 50’s.

Finally, I’d like to add that women of the 1950’s always erred on the side of “over dressing” as opposed to under dressing. They wore tailored skirts with matching jackets just to run everyday errands, and no lady ever went ANYWHERE in the 50’s without her hat and gloves!

Fashion Examples from the 50’s including the famous Fit and Flair and straight dresses. Note the calf length of both styles.

So I hope you enjoyed my run-down on 1950’s women’s fashion. For more fashion segments featuring the Fabulous Fifties, please visit my blog Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever

I’d also like to thank Bob for having me as a guest author, it’s been a pleasure.



2 comments on “Fashion in the Fabulous Fifties: Ladies Wear!”
  1. Lisa says:

    Great article! Although I grew up in the 80’s I adore the fashion from the 50’s. Honestly, I do picture women wearing poodle skirts and white Peter Pan collared shirts. I didn’t know that none of the clothing was tight fighting. I envision older, classier women wearing long, tight fitting skirts w/ turtle necks and pumps. I look forward to reading your blogs. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bob says:

    Thanks so much for a great article! Like I said a real 50’s fashionista folks! Thanks again Dee, well detailed


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