Blue Suede Shoes: A deep dive into 1950s fashion

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During times of uncertainty (or even in times of boredom) many cope in different ways. For me, I tend to deal with my insanity and antsiness by dressing up as a 1950s housewife. Yes, you read that correctly.

Aside from the deeply rooted misogyny, discrimination and racism at the time, I have always been fascinated by 1950s fashion and culture. Even today, the 1950s are still looked upon as a cultural reset of “Americana” pride and new beginnings. However, I realize not everyone has meticulously researched the 1950s historical inaccuracies told by today’s media like I have. 


This dress, which was also seen on actress January Jones’ character in the show “Mad Men.” Photo by the author

This dress, which was also seen on actress January Jones’ character in the show “Mad Men.” Photo by the author

Therefore, I decided to put my foot down once and for all and prepare an online history lesson of my own that triples not only as a coping mechanism for myself, but also as a sort of lookbook for your viewing pleasure. 

Let’s hit the books


Photo via    variety.com

Photo via variety.com

To understand the clothing of this era, one must first understand the history behind it all. Although many view the 1950s as a vibrant era, at the beginning of the decade many families were busy rebuilding the nation after years of war. Fashion at the time was even considered more of a “western” past time or indulgence. Many countries shunned the idea since they were more focused on stabilizing their countries, as well as either practicing or deflecting the works of communism. 

For Americans, by the end of the ‘50s their hard work had paid off. Nearly every household had a television and people found they had disposable income again, which was possibly a result of women entering the workforce. These economic gains introduced a consumer society, which entailed the introduction of factory-made garments and clothing.

A dress Mrs. Maisel would die for

1950s fashion then took hold when Christian Dior introduced “The New Look” in 1947. This brought to the scene the quintessential 1950s look: a very cinched waist, pronounced bustline and billowing circle skirts. This dress, which was also seen on actress January Jones’ character in the show “Mad Men,” shows off this silhouette perfectly. Janie Bryant, a costume designer for the show, said she was heavily influenced by Grace Kelly, an actor of the time period, who routinely showed off the Dior silhouette. This type of dress would be seen at a more formal event, such as a cocktail party.


This dress may have been worn to a formal but more laid back outing, such as a dinner party or a get-together with friends.  Photo by the author

This dress may have been worn to a formal but more laid back outing, such as a dinner party or a get-together with friends. Photo by the author

It’s a date

Many believe the era was only represented by girls in poodle skirts and guys with leather jackets and greasy hair. In actuality, this look was targeted and represented by just a sliver of the population. Companies at the time had just found a new, untapped audience for advertising: tweens and teenagers. 

Many wore more conservative outfits such as button-up sweaters and party dresses that went down to their calves. This dress may have been worn to a formal but more laid back outing, such as a dinner party or a get-together with friends. This dress, made by Vicky Vahn Junior, was another example of popular manufactured clothing of the time. 

Big girl pants of power


This outfit is inspired by what women wore in the 1950s to go to a beach or picnic.  Photo by the author

This outfit is inspired by what women wore in the 1950s to go to a beach or picnic. Photo by the author

Although many recognize the misogynistic flaws of the 1950s, women still made it known that this was a time of change. Many view fashion at the time solely as over-dressed women in dresses and aprons in the kitchen. However, women in the 1950s were the first to really enjoy the freedom of wearing pants as a means of acceptable fashion during the time. An outfit like this one could be seen worn on a nice sunny day outside, perhaps at a beach or picnic. Many also sported woven fisherman basket purses such as this one — a popular trend derived from actual fisherman creel baskets.

For this look, although not vintage, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Lilly Pulitzer pants I chose for this outfit were pretty historically accurate, as many of women’s pants did not have front zippers or buttons. Putting zippers on the side of shorts and pants was common, as this helped create the illusion of a cinched-waist silhouette. 

All these pieces (except for the white pants, pink blouse and Keds) are 1950s vintage clothing found at Tova’s Vintage Shop of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. 

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Caroline LeCour is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at caroline.lecour@uconn.edu.

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