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THROWBACK THURSDAY: THE FIFTIES

18.04.13

This Throwback Thursday, we go back to the 1950s where optimisim reigned supreme after the austerity of war. The decade that brought us televisions in the home, 'the teenager' and rock 'n' roll, the Fifties was when much of the world let its hair down and fashion really stepped it up a notch with haute couture galore.

The Fifties marked the beginning of the 'consumer' age. Work was plentiful in the UK, wages were higher and rations were gone. This led to new houses being built and people filling them with all the mod-cons; from gadgets and gizmos to fridges, washing machines and televisions (many of which were purchased ahead of the televised Queen's Coronation). People also started buying cars, holidaying abroad, shopping in supermarkets and making babies! Overall a very optimistic decade after the somewhat austere Forties.

Film

Actors like Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, James Dean and  Marlon Brando introduced sex appeal into a conservative age and became worldwide stars throughout the Fifties. Alfred Hitchcock was at the peak of his career, with films like Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief and Rear Window, starring Grace Kelly (whose wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco was televised and her dress cited as the world's 'most elegant and best remembered' of all time).

Music, literature and the arts

Music in the Fifties started with crooners like Frank Sinatra and finished up with rock 'n' roll from the likes of like Elvis and Chuck Berry. It was the age that led to 'the teenager', with rock 'n' rollers in the US and Teddy Boys in the UK. In the art world, pop was born, abstract flourished, surrealism survived and the Gil Elvgren pin-up became iconic being used in advertising for mega brands such as Coca Cola. Literature introduced the 'beat generation', a group of post-war American writers who became a cultural phenomena. 'Beat' culture innovated in style and experimented with drugs and alternative sexualities, Jack Kerouac's novel, On The Road, sums this up perfectly.

Fashion

The decade of 'haute couture', where designers like Balenciaga and Christian Dior created dresses for high society ladies, the Fifties also saw cut-price versions appearing in store windows, heralding an accessibility to high fashion on the high street. Teens started the decade as 'mini me' versions of their parents, but rock 'n' roll changed all that and the teenager, with a whole new style, was born. The Fifties also welcomed new, synthetic and easy-care fabrics like drip-dry nylon, acrylic, polyester and spandex leading to the development of everyday fashion.

Womenswear

1950s fashion began with Christian Dior’s 'new look' which consisted of a full skirts and dresses, pointed busts, small waists, and rounded shoulder lines. Ladylike glamour was key; seamed stockings, gloves, framed handbags and pill box hats all accessorised the look, and Charles Jourdan created the stiletto heel, introducing a much sexier shoe than ever seen before. The Fifties also celebrated curves, creating  the 'bombshell'. Girls wore wiggle dresses, pencil skirts, pedal pushers and natty knits which hugged their figures, and pin-ups like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page introduced us to the rauchier side of beachwear and the bikini.

Menswear

Conservatism was reflected in menswear during the early '50s, when most men wore trim, dark-coloured suits to work in shades of blue, brown and grey, topped off with a hat (think Don Draper in the early series' of  Mad Men). While teenagers were inspired by films like James Dean's Rebel without a Cause and the Beatnik culture, donning leather, Levi's and Converse to create the look. The Ivy League look of chinos, letter sweaters and blazers was also popular, providing off-duty preps with a relaxed look. While in the UK, Brylcream-ed Teddy Boys in long jackets, drainpipe trousers and winkle picker shoes pioneered youth culture.

Stay tuned next week when we look back to the swinging Sixties.