Political and Social Influence on Fifties Fashions

By Denise Meechan

Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O:
Unforgettable icons of style.

The fashions they wore were followed in frenzy across America- and the world- in the 1950s and continue to influence designers today.

Recently spotted on the runways of Alexander McQueen, Luca Luca and Chanel were cuts and tailorings that paid homage to the Golden Era.

The clean, classic lines and conservatively flattering looks of mid-century clothing often contrasted with the political and social climate of the times.

Designers today continue to copy the trends in respect and awe of the irony of the decade and its Fashion. For each refined style designed in this period, the country experienced a radical social change.

The credit card system was introduced in the 1950s giving birth to consumerism and imbedding Americans with a disposable attitude toward wealth.

But the careless, sloppy outlook on finance was covered up on the catwalks with conservative, knee-length skirt and high-necked sweaters.

Restrictions placed on Americans during wartime were lifted. Socially, fashion should have followed by loosening the belts and widening the sleeves.

However, this trend had to wait as new artificial fabrics were developed that kept the clothing close.

Fabrics like Nylon were used generously in sportswear, lingerie and socks allowing form-fitting clothing with more elasticity and staying power.

The younger generation chose fashion to illustrate their rebellion of the uptight societal norms.

Nothing could illustrate the paradox between conservative social mores and the new social awareness of young people, like the Rock n‘ Roll attitude in fashion that burst onto the runways in the 1950s.

Flaunting sex and raw energy in the styles of rock stars like Elvis Presley and film stars like James Dean directly conflicted the sexual attitudes of the era.

Women were still expected to remain virgins until marriage and it was illegal to sell or use birth control in most states.

Yet rebellious looks of tight t-shirts and denim jeans rocked the runways and the teen magazines- building a generation gap that has yet to be filled.

But Rock n’ Roll was more than music and more than style. Along with film, television and magazines, it created a generation previously ignored on the social maps of past.

Teenagers were identified as a separate group- differentiated from their parents and younger siblings with their own style and tastes and marketing value.

The anarchic attitude toward society created a generation gap that has yet to be filled.

No other decade has captured such a wide divide of class and social structure on the catwalks or of the social oxymoron America has copyrighted into its national structure.

This was the time in which a respect for the Past (shown in the classic pill box hat and short white gloves worn by ladies who lunch and Presidents’ Wives)- melted with the new sexy Cheesecake fashions (seen on every young Hollywood starlet).

When the desirable Housewife look (doll-like frilly aprons around nip-waisted skirts) walked hand-in-hand with the outright rebellious Rock look worn by these housewives’ children.

It is this highly complex and thrilling social abundance of styles that ricocheted on the runways past and continues to dominate on the catwalks of present.

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