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Fashion on Film: How 1950s Fashion Shaped the Movies of the Era

We've done the 20s, 30s, and 40s, now it's time for the 50s

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We’ve now done the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, which means the next installment of our Fashion on Film archives is the wonderful flirty 1950s. For the first time in nearly two decades, the world was in a much better place than it had previously been, which meant less worries and more fun.

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The Great Depression was done, and World War II had been over since 1945, so the transitional period from the late to 1940s to the early 1950s was a much smoother one than the previous two decades.

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As we’ve been doing with the decades version of this series, we’re revisiting the fun fashions of the 1950s, while taking a deeper look at a film world that was on the verge of major technological advances with a new crop of young stars to match. Let’s revisit the exciting 1950s decade.

1950s Fashion

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Many of the themes and trends developed in women’s fashion during the course of the 1940s, expanded and carried over into the 1950s. Tapered pencil skirts and dresses outlining women’s curves and “lines” were still very much a popular trend (that continued to rise due to Christian Dior creating the “New Look” dress), along with more playful pieces such as poodle skirts, polka-dot themed clothing, and uniquely designed dresses thanks in part to the rising superstardom of young actresses along the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn.

While dresses and skirts still dominated in terms of day-to-day fashion, laid back casual wear was beginning to become more accepted.

Remember, there was once a time where women couldn’t even wear pants (which Katharine Hepburn changed), so to now see women wearing pants, jeans, and even shorter skirts was a testimony to just how much things had changed in women’s fashion.

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Introduced during this decade was the Beatnik style, which was basically fitted designs with dark clothing, and something called Rockabilly fashion, which was a mixture of women’s clothing inspired by rock ‘n' roll and country music. 

Sexier figure hugging dresses such as the halter and square neck, are additional trends that would start to become popular in the latter half of the 1950s thanks in part, once, again, to Marilyn Monroe, and other fashion trends for women included: wide-brimmed hats, jewelry that was simple yet eye-catching, peep-toe shoes, and cat-eye glasses (which would become even more trendy the following decade).

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As for the fellas, the 1950s were the first time that we saw a separation between teenage and adult fashion (the same can be applied for women as well). The men of the 50s still loved their hats and glasses (spectacles in part), but began experimenting with vests as opposed to the traditional long coats they had opted for in previous decades.

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Casual sports coats, shirts, and pants (which the guys had begun more comfortable playing with in the 1940s) were beginning to become the designated outfit of choice when not at work primarily due to its comfort, along with just about anything corduroy. If it was corduroy anything, you can rest assured that the fellas were wearing it.

Towards the end of the decade, that Rockabilly fashion that we talked about earlier with the ladies, carried over into mens fashion as well, with young teens and twenty somethings basically dressing like Elvis and John Travolta in Grease (which was set in the 1950s).

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This meant leather jackets, jeans, shirts with bow ties, and suits that weren’t the “standard traditional colors” such as pink.

1950s Film

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1950s film culture represented a lot of what was becoming popular in real-time. As we mentioned before, the doom and gloom that the two previous decades had represented was gone, and the fun was back. Drive-in movies, beach culture, and even fast food restaurants were things that were attached to the decade, and as a result, the storylines of films (which could be very dark at times) began changing into more lighthearted playful ones as well.

By this point actors and actresses that had made their debut in the 1930s and 1940s like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were now the veterans in the industry, and young stars like Elizabeth Taylor (who had debuted as a child star in the 40s), Marlon Brandon, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, and Audrey Hepburn were the new kids in town. Since kids, teenagers, and 20-somethings had a tight grip on popular culture (a sign of things to come), more and more films were being created and marketed specifically for them.

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Just like with our other articles, below are seven movies from the 1950s that you can check out to familiarize yourself with the decade.

1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

You know that infamous black and white shot of Elizabeth Taylor standing up against the wall in a satin fitted dress with a wine glass in her hands? That my friends was from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a 1958 film starring Liz Taylor and Paul Newman about an alcoholic football player that reunites with his father. There are some twists and turns, but you’ll have to watch the movie for that!

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2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

This cast lineup was insane. You had a young Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, not to mention, the movie itself was yet another film based on a play from Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire is about a rather disturbed young man by the name of Blanche Dubois who decides to move in with his sister and brother-in-law.

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3. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Elvis’ imprint on the Hollywood film landscape isn’t nearly as appreciated as it should be. He had some pretty excellent movies. One of those is 1957’s Jailhouse Rock. The film was a musical drama about a young man recently released from prison after serving time for manslaughter that goes on to become a rock star. Jailhouse Rock was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.

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4. The Blob (1958)

You’ve probably already seen and heard of The Blob if you are heavily into sci-fi. It’s also possible that you’ve more than likely seen the 1988 remake as opposed to the original. If you fit into this category (or haven’t seen the movie at all), you should check out the original 1958 version as you can see not only where it all began, but how the 1988 version was able to take this original concept and evolve it.

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5. Night Passage (1957)

No movie decade is complete without a good ole country Western film. Starring James Stewart and Audie Murphy, Night Passage is about a fired railroad man that wounds up being rehired to carry a ten thousand dollar payroll in secret. 

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6. Treasure Island (1950)

If you are looking for a 1950s Walt Disney adventure film, then look no further than the 1950 edition of Treasure Island, which is about the treasure seeking adventures of Jim Hawkins and pirate Captain Long John Silver.

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7. Born Yesterday (1950)

We’ll leave you with the Academy Award winning Born Yesterday. Starring Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden, and Howard St. John, the film is about a tycoon that hires a private tutor to teach his significant other about proper etiquette. There’s a surprise in here as well, but once again you’ll have to watch the movie for that.

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So as you can see, the 1950s were a super fun decade full of entertainment. We’ll catch you next time with the captivating decade that was the 1960s.

And if you are looking for a couple of brands that specify in 1950s fashion here are two:

Carla Busso

Fall Neutrals
Carla Busso

Another brand with a 1950s inspired line is Carla Busso's Handbags. This collection contains popular baguette handbags, crossbodys, tote bags, and maxi bags. The line ranges from effortlessly transitional bags for day to night to pure simple shapes inspired by 1950s timeless handbags.

They have an array of colors and plenty of neutral patterns that are perfect to complement the Fall aesthetic. The range is wide but the quality of these uniquely designed bags withholds their luxurious texture and architecture. 

See y'all in the 60s.

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