During World War II fashion responded to the restrained mood and economy of the war. Many fashion houses closed during occupation of Paris.
Fashion History from 1940 – 1950
During the World War II (1939 – 1945), all types of cloth were needed for a variety of wartime purposes, and material for clothing was severely rationed and limited for each year and its number decreased steadily as the war progressed. From 1940 onward, no more than thirteen feet (four meters) of cloth was permitted to be used for a coat and a little over 3 feet (1 meter) was all that allowed for a blouse. No belt could be over 1.5 inches (3 centimeters) wide. Despite this, haute couture tried to keep its flag flying. Fashions of the era emphasized shorter skirts than ever before, buttons for any type of clothes were limited to three per item, evening wear was also shortened and women were encouraged to make do with ankle socks and bare legs.
Among young men in the War Years the zoot suit became popular. After the war, the “American Look” became very popular among men in Europe. Certain London manufacturers ushered in a revival of Edwardian elegance in men’s fashion, adopting a tight-fitting retro style that was intended to appeal to traditionalists. This look, originally aimed at the respectable young man about town, was translated into popular fashion as the “Teddy boy” style.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, designers were tired of the utilitarian, minimalist clothing of the wartime era. Paris fashion, which had fallen from its position as the capital of the fashion world after World War II, made a strong comeback after the war in part due to the international success of couturier Christian Dior’s first women’s collection “Corelle” which went down in fashion history as the “New Look” in February 1947. His new clothing styles which emphasized rounded shoulders, full skirts, and narrow waists was so successful that it went down in fashion history. The “New Look” became revolutionary, strongly popular and influenced fashion and other designers for many years.
Christian Dior’s New Look from 1947:
Fashion History from 1950 – 1960
The 1950s were years of nuclear anxiety, economic expansion, social conservation and the rise of American popular culture. Yet even as bourgeois standards of propriety and “good taste” were expressed in fashion through girdles, hats and gloves, young people were developing fashions of their own.
As the installation of central heating became more widespread the age of minimum-care garments began and lighter textiles and, eventually, synthetics, were introduced. A new youth style emerged in the 1950s and changed the focus of fashion forever. During the same period of the time, in men’s fashion ‘plaid’ was very common, both for shirts and suits, which was often viewed as a symbol of rebellion and banned in schools.
Three of the most prominent of the Parisian couturiers in the 1950s were Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Pierre Balmain. Balenciaga is well known as one of the few couturiers in fashion history who could use their own hands to design, cut, and sew the models which symbolized the height of his artistry. In 1951, he totally transformed the silhouette, broadening the shoulders and removing the waist. Followed by the tunic dress which he designed in 1955 and which later developed into the chemise dress of 1957. The French designer Givenchy created a sensation with his separates, which could be mixed and matched at will. His first couture house was opened in 1952. Balmain liked to dress up sophisticated women luxurious elegance, simple tailoring, and a more natural look. His clientele was typified by the tailored glamor of the “New Look”, with its ample bust, narrow waist, and full skirts. Along with his haute couture work, the talented businessman pioneered a ready-to-wear range called Florilege and also launched a number of highly successful perfumes.
In 1954, after closing different boutiques in the war years, Coco Chanel’s strong comeback went in history. She detested the “New Look” to the fashion world and presented a collection which contained a whole range of ideas that would be adopted and copied by women all over the world: her famous little braided suit with gold chains, shiny costume jewelry, silk blouses in colors that matched the suit linings, sleek tweeds, monogrammed buttons, flat black silk bows, boaters, quilted bags on chains, and evening dresses and furs that were marvels of simplicity.
By the end of the decade off-the-peg clothing had become much more popular than in the past. It was literally the start-shot for the general public to access the fashionable styles for affordable prices.
See some beautiful designs of the most influental fashion designers of the 1950′s:
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