My husband found a book for me at a second-hand bookstore titled Fifty Fashion Looks that Changed the 1950s, by Paula Reed. I’ve spent many recent afternoons flipping through the pages, taking note of the era’s trends that are still prominent today. The first example that caught my eye was the classic party dress. The 1950s were known for formal floor-length gowns; often worn to perfection by idols like Grace Kelly. But also, for the more common medium-length dresses; worn at family gatherings and cocktail parties. Both styles were elegant and classic and are still very common today as seen on the red carpet or at local retail stores.
After reading through the iconic fashion looks of the fifties era, I felt inspired, wanting to incorporate more vintage-style looks and pieces into my wardrobe for the winter season. While not all pieces are reflective of the 1950s, these five items have stood the test of time as I think they have and will remain classics no matter the era.
Cocktail Dress – In keeping with the 1950s theme, my first item is a green lace cocktail dress, reflective of the fifties era. I’ve had this dress for two years and it is by far my favorite dress for the winter party season. Oddly enough, I almost didn’t buy it when I spotted it two years ago, walking through Montreal’s Le Plateau neighborhood on a fall afternoon. I needed a dress to wear for a friend’s wedding. Down to the wire, I went shopping with my Mum and found a great dress on sale. Right after buying my steal of a dress, did we walk into the next store, which happened to sell a mix of both authentic and vintage inspired goods. When my Mum and I saw the green dress, she convinced me to try it on. Of course I did, and she insisted that the dress fit perfectly. As mothers and daughters often have the urge to disagree with one another, I decided to be stubborn and told her it was silly to buy another dress when I had just bought one. She continued to be persistent of her preference to the latter and eventually, I bought the dress, spiteful that she preferred this one to the one I chose. The next day, when I tried on the dress for the wedding, it felt perfect. I called My mum to confess that of course, she was right, as always and we had a good laugh. While I may not have embodied the elegance of Grace Kelly the day I bought the dress, I certainly achieved her style the day of the wedding. I digress – on to item two.
The Oversized Button Down Shirt – Let’s flash back to the forties, to Katharine Hepburn, a long time favorite of mine for her incredible performance in The Philadelphia Story. If you haven’t seen that movie, I highly recommend it and I actually did a blog post about the film, but I suggest seeing the film before reading the post. She was a woman who always protested convention, even when it came to fashion. Her style was sleek, but went against the rules. Instead of skirts, she wore trousers; instead of sweaters, button down shirts. With her exaggerated makeup look, she appeared sophisticated, but incredibly natural. Her style has remained prevalent over time. In the seventies, Diane Keaton too was known for high-waisted paints and blouses. In the nineties, Sharon Stone went to the Oscars in a floor length formal skirt, but wore it with a men’s Gap button-down. Today, we are fortunate to live in a society where there is more freedom of expression. Back in the forties, when roles and expectations were so traditionally defined, Katharine taught us the fluidity of fashion.
The Black Turtleneck – This piece reminds me so much of the swinging sixties. There is something about the black turtleneck that makes me think of the pop culture of the era. I remember one early photo of John Lennon in a black turtleneck and I thought he looked so confident and handsome. Over the past couple of years, turtlenecks have once again become a trend for the winter months. The great thing about this article of clothing is that it goes with anything, whether you’re pairing it with a cropped pant or a pea coat!
The Fedora – This look goes back decades, but it is an accessory that has always been a favorite of mine. I’m pretty upset with myself actually, because in the early 2000s when these were once again all the rage, I had a tweed fedora and wore it everywhere. Now it’s long gone and I wish I had kept it. Lesson learned: fashion is cyclical, so make sure to keep the items that will once again be considered vintage. For the winter months, it’s a go-to accessory for mild afternoon walks.
The Camisole – Though definitely not as formal as a vintage cocktail dress, this item can be dressed up, as worn by the flappers in the roaring twenties. For a more casual look, the camisole has also been a less formal piece of attire when worn in the nineties with combat boots, a time when alternative styles were finally en vogue. What I find incredible about this item is how much it has evolved over time. Traditionally, this item was a woman’s undergarment and before the 1920s, women were restricted to multiple layers of clothing that included corsets, slips, pantyhose, and camisoles, just to name a few. Each layer represented a woman’s class and respect for the norms within society. From the twenties onward however, women’s fashion and more importantly society’s expectations, have changed. Clothing items such as corsets and camisoles have over time, become articles of clothing. The camisole has been a fashion item in almost every modern decade and is still popular today. What’s incredible about this piece is that it demonstrates that fashion trends can often be at the forefront of social change.