FEAR OF THE BOMB
The ENIAC Computer Age
June 25, 1950: the Korean War begins
Senator McCarthy declares knowledge of communists running the State
Cold War hysteria: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial
1951: Beat Generation Jack Kerouac writes On the Road
Korean War ends 1952
1953: Eisenhower elected President
1954: Elvis Presley records his first song
1954: Coco Chanel launches successful comeback
1955: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
1957: First Soviet satellite named Sputnik launched
September, 1957: The Little Rock Nine give the Civil Rights Movement
U-2 incident inflames the Cold War
New Year's Day 1959: Castro topples Batista's Cuban rule
New fabrics: acrylic (1950), polyester (1953), and spandex (1959)
is the custom that whenever a woman has made some notable
advance into a
man's domain she will reassure him by adopting, for a spell, an
ultra feminine style of dress."
1950s will be a decade forever linked to the advent of television, the
American baby boom and the culture of the middle class suburb.
This affected women in a profound way. The end of World War II
created a nesting period that is unparalleled in the 20th century and
weddings were the conduit. American society pushed ahead with an era of new
conservatism and some say that if you weren't married by the age of 27
years, well, good luck to you "old maid."
Encouraged by the G.I. Bill, many newlyweds had
moved out of the city and into affordable suburban housing. Women who had
worked during the War saw their jobs eliminated once the
men returned. 1946 magazine advertisements
showed a model woman as a perky housewife who could manage a happy
husband and home without complaint. Women were bombarded with images
and articles of domesticity. One magazine even went so far as to
suggest vacuuming while wearing spike heels and pearls, "just in
case your Husband comes home." Soon the culture of the
middle class suburb exploded into a preferred lifestyle, enabling the
baby boom and nearly eliminating women's rights.
With the success of
Dior's "new look," Paris couturiers resumed operation and once again
became the center for international fashion trends. Now
that the usage of fabric had no constraints, The full, full and fuller
skirt of the "new look" continued to gain popularity. Rounded
and soft shoulders, an almost pinched waist, a pointed bosom and spike
heels were the hallmarks of 50's Bridal wear. The hourglass effect was
further emphasized with crinolines and hoop skirts. It was at this time that the metal zipper moved to the wearer's
back, making the zip up a two person chore.
Some say that after the success of the 1950 film, "Father
of the Bride," the costuming of
that American women craved, exemplified to perfection by the film's
star, Elizabeth Taylor.
The Wedding gown she wore on screen became the most heavily
copied gown of the post war era during the early 1950s. It seemed to borrow from all
that was fashionable at the time, from a nipped waist with
redingote style cutaway
to a portrait yoke and illusion overlay of delicate lace
with Peter Pan collar. The gown was
chaste and virginal
and yet overly consumed with detail; perhaps exactly what Helen
Rose intended for the young Bride's character.
Elizabeth collaborated with another fashion
icon in her next film, 1951's
Place in the Sun."
The costuming of
managed to dress the
gorgeous, sophisticated Angela Vickers
to strapless, nipped waist perfection.
A revival of Elizabethan style
of another kind permeated the fashion
scene by 1953. The
Queen Elizabeth II in June fascinated
the American public. Wired,
upstanding gothic style collars, as seen in the photo at
left, were extremely popular
as regal weddings enjoyed a fad. American designers combined the
strapless gown from Edith Head's iconic Angela and added a
removable lace bolero that was made from thin and
Wedding gowns were still traditionally
sleeved, and it was proper to cover the arms for Church
ceremonies. The two-piece lace bolero jacket could
be removed after the ceremony to show off
a strapless bustline for the
reception, if needed.
Lace, lace and then more lace was the cry of most American
Brides in the 1950s.
welcomed the appearance of lace, as it reflected an appreciation
of moneyed European tradition. It also reflected an
immense style change from the previous WWII decade, when lace
manufacturing was halted during Hitler's aggression.
In the postwar era,
and Belgian lace
made an appearance as the fabric of choice unlike
any other wedding
gown in history. As the postwar reconstruction of French towns known for
their textile mills began to thrive, American Brides
enthusiastically appreciated lace and its feminine appeal and
demanded more more and more...
Immense ball gowns of imported
European lace, were constructed with 24 feet of Chantilly.
Some gowns, like the photo
above, had five tiers of
ruffled Chantilly or nearly 80 yards of lace.
Flutter hems, which were curved evenly up and down,
appeared in full-skirted party dresses and it
wasn't long before wedding gowns took up the fad in the years of 1952
and 1953, describing the above ankle length as "ballerina" or
"cocktail." The William Cahill company was well known
for their exquisite Ballerina length wedding gowns that captured the
spirit of a Degas painting. An example of their Ballerina gown
advertising can be seen on our Vintage
Bride's we Love Page 3.
gorgeous Party Dress that was calf length. Worn with a
full crinoline, the dress was advertised and sold as
"cocktail" or "matinee" length. It
emphasized a turned ankle and a tiny waist, and was certainly
attractive to any red blooded Male.
Designers further manipulated lace bodices
by sculpting and plating net pleats at the
neckline, cutting appliqué, scissoring and knifing pleats on the
skirt and draping dramatic lace panels over net. Emphasis was on
layered materials which
added style and fullness without being too cumbersome or uncomfortable.
Maurer Originals was a bridal wear company well known for
their Chantilly lace, satin and net
fifties gowns of this style. Designer
shown at upper left) made the most beautiful of these 1950s nipped
waist lace gowns.
Skull cap headpieces became the standard
for dressy day and into evening. Bridal wear designers used the skull
cap in velvet and satin with a circle veil. The veil was gathered at its center,
cut into a circle and folded at the cap.
Often referred to as the "Madonna" veil because it resembled a
Sunday service mantilla, it ranged in length from 18" to 27,"
coming to or just passing the shoulders. Soon designers
such as Christian Dior upped
the ante with sophisticated hand beaded and sequined Belgium caps as
well as a couture line of satin cocktail hats with
fine silk maline and Russian net.
The finishing touch that these unique
pieces of millinery provided to an outfit created a huge demand for the
pieces. The ready to wear suppliers fulfilled this need with the introduction of
the more affordable Hong Kong beadwork, which surfaced on bags, hats,
sweater twin sets and sheath gowns.
With the introduction of the jet age
in 1958, Pan American Airlines opened the doors to the Orient and soon American women knew that Hong Kong was the place to
shop. Japan also became known as a prolific creator of sequined
and beaded pieces, made especially for La
Regale. Although the country was no
longer Occupied by the Allies after the war, the labels made note that the
pieces were "made in Japan of American sequins."
"shorties" were worn with the tea length gowns, while opera
length gloves held their place as usual for more formal events. An
example of "shorties" worn with a full skirted wedding gown is
shown below right.
The strapless gown with
sweetheart bodice remained the favored look for evening wear for most of
the fifties. It was acceptable in either full skirt or figure
hugging sheath. Wedding designers, still conservative at heart,
adapted this strapless silhouette by covering the bride's shoulders
modestly with an opaque bodice or removable sheer lace jacket, so that
the shoulders were covered appropriately for a solemn church ceremony.
The gown above features the virginal yet popular 50's look attributed to
Mainbocher, of peter pan collar. He intended the dress to have the
appearance of risqué sophistication. A row of buttons trimmed the
bodice front yet the gown closure was made possible by a zipper in the
back. Fabrics were floaty and ethereal with a preference for
tissue silk organza.
In the late fifties,
hemlines dropped and the full skirted wedding gown became heavy and
more structured, with less movement. The undeniable influence of Grace
Kelly's style was a major factor in the changing taste for expensive
full-bodied opaque fabrics. Designers appeased this wish by creating
upscale ready to wear gowns in fabrics such as heavy silk taffeta,
silk satin and rich duchesse satin all lined
with a stiff paper like pellon.
April of 1956, Grace Kelly gave Americans a moment of elegance when she
married Prince Rainier III.
Her Helen Rose
gown consisted of 25 yards of silk taffeta, 25 yards of
peau de soie and nearly 300 hundred yards of Valenciennes lace. A one hundred
and twenty five year-old lace and silk tulle veil reportedly held one
The bride wore three inner petticoats of crepe and
taffeta. Miss Kelly's
still remains one of the unquestionable examples of superb 20th
century bridal fashion.
Her elegant wedding gown is now on permanent
display in the Bride's hometown, Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art.
Sleeves at this time were mostly
3/4 over the elbow and full length, with a wedding point over the
hand. Necklines were scooped and had embellishments
of scalloped Alencon lace as an overlay. It was at this time that
the favored lace used on gowns was heavy cotton Alencon, hand cut and
clipped, with a rich old world flavor. This contrasted with
earlier in the decade, when laces were delicate and airy Chantilly and
Women still shopped in
bridal salons as they did in the 1940s. By 1955, the Dallas salon of
Neiman Marcus became the ultimate Bridal source of superior quality and
unparalleled service, especially for Texan women.
was also highly
regarded at his salon in New York, although his fame as the creator of
Wallis Simpson's blue wedding dress made his appointment space limited.
Most women utilized "The Bride's Magazine" and purchased their
gowns after viewing the photos, just like we do today.
The last years of the
decade saw more and more women growing uneasy with the day to day
humdrum of their lives. Despite the portrayal of the home as the perfect
feminine domain, many women found this domestic role confining, a powder
keg which would explode over the coming two decades. Although she
wouldn't be officially titled until 1960, American women found the woman
that would lead them into the sixties as their muse and inspiration;
first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
[ 1920's Veil Styles ] [ Vintage Fashion History 1930's ] [ Vintage Fashion History 1940's ] [ 1940's Vintage Wedding Hairstyles ] [ Vintage Fashion History 1950's ] [ Vintage Fashion History 1960's ] [ Vintage Fashion History - 1970's Weddings ] [ Vintage Fashion History - 1980's Weddings ] [ Desiderata ]