Fashions Of The Fifties

22nd May 2009

Every fashionista with her finger on the pulse knows that the Fifties have been experiencing a revival. Michelle Obama, touted as a style icon to rival Jackie Kennedy, is just one of the many high-profile personalities to take on the trend, flagging up her fashion allegiances by wearing a high-waisted, full-skirted dress on her first day in the White House.

Everyone seems to be channelling 1950s chic: Wonderbra commissioned vintage-style icon Dita Von Teese to design an underwear range, while Kate Winslet's wardrobe in Revolutionary Road, set in 1955, has received as many favourable reviews as the award-winning film itself.

The 1950s look, with its emphasis on curves, is a fabulous celebration of the female form, the perfect antidote to 'size zero' culture, replacing stick thin supermodels with the ample size-sixteen figures of Marilyn Monroe and Diana Dors.

For men the more informal 50s fashions are still widely seen worldwide. This was the decade that denim jeans arrived in the UK from the USA, and teaming jeans with a tee-shirt or a leather motor-cycle jacket, as worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, will probably never go out of style.

Mike Brown, an authority on fashion of the forties and fifties, follows up his recent comprehensive guide to Second World War style, with The 1950s Look: Recreating the Fashions of the Fifties – a guide to the trends and signature styles of the era, and how to translate them into 2009. Brown deconstructs the key elements of iconic 50s fashions – from Audrey Hepburn chic to high school prom queen – and explains the origins of many items of clothing now taken for granted on today's High Street. Over the course of 144 pages, with 300+ full colour photographs and pictures, readers can learn about the Trapeze dress and the Teddy Boys' quiff, pedal pushers and drain pipe trousers, and how women managed to achieve that desirable hourglass shape.

"Fifties fashion was feminine, flattering and – unlike the size zero silhouhette – actually achievable," Brown says. "You may not have had the figure of Brigitte Bardot, but you could copy her look using corsets to cinch in your waist, full, layered skirts, and padded bras. There were even inflatable bras…” These had an alarming habit of exploding in a clinch, or of taking on slow punctures, accompanied by strange noises. Brown is keen to stress, though, that underwear technology has moved on, “and the look can now be achieved less painfully."

Meticulously researched and lavishly illustrated, this retrospective is essential reading for anyone with an interest in this style-defining decade and an eye to bringing retro bang up to date. Brown points out: "In today's tough economic climate, people looking for a style fix want classic silhouettes and clothes built to last – not fast, throwaway fashion. The popularity of vintage fashion fairs and websites mean that 'Mrs O' won't be the only one working the 50s look this season."

‘The 50s Look’ is priced at £16.99 and is
available online from
or through bookshops.

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