Fashion: Letters From The Past - A Look at 1950's Fashion

“Dear Poppy,
I am writing down what I remember about 1950’s fashion…”

A week before receiving my parcel, I was on the phone to my grandma, asking for her help with an article about fashion in the 50’s. I made a few notes while we were on the phone and she promised to send some pictures and magazines.
The letter she sent with the parcel made all my notes completely worthless and let this article practically write itself, which is why I will quote a lot of what she wrote down for me and only add a few notes.

“During the war we had clothing coupons which restricted what we could buy, but afterwards we had what fashion called ‘New Look’. Skirts were longer as that was good for trade. If you were short of money you altered the clothes you had. You will see on my photo, that my dress had a coloured band of material near the bottom to make the skirt longer.”

As I mentioned before, my grandmother sent me some magazines. There were three in the parcel, Woman’s Weekly from 1955,’56 and ’57 - all contain articles about cleaning, love stories, recipes,  beauty tips and of course a lot about alterations.

“In the photo by the gate I am wearing what was called a ‘dirndl skirt’. A piece of pretty patterned material gathered into a waistband, very cheap and simple to make and you can see the skirt length."

“War work, like the “Land Army” Girls had given women the practical idea of wearing trousers, but it was not a fashion idea. My first pair of trousers were made of corduroy and they were tailored for a man, not for women […] Lots of women had worked in factories in overalls and hair tucked inside a turban and many were in uniform in the forces, they wanted to feel feminine again and I expect that had a big effect on the fashion trend of the 1950’s”

“The bathing costume, I am doing my model pose!! in, was made of a strong white satin-like material with a skirt effect at the bottom.”


“I had the flower pinned in front because the neckline was considered to plunge a little low!! As you can gather, modesty was considered very important [...]For very special occasions, interviews etc., we would wear hats and gloves. Hats were definitely always worn to Mass.”

“The American soldiers seemed to bring nylon stockings to England. The stockings had seams running up the back which gave us the problem of keeping the seams straight. If you hadn’t got stockings we had bottles of liquid leg make up and we drew a pencil line up the back of the leg – Can you believe it? It gave our legs a tanned look, but I think I opted for bare legs most of the time […] At that time it was quite something to get them.”

While on the phone, she told me she had talked to some friends about my article and one of them brought up the leg make up. I know from conversations with my friends, that many of their grandmothers too had painted ‘stockings’ on with make up. The parcel also contained a pair of nylon stockings she had kept all these years as a memento, when comparing them to stockings you can buy these days, you realise the ones back in the 1950's were a lot robuster.

Many 1950’s trends have been re-interpreted by designers, Boleros, tights with seams down the back and midi and high waist skirts have been back in shops and on the catwalk. Marc Jacobs designed dresses in the style of the 50’s for the Louis Vuitton fall/winter ’10 collection.

“I hope this has been some interest to you. I can certainly say it has taken me and my friends down memory […] Glen Miller and his orchestra seems to be the music that fixed in that period and takes you back.”

When I first started to write this article, I hadn’t received the parcel yet and had not planned to copy down most of my grandmother’s letter. After reading it however, I found it the best way to share her experience and views on the time.
I am planning to send this article along with all the comments it gets back to her, so if you enjoyed it, please leave a comment and I will make sure she gets it.