Body Decorations 194660

Professional Fashion Design

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

Get Instant Access

W^ roper accessories, makeup, and undergarments were an extremely important part ofwomen's fashion in the late 1940s through the 1950s. The major fashion trends of the late 1940s, inspired by the New Look fashions of designer Christian Dior (1905-1957), called for a carefully assembled outfit that included such accessories as white gloves and umbrellas to accompany carefully chosen shoes, hat, and dress. The New Look called for tasteful but understated jewelry. One of the most important accessories was the handbag, or purse. Most women would not go out without a handbag. According to a New York Times article from 1945: "A woman without her handbag feels as lost as a wanderer in the desert."

There were other items that a well-dressed woman considered indispensable. Makeup, for example, was very important to the well-put-together ensemble. Numerous manufacturers offered makeup to women, and makeup advertising accounted for 11 percent of all advertising by 1950. Nail polish on the toenails became an important part of a woman's collection, especially after the mass production of plastic shoes which revealed the toes began in the late 1940s. As with all other items of a wardrobe, nail polish and makeup were chosen so that the colors complemented the outfit. When tight sweaters came into style in the mid-1950s, there was a short-lived craze for what is known as a "sweater girl" bra. This bra shaped a woman's breasts into stiff, pointed cones. The look was popularized by film star Jane Russell (1921-), as well as by several other busty 1950s screen stars. Young girls were especially fond of charm bracelets, which became trendy in the 1950s and continues in a lesser form to this day.

Men did not accessorize as much as women, but they did have several items they might wear to distinguish their outfits. A well-dressed man could choose from a range of cuff links, tie bars, and


Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972), born in Guetaria, Spain, is one of the giants of twentieth-century fashion. His mother, a dressmaker, taught him needlework and dressmaking, and he apprenticed with tailors in Madrid and San Sebastian before opening his first dress shop in 1919. Balenciaga often journeyed to Paris, France, to observe the latest designs and purchase dresses for his shop. In 1936 he opened the House of Balenciaga in Paris. Here Balenciaga created haute couture, or high fashion, a phrase that pertains to groundbreaking clothing styles originated by designers and meant to be worn by the famous and wealthy.

Almost immediately Balenciaga won a sizeable American clientele. His popularity expanded after the end of World War II (1939-45), when the world again became style-conscious. Queens, princesses, duchesses, movie stars, and the wives of millionaires often were photographed for the pages of newspaper society columns and fashion magazines wearing the latest Balenciaga creation.

Balenciaga believed that the body and the clothing that covered it needed to coexist in harmony. In his dress designs he was determined that the cut of the material adhered to the shape of the body, and his designs generally did not radically alter from season to season. His daytime clothing was straightforward yet stylish: a simple black wool dress, for example, or a beige sleeveless blouse and charcoal gray two-piece suit with leather belt. His evening wear was more extravagant and playful, with his designs employing abundantly decorated fabrics, heavy beading, protruding shoulders, and broad, full skirts. A characteristic Balenciaga evening dress might be floor-length and strapless, trimmed in white floral lace on a black net base. It was worn over a gray silk taffeta petticoat, and came with a pink silk taffeta cummerbund, or waistband.

Quite a few of Balenciaga's designs were based on regional Spanish clothing. He employed the vivid colors of the Spanish countryside and was inspired by the outfits worn by flamenco dancers and bullfighters and the lengthy blouses and boots worn by Basque fishermen in northern Spain. He also was influenced by the art of the master Spanish artists, particularly Francisco Goya (1746-1828). It often was said that Balenciaga employed color in a manner similar to the way in which painters use paint to bring life to their subjects.

Balenciaga believed that a tastefully designed outfit needed to be topped off with the essence of a delicate perfume. With this in mind he marketed his initial fragrance in 1947, which he named Le Dix. Subsequent Balenciaga perfumes were called Rumba, Talisman, Quadrille, and, appropriately, Cristóbal.

Unlike later celebrity designers who were bent on self-promotion and became stars in their own right, Balenciaga remained aloof from the public. He was not known to mingle with his clients, and he regularly observed the introduction of his latest collection while perched behind a white curtain. He allowed himself to be known only to a fortunate few, which added to his mystique. Balenciaga designed his last collection in 1968 and died four years later.

collar pins, made in gold, silver, or a new metal called palladium. Wristwatches continued to be popular among men. A new wrist-watch called a Timex was introduced in 1950 with an advertising campaign that boasted that the Timex could "take a licking and

keep on ticking." By the late 1950s one in every three watches sold in the United States was a Timex.


Daniel, Anita. "Inside Story of a Handbag." New York Times (January 21,

Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Jouve, Marie-Andrée. Balenciaga. New York: Rizzoli, 1980.

Miller, Lesley Ellis. Cristóbal Balenciaga (Fashion Designers Series). New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1993.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

■ Charm Bracelet

Charm bracelets actually date from ancient times. They were worn by men as well as women and were intended to protect one from one's adversaries or reflect one's profession, religious or political affiliation, or status within the community. They came in a range of styles. Chinese bracelets, for example, included jade carvings, metal objects, and glass beads, all of which were attached to a black string and fastened to the wrist. Originally charm bracelets were meant to have a magical effect on the wearer, but the bracelet's purpose and meaning and evolution into a fashion statement changed with the shifting culture and values of the twentieth century.

The typical twentieth-century charm bracelet was adorned with objects representing good luck (a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, or dice), happiness (an elephant), prosperity (a pig), or dreams coming true (a wishbone). Love, represented by a heart, was a favored theme. Variations included obsessive love or infatuation (a heart pierced by an arrow), love put forth and returned (two hearts pierced by one arrow), and devotion to the one you love (a padlocked heart).

A cheerleader megaphone, telephone, cat, dog, or money bag represented items the wearer desired or already had possessed or achieved.

More expensive charm bracelets were made of silver or gold, while less costly ones were stainless steel, copper, or brass. Their charms often came in a variety of materials; small plastic ones were even purchased in gumball machines or came as prizes in candy boxes. A girl's charm bracelet eventually was replaced by a wedding band, at which point the bracelet was retired to a jewelry box as a keepsake of her youth. Some grown women, however, also wore charm bracelets.


Congram, Marjorie. Charms to Collect. Martinsville, NJ: Dockwra Press, 1988.

Oldford, Kathleen. My Mother's Charms: Timeless Gifts of Family Wisdom. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

[See also Volume 4, 1930-45: Charm Bracelet]

During World War II (1939-45) so many chemicals and other resources were used for the war effort that cosmetics had become scarce and expensive. After the war the market was once again flooded with products, and women were encouraged to shop and buy in order to keep the economy healthy. In addition, many women who had filled jobs left open when men had gone to war had adopted a more practical and masculine way of dressing. Government leaders wanted these women to give their jobs back to men returning from the military, and so leaders stressed a return to feminine roles, such as wife and mother. Fashion designers too, emphasized a return to femininity, such as the New Look created by French designer Christian Dior (1905-1957), which featured lavish designs with full skirts and tight waists that showed womanly curves.

The look for women of the late 1940s and early 1950s was very showy and decorative, and it required makeup. Lipstick, liquid

or cream makeup base, powder, rouge, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, and fingernail polish became a part of most women's daily routine, and many women said they felt naked until they had "put their face on." By 1950 11 percent of all advertising in the United States was for cosmetics, according to Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's Vanity Rules. New companies formed to make and sell beauty products. Estee Lauder manufactured very expensive cosmetics, and women bought them, assuming that the high price tag promised especially good quality. Hazel Bishop made affordable cosmetics for working women who could not spend a lot on makeup and sold them at discount stores, where working-class women shopped. Johnson Products, founded by George Johnson in 1954, sold beauty products designed specifically for African American women's skin and hair. From this point on cosmetics were a major industry in the West.


Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. Vanity Rules: A History of American Fashion and Beauty. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.

Peiss, Kathy Lee. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998.

African American Women 1919
Actress Grace Kelly wearing 1950s-style makeup. The new beauty products of the 1950s ushered in an era in which the well-dressed woman was expected to wear makeup. Reproduced by permission of © CinemaPhoto/CORBIS.

[See also Volume 4, 1900-18: Lipstick; Volume 4, 1919-29: Makeup]

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Dress Making

Dress Making

Rock your personality in a dress you made yourself that reflects who you are, not what a department store thinks you want. Discover The Beginners Guide to Making Your Own Dress. You do not have to wear off the rack dresses any longer. You can make your own fashion statement on the world.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment