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Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

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^During World War II (1939-45) fashion had taken a backseat to the war effort, and dress designers had been severely limited in what they could make as governments placed severe restrictions on the kinds and amounts of cloth designers could use. In the fifteen years that followed the end of the war, fashions in the West went through a series of sweeping changes. Women's fashions reached levels of richness and luxury that had not been seen since the turn of the previous century. In addition, fashions across Europe and the United States highlighted women's femininity and Paris, France, reclaimed its spot as the fashion capital of the world.

In 1947 French designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) introduced a collection of women's clothes that shattered all the wartime rules. Called the New Look, this collection was most notable for its long, billowing skirts with many pleats. One of his dresses used fifteen yards of fabric. Many people were offended by the excess of Dior's collection. They felt his dresses were an insult to a world economy that was still deeply troubled after the war. But Dior's New Look soon became extremely popular. Wealthy women clamored to wear his dresses, and manufacturers soon copied his styles, introducing a range of clothing modeled on the New Look. For the next seven years, Dior's look, which included soft, rounded shoulders, a narrow waist, and accessories like gloves and umbrellas, was the single biggest influence on fashion.

Dior's New Look was part of a larger return to femininity across the Western world. The war years had forced women into unusual roles. Many worked outside the home for the first time, and the clothes they wore did not accentuate their female forms. As men returned from the war to claim jobs and start families, women also returned to more traditional roles. During the Great Depression (1929-41) and World War II women's magazines had emphasized

1950s Fashion For Teenage Girls
Teenage girls going through racks of ready-to-wear skirts. In the 1950s, young people began to wear styles quite different from those favored by their parents. Reproduced by permission of © Jack Moebes/CORBIS.

career advice for women, but following the war they focused much more on beauty and fashion. Advertising increased greatly and showed women how they could use makeup, accessories, and clothing to make themselves more appealing. All of these influences helped encourage women to choose more feminine clothing.

The rise of ready-to-wear

Ever since the nineteenth century Paris had dominated the world of fashion. The best designers lived in Paris. They introduced their styles, and those styles were loved and copied around the world. But when German conquerors took control of France during World War II, the dominance of Paris was interrupted. Some French designers left their country, and designers in the United States and England looked to develop fashion houses of their own. (A fashion house is the term for a small company that designs, makes, and sells high-quality clothing and accessories. It is usually associated with a single designer.) After the war the daring designs of Christian Dior,

Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972), Hubert de Givenchy (1927-), and others helped refocus attention on Paris, and Paris did remain an important center for fashion. However, the emergence in the 1950s of Italian designers such as Roberto Capucci (1930-) and Simonetta Visconti, and of American designers such as Claire McCardell (1905-1958), seriously challenged French dominance of women's clothing design.

Another major challenge to the dominance of the Paris fashion houses was the rise of the ready-to-wear clothing industry controlled by large international corporations. Before the war if a person wanted well-made clothing they had to have it custom made by a tailor, and they paid a premium price. During the war manufacturers developed skills in making clothing, especially military uniforms, that allowed them to make quality clothing to fit different sizes of people. As a result regular people could now afford wellmade, quality clothing called ready-to-wear, because it was purchased ready to wear without need for alterations from a tailor. Ready-to-wear clothing companies sent representatives to the major fashion shows, purchased top-quality clothing, and then made and marketed clothing lines based on high-fashion designs. This allowed common people to wear fashionable-looking clothes, but it certainly changed the fashion industry. The Paris fashion houses clothed the very wealthy, and the ready-to-wear industry provided inexpensive imitations for the masses. Before too long the designers figured out that there was more money to be made selling to the masses, and they began to develop ready-to-wear lines of their own. This was a major change in the fashion industry from the first half of the century, and it continues to this day.

Conformity and the youth explosion

One of the drawbacks of the rise of the ready-to-wear industry was that it allowed everybody to look the same. Major retail chains such as Sears and J.C. Penney sold clothes nationwide in the United States, and they didn't make major changes in their clothing lines from year to year. Also, the trend in the United States after the war was to fit in with the crowd and not cause a disturbance. These trends led to real conformity in the way that Americans dressed. People didn't want to stick out and look different, so they chose safe, conservative clothes. For businessmen this meant the gray

flannel suit, the uniform of the white-collar, or business professional, worker. For women this meant a simple tight-waisted dirndl skirt and a sweater, or a range of mix-and-match sportswear. This mix-and-match look for mature women was known as the American Look. And for college students the favored look was called the Preppy Look.

While American adults valued conformity in their clothing styles, in the mid-1950s young people began to develop distinctive styles of their own. In France in the late 1940s young people calling themselves "Existentialists" dressed in shabby clothing to show their disdain for fashion. As their name implied, they existed just to exist, so clothes didn't matter so much. A similar group of Americans called themselves beats, or beatniks. Both groups favored jeans for men and women, leather jackets, and the color black. In England


Bill Blass (1922-2002), born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is an icon of modern American fashion, famed as one of the most influential twentieth-century clothing designers. During his childhood he was charmed by such stylish 1930s Hollywood stars as Carole Lombard (1908-1942) and Marlene Dietrich (c. 19011992). He also was entranced by the glamorous world of New York society and expressed this fascination by drawing and sketching clothing designs. In 1940 he moved to New York to work in the city's Seventh Avenue fashion district.

Blass designed everything from sportswear to eveningwear, creating bouncy resort clothes and shapely evening gowns. While he dressed working women and housewives, his designs primarily appealed to style-conscious, upper-class American women, such as socialites, actresses, and first ladies. Nancy Reagan (1921-), wife of U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911-), has often spoken highly of his clothes, describing them as comfortable, wearable, and pretty.

Blass favored a range of materials, including worsted woolens, a lightweight wool, crepe, cashmere, and satin. His clothes often united the traditionally masculine such as gray flannel and pinstripes, with ultrafeminine spangles and touches that conveyed 1930s glamour.

In 1967 Blass became the first American designer to create menswear along with women's clothes. His initial men's designs were on the outrageous side and even included kilts, knee-length pleated skirts. Eventually his men's creations became more conventional and more marketable.

Before Bill Blass most American fashion designers were anonymous. Manufacturer names appeared on clothing labels, rather than the individuals who created the designs. Blass changed all this. He was a charming, outgoing man and he promoted himself, circulating among and socializing with his clients and developing a public identity. Eventually, his name appeared on the labels of his clothes. This change helped to alter the identity of American fashion designers, allowing them to become brand names and celebrities in their own right. Blass, in addition, enjoyed attending the foremost New York social

stylish youths pursued the teddy-boy look, wearing long jackets with velvet collars and other extravagant outfits. By the mid-1950s, however, youth styles had gone more mainstream. The rise of rock 'n' roll music encouraged youths around the world to rebel against their parents' values, and one of the main ways they did so was through clothes. The uniform of the rebellious rocker consisted of blue jeans, a T-shirt, a leather jacket, and black boots.

The 1940s and 1950s were a fascinating time for fashion. On the one hand there were daring innovations in style, offered by bigname designers; on the other hand many people tried to look like everyone else by buying ready-to-wear clothes from major chains. It was a time when even the rebels tried to look just like other rebels, and little girls around the world took their fashion cues from a teenage fashion doll named Barbie.

events. He appeared in person at stores across the country, and he offered his name and his designs to countless charities. He donated ten million dollars to the New York Public Library and actively funded AIDS-related programs.

In 1970 Blass established Bill Blass Limited, which marketed everything from perfume to chocolate, bed linen to furniture, sunglasses to shoes, American Airlines uniforms to the interiors of Lincoln Town Cars. By the 1990s Blass had entered into almost one hundred licensing contracts, which allowed another company to sell a product he designed. His fashion empire was earning seven hundred million dollars per year. He presented his last collection in September 1999, just prior to retiring and selling his company for a reported fifty million dollars. During his last years he worked with Indiana University on a retrospective of his career. The exhibit opened after his death in 2002.

Throughout his career Blass was much honored. He won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1961, 1963, and 1970. He earned the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and the Humanitarian Leadership Award nine years later.

Helen Hagan New York
Bill Blass, great American fashion designer. Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/CORBIS.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Blass, Bill, and Cathy Horyn. Bare Blass. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Miller, Brandon Marie. Dressed for the Occasion: What Americans Wore 1620-1970. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1999.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

Rowold, Kathleen, Helen O'Hagan, and Michael Vollbracht, eds. Bill Blass: An American Designer. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

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

■ American Look

In fashion history the late 1940s are best known for the introduction of the New Look, a return to luxurious feminine clothes that was begun by French designer Christian Dior (1905—1957). Across the ocean, however, American designer Claire McCardell (1905—1958) was creating a revolution in fashion of her own. During World War II (1939-45), when French designers were inactive, McCardell began to design clothes that could be worn every day by busy women. In Fashion: The Mirror of History McCardell is quoted as saying: "I belong to a mass production country where any of us, all of us, deserve the right to good fashion." Among her first designs was a bias-cut dress. A bias-cut meant that the fabric was cut diagonally across the weave, allowing the dress to have a soft and flowing shape. McCardell also invented the popover dress, which was meant for comfortable wear around the house. Women could move easily in these dresses, and in McCardell's other designs. Observers soon hailed McCardell's designs as the American Look.

Above all else American Look clothes were simple and practical. McCardell's bias-cut dresses had adjustable waistlines and side pockets. Her dirndl skirts were slim at the waist and flared outward and could be paired with her clingy tops and light sweaters. Her

ballerina leotards were stretchy and fit a variety of shapes, and she eliminated the girdle, a restrictive undergarment. McCardell was fond of simple fabrics like denim and wool jersey, a soft, stretchy woven fabric. Others soon followed McCardell's example and developed an entire range of clothing that became associated with the American Look.

The American Look had a tremendous influence on style in the United States and Europe throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Many other designers sought to make simple, comfortable women's clothes that didn't restrict movement. McCardell and others developed American Look mix-and-match sportswear, bathing suits, winter wear, coats, and other items. Interestingly, accessories like gloves and umbrellas, so important to the New Look of designer Christian Dior, were not required for a well-dressed American Look woman. The influence of the American Look's casual comfort was felt through the end of the century.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

1939 Fashion Women Nyc

Claire McCardell designed simple, comfortable everyday clothes for the busy American woman.

Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/CORBIS.

Claire McCardell designed simple, comfortable everyday clothes for the busy American woman.

Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/CORBIS.

[See also Volume 5, 1946-60: New Look]

Du uring World War II (1939-45) the United States government directed that the amount of cloth in women's beachwear be

1939 Vogue Fashion Photo
The bikini was an aftereffect of fabric rationing during World War II, when cloth used in women's swimwear had to be reduced by 10 percent. Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/CORBIS.

reduced by 10 percent to conserve fabric which was needed in the war effort. As a result swimsuit manufacturers produced suits featuring bare midriffs. Such garments, however, were downright conventional when compared to what was to come right after the war, with the invention of the bikini: a skimpy, two-piece bathing suit consisting of a bra top and two reversed cloth triangles attached by a string.

The bikini was devised separately but simultaneously in 1946 by two Frenchmen, Louis Réard (1897-1984) and Jacques Heim (1900-1967). Réard, an engineer, named his creation after Bikini, a Pacific Ocean atoll, a string of coral islands, where the United States government was testing nuclear bombs. Heim, a clothing designer, named his version atome, the French word for atom, and announced that it was the world's smallest bathing suit. Réard countered his competitor by calling the bikini smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit. Both parts of his suit consisted of only thirty inches of fabric. It was in fact so tiny that no French model would wear it in public. A nude dancer finally agreed to be photographed wearing one. After a picture of her in Réard's bikini was published, she received close to fifty thousand fan letters.

At first the bikini was considered risqué and was even banned in beauty pageants and on many European beaches. Its rise in popularity was directly linked to its being worn by attractive young movie actresses. British actress Diana Dors (1931-1984) wore a mink bikini at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, and American stars Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) and Jayne Mansfield (1932-1967) were photographed in them in the 1950s. The 1950s screen icon who most famously put on the bikini was Brigitte Bardot (1934-), a French movie star. Bardot wore it on the French Riviera and in the film Et Dieu . . . céa la femme (1956), also known as ... And God Created Woman.

The bikini was not worn on American beaches until the 1960s, when its rise as an acceptable mode of swimwear was linked to pop

ular culture. First, pop singer Brian Hyland (1943-) celebrated the bikini with his hit song, "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" (1960). The lyrics depicted a woman, wearing a bikini for the first time, who was "afraid to come out of the water" because she was embarrassed by her scanty attire. A couple of years later, it was boldly worn by Ursula Andress (1936-) in Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond movie. Bikinis then became the favored attire in a cycle of popular, teen-oriented sun-and-surf movies, beginning with Beach Party (1963). The word even was worked into the titles of a number of these films: Bikini Beach (1964); How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965); Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965); The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966); and It's a Bikini World (1967). Raquel Welch (1942-) wore a fur bikini playing a cavewoman in One Million Years B.C. (1966). By then the bikini was fast becoming a basic beach outfit.

Women favored bikinis because of their stylishness and the liberating nature of their design; wearing them provided women the opportunity to publicly display their bodies. Men liked bikinis because they showed off more of the female body.


Alac, Patrick. The Bikini: A Cultural History. London, England: Parkstone Press, 2002.

Baker, Patricia. Fashions of a Decade: The 1940s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

The Bold Look was a style in men's clothing and accessories that sought to answer the conservatism, or reserved nature, that had characterized men's dress during the Great Depression (1929-41) and World War II (1939-45). It was created by the editors of Esquire magazine, the most popular men's magazine of the period, in the spring of 1948, most likely as a male answer to the popular women's styles of the day, the New Look and the American Look.

The Bold Look encouraged men to make bold choices in the hats, shirts, shoes, and accessories that they wore with their suits.

For example, Esquire urged men to wear shirts with the "command collar," which had a wider spread than normal collars. The magazine urged men to wear boldly striped neckties tied in a Windsor knot, a wider knot, heavy gold cuff links and wide tie clasps, and snap-brim hats, felt hats that tipped up in back and down in front, with a dented crown. They even urged men to be more daring in their choice of color for their suit.

The Bold Look enjoyed just two years of popularity, in 1948 and 1949, before it was ushered out of style by the tendency of men to make very conservative choices in their formal and business wear. The 1950s became the age of the gray flannel suit when most men simply wanted to fit in, not stick out with Esquire's Bold Look.


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

[See also Volume 5, 1946-60: Gray Flannel Suit]

People have worn animal furs since the dawn of time. The earliest known hunters and trappers captured and killed animals not only to provide themselves and their families with food, but to stitch together the fur—the thick, smooth, hairy coat of animal skin—to make warm clothing. People soon developed other fabrics that provided warmth, yet at certain times in human history fur became a fashion statement, indicating great wealth and luxury. A fur coat, wrap, hat, or stole might be made of the soft and luxurious furs from mink, sable, ermine, fox, or muskrat.

The 1950s saw a return of enthusiasm for furs. Following years of frugality and uniformity in clothing due to restrictions placed on clothes during World War II (1939—45), women wore furs to show off their wealth and status. The enthusiasm for furs could be seen in popular fashion magazines as well as in such movies as The Lady Wants Mink (1953), Make Mine Mink (1960), and That Touch of

Mink (1962). The 1950s craze for furs recalled a similar craze from the last prosperous economic time, the 1920s, which saw such movies as Ermine and Rhinestones (1925), Orchids and Ermine (1927), and The Lady in Ermine (1927).

Though wearing furs has long indicated wealth and a taste for luxury, some people consider killing animals for clothes to be cruel. As early as 1961 the Disney film 101 Dalmatians depicted the villain, Cruella de Vil, as driven by a crazed desire for animal fur. By the late twentieth century a combination of increased environmental awareness and sensitivity toward animals had made wearing fur extremely controversial. Animal rights activists claim that fur-bearing animals suffer needlessly and are slaughtered just to produce a nonessential consumer product that appeals to the purchaser's vanity. Due to the controversy several celebrities and other people who wear fur have switched to fake fur.


Cudlipp, Edythe. Furs. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1978.

Kaplan, David Gordon. World of Furs. New York: Fairchild Publications,

Prehistoric Man Furs
Worn for warmth since prehistoric times, fur also makes a fashion statement about the wearer's wealth and status. Reproduced by permission of © Joseph Schwartz Collection/CORBIS.


[See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Fur]

■ Gray Flannel Suit

The 1950s were a time of conformity in the United States and in American fashion. Middle- and upper-class families by the thousands moved out of the nation's cities and resettled in suburban, or

Peck And Peck Clothing
Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. In the 1950s, the gray flannel suit was the standard uniform of office workers. Reproduced by permission of The Kobal Collectionl20th Century Fox.

residential, communities. Husbands commuted into the cities to work, while their wives raised the children and maintained the home. At the office, casual attire was forbidden. Office workers at all levels were required to dress formally. The outfit of preference for the up-and-coming corporate executive of the 1950s was the gray flannel suit: a single-breasted, three-buttoned outfit featuring narrow lapels and shoulders and tapered trousers that lacked pleats. Rounding out the look was a pale blue or white button-down collar shirt, cuff links, a conservative striped tie, and shiny black or brown leather wing-tipped shoes. A single-breasted tweed overcoat and a brimmed hat were added during colder weather and a drip-dry raincoat was worn during stormy weather.

Gray flannel suits were strictly for office workers; they were impractical for factory workers or day laborers. Because men generally are less style-conscious than women, the look of the gray flannel suit did not vary from season to season. It remained the standard businessman's uniform even after synthetic materials that were lighter and easier to launder appeared on the fashion scene in the mid-1950s.

The man in the gray flannel suit is one of the enduring images of the 1950s. Such a man is conservative and loyal to the organization for which he works. He grasps his black or brown leather briefcase and nervously glances at his wristwatch as he stands on a commuter train platform. This gray-flannel-suit state of mind was explored in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a best-selling novel (1955) by Sloan Wilson (1920—) that was adapted into a Hollywood movie in 1956 starring Gregory Peck (1916-2003). It is the story of a New York advertising executive, trapped in the fast-paced, competitive corporate world, who undergoes a crisis of values.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: A Mirror ofHistory. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

■ Mix-and-Match Clothing

The trend during the 1950s to wear matching clothing ensembles was followed by women from every social class. After the rationing, or limiting, of fabrics during World War II (1939-45), women embraced the availability of luxuries once again. Their outfits reflected the flood of products on the market. Accessories once limited by the war were available in all price ranges. Women eagerly accented their flowing skirts with an array of hats, gloves, belts, handbags, and shoes. But by the 1950s women's desire to accessorize began to fade. To combat falling sales, manufacturers advertised a new fashion: mix-and-match clothing.

Matching ensembles became a craze among women in the United States and Europe. Women of the 1950s began obsessively matching the various pieces of their outfits, buying bags, belts, hats, gloves, shoes, costume jewelry, and even nail polish in matching colors. Designers also began creating mix-and-match outfits, enabling women to wear specially designed looks. Mix-and-match clothing styles allowed women to wear completely coordinated ensembles.

In the 1960s women began to foster their own individualized styles and shunned mix-and-match clothing. However, the legacy of mix-and-match clothing lives on in children's clothing. The Garanimals brand of children's clothing created in 1972 continues to sell mix-and-match clothing that identifies matching separates with colorful animal tags. Children can choose their own clothing outfits by matching the types of animals on the tags, confident in knowing that a shirt and pair of pants labeled with matching panda tags will look good together.


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

[See also Volume 5, 1946-60: New Look]

New Look

1905 Clothing Images

Designer Christian Dior, creator of the New Look, showing off the raised hemline of one of his designer skirts. Reproduced by permission of© Bettmann/


Designer Christian Dior, creator of the New Look, showing off the raised hemline of one of his designer skirts. Reproduced by permission of© Bettmann/


The New Look clothing designs for women that emerged from the studio of French designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) in 1947 put an end to the wartime styles that had dominated fashion ever since 1939. During World War II (1939-1945) designers and clothes makers had been forced to adjust their styles to wartime cloth restrictions and rationing due to lack of materials; women's clothes were close fitting, with square shoulders and short skirts. Though clothing restrictions were still in effect in France, Great Britain, and the United States in 1947, Dior's New Look collection violated all the rules of wartime fashion: his outfits had rounded shoulders; full, billowing skirts; and a narrow waist. The dresses were lined with expensive and luxurious fabrics such as cambric or taffeta and were beautifully detailed. Outfits were accessorized with a hat, often worn to one side, long gloves, and simple jewelry. As Valerie Steele wrote in Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now "The longing for elegance and luxury had been suppressed for the years of the war, and the New Look promised to gratify it." As Dior described it when the clothing line was introduced, the New Look was "symbolic of youth and the future."

Dior had entered the fashion industry in 1938 as a designer with the French house of Robert Piguet. In 1942 he joined the house of Lucien Lelong, where he learned a great deal about dressmaking. In 1946, with the financial support of textile manufacturer Marcel Boussac, Dior launched his own design house. The New Look designs were Dior's first collection, and in the following years Dior became one of the world leaders in haute couture, exclusive and trendsetting high fashion design. He introduced sev

eral other notable women's fashion styles, including the H-line of 1954, the Y-line of 1955, and the A-line of 1956, all named for the silhouette the design gave to women. Perhaps even more notably, Dior's house set the tone for the modern fashion house by branching out to design and license a whole line of fashion accessories and perfumes for women as well as ties for men. Though Christian Dior died suddenly in 1957, his vast fashion company still exists today.

Dior's New Look clothes created an international sensation. Critics scolded the designer for ignoring the continued rationing and the economic distress of the war years. They complained that manufacturers didn't have enough cloth to make Dior's full skirts and that women didn't have enough money to buy them. One British politician claimed that the longer skirt was the "ridiculous whim of idle people," while protestors in Paris called out, "40,000 francs for a dress and our children have no milk," according to Nigel Cawthorne, author of The New Look: The Dior Revolution. But women and other designers disagreed. The first women to see the designs at Paris fashion shows raved that femininity had returned to women's clothes. Designers imitated Dior's look for their collections and quickly produced ready-to-wear New Look-inspired clothing lines. (Ready-to-wear refers to clothes that can be bought "off the rack" as opposed to custom designed, tailored clothing.) The New Look killed off the utility clothing of the war years and ushered in a new era in fashion. By 1948 the New Look was the dominant fashion in Paris, France; London, England; and New York, and it continued to be popular for several years.


Cawthorne, Nigel. The New Look: The Dior Revolution. London, England: Reed Consumer Books, 1996.

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

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

[See also Volume 5, 1946-60: American Look]

Preppy Look

On ne of the most enduring styles in modern American dress is the preppy style. The term preppy derives from the expensive pre-college preparatory or prep schools that upper-middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant children on the United States's East Coast

Though some of its elements are considered classic, the preppy look has gone in and out of style since its introduction in the 1950s.

Reproduced by permission of Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Love Culture Clothing

sometimes attend. Novelist Erich Segal, author of the best-seller Love Story (1970), is credited with introducing the word preppy into common usage. Segal defined a preppy as someone who "dresses perfectly without trying to ... [and] appears to do everything well without trying to." Standard items of clothing for an authentic 1960s-era male preppy included blue blazers, button-down shirts, striped ties, khaki pants, cotton Izod polo shirts with turned-up collars, tasseled loafers, crew neck sweaters worn over neat turtlenecks, and the casual sweater slung over the shoulders with the sleeve ends cuffed over one another. Many of these styles had their origins in the 1950s.

Over time children from less privileged backgrounds began to emulate the preppy look. Preppy fashions boomed in the 1980s following the publication of Lisa Birnbach's Official Preppy Handbook (1980), which was written to poke fun at the rich lives of privileged East Coast college students but ended up glamorizing the culture. The book included advice on how to live the preppy lifestyle, from notes on etiquette to slang phrases to what kind of pets to buy.

Along with many other 1980s fashion excesses, the preppy trend faded, though many elements of it, such as khaki pants and button-down shirts, have never gone out of style. The preppy look enjoyed a revival of sorts in the 1990s when designers like Ralph Lauren (1939-), Tommy Hilfiger (1951-), Marc Jacobs (1964-), and Luella Bartley began to incorporate aspects of preppy style into their clothes.


Birnbach, Lisa. The Official Preppy Handbook. New York: Workman, 1980. Schurnberger, Lynn. Let There Be Clothes. New York: Workman, 1991.

In the 1950s a new kind of music jolted the American mainstream: rock 'n' roll, a loud, fast, liberating sound that primarily appealed to teenagers. Rock 'n' roll was an offshoot of the rural blues and urban rhythm and blues music that for years had entertained

1950s African American Culture

The greaser/rock 'n' roll look, as and stirred the spirits of African Americans. Throughout the 1940s captured m the fHm The Outside. and early 1950s, blues was classified as "race music" and was mar-

Reproduced by permission of The . .. r. , -ni''ii* 11

Kobal Collection keted only to African Americans. Rock n roll incorporated these soulful sounds to entertain audiences of white teenagers. An added influence was the hillbilly music, or white blues, that was popular mostly in the rural American South.

The greaser/rock 'n' roll look, as and stirred the spirits of African Americans. Throughout the 1940s captured m the fHm The Outside. and early 1950s, blues was classified as "race music" and was mar-

Reproduced by permission of The . .. r. , -ni''ii* 11

Kobal Collection keted only to African Americans. Rock n roll incorporated these soulful sounds to entertain audiences of white teenagers. An added influence was the hillbilly music, or white blues, that was popular mostly in the rural American South.

The song titles and lyrics of early rock 'n' roll hits, most of which were written specifically for teenage audiences, expressed the feelings of the era's young people. A fair number of rock 'n' roll songs celebrated dancing and laughing, feeling carefree and having good old-fashioned fun. The 1955 song "Rock Around the Clock" captured teens' enthusiasm for the new music. Love was another prominent theme in rock 'n' roll. Expressing the yearning for true love despite the frustrations and disappointments of romance, the song "A Teenager in Love" was perhaps the era's classic romantic lament. Yet rock 'n' roll also dealt with teenagers' coming of age, their first stabs at independence. In the song "Yakety-Yak" a teenager is nudged to complete his house-

hold chores if he wants to receive the "spending cash" that he will use to buy the latest rock 'n' roll hit and the tightest fitting T-shirt.

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the first enduring rock 'n' roll idol, and his look was as popular as his sound. As he performed such hits as "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "All Shook Up," Elvis swiveled his hips and wore wide-shouldered jackets and loose, lightweight slacks that moved with him. He radiated rock 'n' roll style and attitude with his ducktail, a favorite hairstyle of the time that he made popular, sideburns, and mock-surliness.

During the decade, the types of parentally approved and appropriate dress for teen boys consisted of loose-fitting slacks, an ironed shirt and tie, a sports jacket, and polished black or brown loafers. Haircuts were short and neat. Clean-cut preppy boys donned tan chinos, a type of pants, that ended just below the ankles, V-neck sweaters, and white buck shoes or Top-Siders, deck shoes. Their female equivalents wore saddle shoes, bobby socks, blouses with pleated skirts, or dirndl dresses, which featured lots of petticoats, and came sleeveless or with puffed sleeves. Favored hairstyles included the ponytail and bouffant, hair that was teased and combed up to stand high on a woman's head.

Teens who embraced rock 'n' roll began looking and dressing in ways that veered from the accepted norm. Teenage boys wore tight-fitting blue jeans and white T-shirts: an outfit that represented the essence of rock 'n' roll rebellion. Or they adapted the "greaser" look favoring tight T-shirts and dungarees, a type of jean, along with black leather jackets. Their hair was grown long, greased with Vaseline, and combed on both sides to extend beyond the back of the head: a style known as the ducktail, or D.A. White bucks were replaced by blue suede shoes: the name of a mid-1950s smash-hit by early rock 'n' roll icon Carl Perkins (1932—1998). Their girlfriends expressed themselves by wearing felt poodle skirts, which often featured such images as record players and musical notes attached to their fronts, or they wore short, tight skirts, stockings, tight blouses and sweaters, and an overabundance of eye shadow and lipstick. While a preppy couple who was "going steady," or seriously dating, exchanged class rings or identification bracelets, a greaser girl instead put on her boyfriend's leather jacket.


Brunning, Bob. Rock 'n' Roll. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1999.

Fornatale, Peter. The Story of Rock 'n' Roll. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Gish, D. L. Rock 'n Roll. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2002.

Kallen, Stuart A. The Roots of Rock: The 1950s (The History of Rock 'N' Roll). Bloomington, MN: Abdo and Daughters, 1989.

Marcovitz, Hal. Rock 'n' Roll (American Symbols and Their Meanings). Philadelphia, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.

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100 Fashion Tips

100 Fashion Tips

One of the most important things you need to take note of about becoming fashionable is to get fitter. Therefore, if you are carrying some extra pounds, then you should lose some of it soon. You can do it through dieting, working out, or a good combination of both. Find more fashion tips like this one within this guide.

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  • chris
    What is the person called who designs,makes and rolls expensive fashionable clothes to women?
    4 years ago

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