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Era of Fashion: Social and Economic Factors Influencing Fashion During 1950–1959

A closer look at the historical development of fashion industry between the period of 1950-1959 reveals economic and social factors that had a profound influence on industry. This period was marked by the world’s recovery from World War II. As the nations tried to rebuild itself, the social and economic landscape undergone significant transformation that had a tremendous impact on the fashion at that time. This, thus, essay argues that the fashion of mid-20th century was influenced post-Depression recovery, played a pivotal role, while societal shifts, including the impact of sports, feminism, and popular culture.

The main economic factor that had an influence of the fashion during on mid-20th centuary was the workaholic spirit. Work had a significant impact on 1950s fashion and attire. Teens purchased new clothes and everything else they wanted because they had just recovered from the Great Depression that ended in 1939, and so were not required to contribute a portion of their wages to support the family (Partington, 2017). By the beginning of the 1950s, the early resistance to the New Look’s excess had diminished, and the silhouette had entrenched itself in women’s daywear as well as evening wear. Even after other elements were added, like as the structural collar, Dior himself kept producing designs that followed the feminine line. Even in the early days of “A New Look,” the 1940s’ square shoulders and masculine elements endured, although this design was popular until at least 1954. Partington (2017) describes the evolution of this body type, from the easygoing fashions and ultra-feminine of the mid 20 century to the long, swirling skirts that coiled around the wearer’s waist at just eleven inches.

Apart from economic factor, sport became the social factor that influenced the styled of dress during the 1950s. Global trends in fashion were driven by athletes’ standing as style symbols and their corporate partnerships. Cross-cultural fashion influences are influenced by major sporting events and specialized hobbies, and both the practical and aesthetic features of both domains are being reshaped by technological breakthroughs (Bielefeldt-Bruun and Langkjær, 2016). Sportswear remained popular even as designers like Charles James, Balenciaga, and Dior produced stunning couture designs (Tomlinson, et al., 2013). The 1940s saw the rise in popularity of American designer Claire McCardell, who not only created pedal-pushers with matching tops but also continued to manufacture her signature wrap-over gowns. Although elegance was the hallmark of 1950s fashion generally, young ladies gravitated for McCardell and other sportswear as well as less formal styles, such as the sundress and bikini in figure 10. The “poodle skirt” is arguably one of the most iconic depictions of 1950s casual wear. These straightforward felt skirts, created by Californian Juli Lynne Charlot, were fashioned in a circle and could be embroidered with any design, not only poodles (Tomlinson, et al., 2013). These skirts followed the New Look’s pattern with a defined waistline and expansive skirt, although being considerably more casual than the high couture that was coming out of Paris. They were paired with close-fitting twinsets.

The other social factor that influenced fashion during that decade was first wave of feminism. A milieu of liberal, socialist politics and urban industrialism gave rise to the first wave of feminism in the late 1950s. This wave aimed to provide women more possibilities, primarily through suffrage (Malinowska, 2020). Although women were starting to wear trousers more often on special occasions, the general fashion trend in the 1950s was toward formality and femininity. This was especially true for evening wear during the rise in popularity of the martini dress. These dresses, which were worn to the new cocktail party, were between day and evening gowns in length but ornamented like evening clothing (Tomlinson et al., 2013). The full-skirted dress remained in style for formal evening wear throughout the decade, even form-fitting gowns and as sheaths gained popularity. Because the simplified bodice counterbalanced the expansive skirts, the relatively new strapless bodice was particularly well-liked. Throughout the decade, it was crucial that a lady always looked flawless, regardless of the time of day. This meant hair that was flawless, makeup that was immaculate, and sets of accessories that matched. In Icons of Fashion, fashion historian Gerda Buxbaum demonstrates that during World War II, ladies experienced a strong desire for opulence and stylish items due to the prolonged period of hardship. They endeavored to dress suitably for every event, with impeccable matching accessories being of utmost importance (Howell, 2013). Whether donning a sheath dress, poodle skirt, twinset and trousers, a lady endeavored to seem put together by means of her accessorizing and general styling. After all, the notorious black-toed Chanel shoes debuted at the close of this decade.

The socialite figure also had a significant impact on fashion during this decade. Despite having a somewhat brief lifespan, James Dean had a significant impact on menswear throughout the 1950s. Dean, who starred in just three films in a single year, died in 1955, at the age of 24, in an automobile accident (Jobling, 2014). However, his depiction of Stark. J. in Rebel Without a Cause permanently altered menswear. Dean’s outfit, which consisted of a white t-shirt, a red jacket, and pants, was widely imitated following his death. Despite having a brief cinematic career, the new generation of young men connected with his Rebel Without a Cause persona due to its popularity. His character, although wanting to ‘belong’ and searching for meaning in life, brazenly rejects the ideals of his elders (Jobling, 2014). Dean provided disgruntled and alienated youngsters a hero they could admire and respect with his expressive performance. Young men’s dress was impacted by their hero status and their resemblance to the roles played by fellow actor Brando Marlon in The Wild One and A Streetcar Named Desire (Howell, 2013). Brando and Dean worked together to guarantee that the 1950s’ ubiquitous jeans, white t-shirt, and greased-back hair came into being. In the 1950s, menswear adopted a level of informality that was unprecedented, while womenswear continued to emphasize formality. Even while young ladies wore tight sweaters and sought out apparel that suited their age, young men were actually the ones who developed the so-called “youth culture” of the 1950s (Tomlinson et al., 2013). Men’s fashion had not changed much since the 18th century, when the suit first became popular. This changed in the 1950s with the emergence of the Teddy Boys in Europe and the uprising of young people who looked up to James Dean and Marlon Brando in Hollywood. Notably, working-class men were the ones who either adopted or were influenced by these two styles; they did not originate from the elite.

The New Edwardian, so named because of its velvet collar and slender shape, was first introduced by London tailors on Savile Row in the years following World War II (Milford-Cottam 53). These suits with tight pants were first adorned by sophisticated, upper-class men, but in the early 1950s, young men from the working class began to adopt the style and tailor it to suit their own requirements (Tomlinson et al., 2013). These young guys, referred to as “Teddy Boys” (as Teddy was Edward’s nickname). They wear remarkably small trousers, velvet jackets, and style their hair slicked back in quiffs. The prevalent fashion reflected the defiance of a young working-class individual while also indicating a shift in the spending ability of young working-class people. Tomlinson et al. (2013) noted that not that the working class adopted an upper-class look; rather, this development was significant because it gave young men from low-income families the ability to purchase reasonably costly clothing and accessories and the self-assurance to incorporate them into their own unique looks. The Teddy Boys were only a small portion of a growing youth culture observed by people of both genders and on both sides of the Atlantic.

The last social factor that influenced fashion during the1950s was emergence of Hollywood actors. Young people in Europe and America were drawn to rebellious Hollywood singers and actors, much as young men in Britain were drawn to Savile-Row tailoring. Young men in the US started wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and a leather jacket as part of the working-class look (Fuhg, 2021). To complement their laid-back appearance, American males adopted the greased-back quiff hairdo, just like their British counterparts. The Teddy Boys were only a small portion of a growing youth culture observed by people of both genders and on both sides of the Atlantic. Their trouble-making reputation and rebellious, analogous to that of the Teddy Boys in the Europe, was a result of this style, which was perceived as a young rejection of generation of their parents (Fuhg, 2021). Unlike their British counterparts, who wore exquisite suits, they wore clothing linked with the working class: jeans were once the domain of outdoor workers and farmers, never used for daily wear.

In conclusion, the fashion of the 1950s was significantly influenced by several social and economic factors. Economic factors, such as the post-Depression recovery, played a pivotal role, while societal shifts, including the impact of sports, feminism, and Hollywood figures, shaped the diverse styles of the era. This decade not only witnessed the evolution of fashion but also reflected the changing social fabric and aspirations of a dynamic and transformative period.


Bielefeldt-Bruun, M., and Langkjær, M. A. (2016) Sportswear: between fashion, innovation and sustainability, Fashion Practice8(2), 181-188.

Fuhg, F., (2021) Cultural Renewal and the Transnational Fashion Industry. In London’s Working-Class Youth and the Making of Post-Victorian Britain, 1958–1971 (pp. 245-288), Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Hackett, L.J., (2021) Designing for Curves: Size and Shape Elements of 1950s-Style Fashion, M/C Journal24(4).

Howell, G., (2013) Wartime fashion: from haute couture to homemade, 1939-1945. A&C Black.

Jobling, P., (2014) Advertising menswear: Masculinity and fashion in the British media since 1945. A&C Black.

Malinowska, A., (2020) Waves of Feminism, The international encyclopedia of gender, media, and communication1, pp.1-7.

Partington, A., (2017) Popular fashion and working-class affluence, In Fashion Theory (pp. 220-231), Routledge

Sanders, V., 2004. First wave feminism. In The Routledge companion to feminism and postfeminism (pp. 15-24). Routledge.

Tomlinson, A., Young, C. and Holt, R. eds. (2013) Sport and the transformation of modern Europe: states, media and markets 1950-2010, Routledge.


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