The 1950s have been a popular vintage fashion trend over the last 10 years, if not more. The classiness of women in 1950s style dresses appeals to our modern tastes of beauty so much that it is almost impossible to visit any retailer and not see elements of the ’50s in today’s modern dresses. Let us take a look at some of the most common fifties dresses and see what makes them so attractive.
Fifties Dresses: Materials and Colors
The fabrics used to make 1950s dresses were endless. A dress of the same cut and style could be worn for day or evening just from the type of fabric selected. Cotton was used for leisure wear, mostly in shirtwaist dresses. Wool and linen were popular for day, as were the new synthetics rayon and polyester. Silk shantung could be used to make a dress a little bit more dressy for evenings out.
Colors went from light and girly to bold – pastels were very popular in all clothing, and dresses were also done in jewel tones like royal purple, navy and emerald green. All-over patterns were used even more frequently – there were florals, plaids, polka dots, gingham checks, and stripes as well as graphic prints with tropical, science, or western themes. The diversity of materials, colors, patterns, and trims are what I believe make fifties dresses one of the most cherished of all vintage eras.
1950s Circle Dresses AKA The Swing Dress
The full-skirted dress was probably the most popular look, especially during the first half of the ‘50s. The bodice was very fitted and a very full circle or gathered skirt ballooned out from the natural waistline. The skirt could be worn with a petticoat underneath to give it added fullness. As for the bodice, the options were vast. It was usually tailored, and often decorated with large buttons and bows. Necklines could be scooped, V-neck, boat-neck, square-neck, or sweetheart.
There were also often collars on these dresses. Collars were large and typically pointed, Peter Pan, or Bertha. Bertha collars in particular were very large and round at the bottom. They fit around the entire neck like a bib. Collars were often made in white to contrast with the rest of the dress.
For a less tailored look, the bodice fabric was sometimes left drapey, with a wrap top that crossed over in the front or with gathering down the sides. These were less popular.
Halter tops were worn in the summer, with a v-neck and two thick straps tying behind the neck. Sleeveless dresses were very popular, but sleeves could also be anywhere from very short cap sleeves to elbow length. Short puff sleeves and dolman sleeves were also used on full-skirted dresses.
1950s Shirt Dresses
The shirtwaist dress was a very popular version of the full-skirted dress. The fad started in the 1940s and carried through to the 1980s. Shirtwaist fifties dresses had a fitted button-down top, like a blouse, that ended at the waist. The buttons would extend a little bit below the waist for getting in and out of the dress. A full circle skirt completed the bottom. Sleeves were often cap, short or elbow length, but could also be full long sleeves too. Sleeves were cuffed at the ends. The collars were either pointed or small round Peter Pan collars. Shop shirtwaist dresses here.
1950s Coat Dress
The coatdress was another full-skirted version. It was similar to the shirtwaist dress, but had the styling of a coat instead of a skirt. These fifties dresses buttoned all the way down to the bottom of the skirt and had no back zipper. Buttons were often oversized and the collar was larger, resembling that of a coat. Shoulders on coatdresses could be slightly more padded, and sleeves were usually long or dolman.
More 1950s Dress Styles
The circle dress, shirtwaist, and coat dress are just a few of the many variations of 1950s dresses. For more styles look at these articles:
- Ten 1950s Dress Styles
- 1950s Tiki Dress History & Photos
- 1950s House Dresses History | 50s Shirtwaist Dress
- 1950s History of Prom, Party, Evening and Formal Dresses
- 1950s plus size fashion history
- 1950s Mature Women Fashion, Mrs. Clothing
As you shop, you may also find you gravitate to a certain dress theme. These shopping pages will help you find the ideal dress:
- 1950s Swing Dresses – Mostly full-skirted dresses with petticoats worn underneath. Great for swing dancing or for anytime.
- 1950s Floral Dresses – Flower patterns are very popular this year. Big or small prints on both full and sheath dresses are very pretty.
- 1950s Day Dresses – While most reproduction 1950s dresses are sleeveless day dresses, those worn at home or for running errands in the 1950s usually had sleeves, came in plain colors or small prints, and were often longer too. They are much harder to shop for, but not impossible to find.
- 1950s Polka Dot Dresses – The most popular vintage dress print is the polka dot. Blue with white dots screams vintage fun! Other colors are equally adorable.
- Pin Up Dresses – A mix of swing and wiggle dresses
- Rockabilly Dresses – Classic 1950s dresses combined with Rockabilly, goth, and alternative fashion to bring out a new, darker side to 1950s clothing. If this is your style look at Rockabilly dresses.
- 1950s Prom or Formal Dresses – Who doesn’t love the tea length, puffy, ball gowns worn in the 1950s! I do. Learn about the various style of 1950s prom and formal dresses and then shop for a reproduction dress for your next party.
- 1950s Wedding Dresses – For that special day a 1950s inspired wedding dress is one of the most comfortable and unique choices you can make.
- 1950s Plus Size Dresses – Curvy girls, you have tons of adorable styles of 1950s dresses in a full range of sizes and cuts.
Fifties Dresses for Sale
Vintage fifties dresses are still plentiful and easy to locate at local vintage clothing stores, thrift stores, and garage sales. Online, eBay.com and Etsy.com will connect you to many retailers. If you prefer new clothes with fifties style to them, then you are in luck. Many online retailers specialize in 1950s inspired dresses. Here is a page of some of our favorites:
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.