My Favourite Fashion Decade: The '50s

Photo: Getty Images
Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Do you still need convincing? The '50s was the decade of the ultimate style icon, and many of the body and beauty ideals of today were trends 70 years ago. From the curvy hourglass silhouette we see so often in pop culture to the thick, full eyebrows of Cara Delevingne, we have a lot to thank the sophisticated '50s for.
I would describe my style as classic (a contested term), but I've always thought my taste was a few decades before my time. Although I was born in 1993, my parents are baby boomers, so I grew up surrounded by what I think of as the golden age of Hollywood. Movies, music and fashion from the '50s were regular topics of conversation in my home.
The '50s laid the groundwork for all that we know and love today, like Insta models, winged eyeliner and portable tech. Let's start with the foremother of the Insta model: the pin-up. Some of my favourites are Dorothy Dandridge (the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best actress), Gina Lollobrigida, and the legendary vocalist, Eartha Kitt. Some pin-ups were also actresses or musicians but, much like pop culture today, some were famous just for being famous. The Insta-age may be the decade of the bum but the '50s were obsessed with the breast. B-list celebrity Jayne Mansfield knew exactly how to use this to her (ample) advantage: every time she arrived at a red carpet event, at just the right moment, her breasts would fall out. It worked like clockwork but, of course, was always 'accidental'.
Photo: Rex Features
The '50s had two body ideals. One was a curvy hourglass, like Monroe and Loren, achieved with the newly introduced girdle and made famous in 1947 by Christian Dior's New Look. The other was a long, tapered silhouette, much like my (and Mr. Givenchy's) ultimate favourite, Audrey. When we say 'chic', we mean Hepburn. Films like Funny Face, Sabrina, Roman Holiday and, at the end of the decade, Breakfast at Tiffany's, hold a special place in fashion history. In Funny Face, there's even a song and dance number in the offices of a fashion magazine, where the editor-in-chief decides that pink is the colour of the year. Sound familiar?
There's also this gem of a scene where Audrey is in a beat poetry club performing a fabulous interpretive dance, which pokes a little fun at the beatniks. The hipsters of their time, the beatniks romanticised France, specifically Paris, and considered themselves edgy and intellectual. They would wear black turtlenecks or Breton shirts with berets and discuss French existentialism while listening to poetry in smoky coffee houses. A bit of a cliché, but I'm so into it.
Another stunning but lesser known style icon of the era was Jean Seberg, a small-town girl from Iowa who became a cult actress in France after America failed to see her potential. She has a special place in my heart because, in a time blighted by racism and sexism, Seberg aligned herself with the civil rights movement. Back then, the FBI had few bigger enemies than Malcolm X and because Seberg endorsed civil rights, they tried to take her down and destroy her career. They bugged her apartments, tapped her phones and planted fake news about her in the papers, claiming that she was unfaithful to her husband and carrying Malcolm X's baby. All because she believed in equal rights. Bonkers, right? Her name shouldn't be forgotten; nor should her contribution to what is now known as the elusive 'French girl style'. Long before Twiggy modelled her famous pixie cut, Seberg made waves with her short, boyish haircut, called a 'gamine', which means 'kid' in French.
Photo: Rex Features
I think the '50s was the best decade for style because it created so many moments in fashion that we're still struck by today. The ultimate style icons, the heritage designers (Coco Chanel created her signature suit during this period), famous silhouettes and mythologies like 'French girl style' all came from these years. Fifties style was classic and feminine, and I loved it.
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