Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fall Fashions 1954

I just love vintage fashion and never seem to tire of it. A nice cup of tea and a pile of old fashion or ladies magazines is my idea of heaven. I don't care if it's Vogue, Ladies Home Journal or Montgomery Ward, if there are clothes to look at I'm happy. Actually, one of my favorite exercises is to pick different publications from the same time frame and compare. This helps me to develop a broad sense of the various styles for those couple of years. Besides it being fun I also have a professional interest. Part of my job is to try and accurately date the vintage I sell and this helps me tremendously.

So often when people are trying to date vintage they neglect to consider the market it came from. Couture and important designer fashions presage mainstream fashion, sometimes by years. It's important to understand that most vintage on the market would have been manufactured ready to wear. Cutting edge couture and designer clothing is rare so when you shop vintage you are most likely seeing styles that came to market after they first debuted on the Paris runway. Since most fashion history information focuses on famous designers this can become confusing.

I thought it might be fun to pick a time and do a quick blog. Lets look at Fall 1954.

Below are some quick sketch notes I did while I was looking at the styles being shown by Paris designers for Fall 1954

As you can see 1954 Fall silhouettes on the Paris runway showed smoother less pronounced bustlines. Waistlines were shaped but often less "cinched" and they were migrating up or down a bit. Shoulder lines were sloped and the neckline or collar was a favorite design focus... think sculpted. The fall runway was plentiful with fur and velvet trimmed jackets. Skirts were either reed thin or full ( but less full than before) with hemlines just a tad below mid calf. Tailored bows seemed to be the seasons choice for accent. Hats ranged from the occasional pillbox to small platters and asymmetrical, head hugging caps. Modified turbans were worn back on the head away from the face. Prominent colors were black, brown, gray and neutral tones, often in tone on tone combinations however there were experiments in bold color as well. Suits, coats and jackets were fashioned from rich tweeds and lovely wools along with short haired furs like Persian lamb, ocelot and ermine. Gowns were rare, most cocktail and evening dresses were similar in length to day wear. Popular fabrics for evening were heavy satin, taffeta and moiré.

Now lets take a look at mail order fashions from the Montgomery Ward catalogue Fall/Winter 1954/1955. These are the pieces you are more likely to come across in your hunt for vintage. They represent what was popular in mainstream society.

Right off you can see that the shoulder line is still somewhat defined in suits and dresses, not as sloped as the Paris styles. Fur trimmed jackets and coats had not been adopted yet, that came later. Although there were straight skirts, the pencil thin skirt is no where to be seen. Necklines are modest and collars diminutive. Dresses tend to have fitted bodices with full skirts. If the skirt IS straight then it often has a slight a-line cut. Bouffant formal gowns were still hitting the floor and dinner dresses looked a lot like day dresses but done in fabrics like taffeta, faille and velvet or velveteen. Cotton day dresses had short sleeves, fitted bodices and flared skirts. Decorative pockets, piping accents and dressmaker details added interest. Plaids and solids dominated, and prints tended to be small. Separates were very popular... waist length sweaters, blouses and skirts. The catalogue did feature pants for women, full pleated trousers and cropped knicker lengths as well. Three quarter length sleeves were not common and seem to be confined to a few dinner dresses and sweaters. Coats (not pictured) were mostly softly fashioned with a gentle flare or "swing. They featured both long and short coats. There were a couple with defined waist. Coat wools were soft and lustrous I saw two speckle tweeds. Colors for most clothing was subdued. Black, gray, navy and neutrals but there was some color and turquoise was featured often. I saw shades of red from wine to cherry and some muted green here and there. Hats were brimless in a variety of molded shapes... caplets, bonnets, draped profile caps and toques. I saw no turban styles or platter hats to speak of.

As you can see high end runway styles were very different from everyday fashions. I've covered a little ground in this blog but there is so much more. Pick any year and you will discover that there were differences in style from one coast to the other. California did dressy casual to perfection while New York was the land of chic. Junior fashions were more innovative and Misses fashions tended to change more slowly. The more you know, the more you realize there is to learn and that just means more fun finding out!

'Til next time best to all, Melody


  1. Love vintage fashion illustrations ;) Have a few of my favorite vintage patterns framed (and waiting for my new office)!! Couldn't resist cherishing the illustrations everyday!



  2. Thanks Vicki, the illustrations are actually my own sketch notes from styles I see in the old magazines. First I do a quick pencil sketch to capture the silhouette then I outline in black brush strokes. I love to draw, especially clothing.


  3. You are a girl after my own heart - I'm in love with vintage magazines, and the fashions (and ads) inside too! About a month ago I purchased 100 1950's & 60's Life, Look, Ladies Home Journal & McCalls mags at an estate sale for a mere $25. I've been in heaven ever since.

    Thanks for the fascinating post - and your wonderful blog! And you are quite an artist too...