Unlike the beginning and end of the 1940s, which began a year into WWII and ended in continued rationing in the UK, the 1950s heralded a birth and explosion in fashion and textile possibilities
For anyone who has seen Dior’s 1947 iconic ‘New Look’, this was an image of what was to come. Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, there remained a shortage of most textiles and accessories, including buttons, manmade fibres such as nylon and rayon (which had been developed in the 30s); and natural fibres including wool, cotton and silk. What Dior’s ‘New Look’ was seeking to achieve was approach fashion with renewed hope and new possibilities. It was usual for a Dior dress with a full skirt to use many metres of fabric – a wild extravagance when the silhouette of the 40s had been slim-lined. As the decade developed, jacket sleeves became wide and the swing coat, which sat perfectly over a full skirt, became popular, along with double breasted coats and an increased used of buttons and zips.
Unlike the previous decade, where colours and textiles had been limited due to a lack of dye and the war effort, the 1950s saw a riot of colour and technological advances in the creation of textiles. Oil was the new king, and with it came exciting developments in fossile fuel fibres, such as acrylic, polyester, triacetate and spandex. These new fibres were machine washable, easy to look after and long lasting; which appealed to the new generation and a nation bored with having to ‘make do’.
The silhouette of 1940s, which had been close fitting, with tailored skirts and crew neck shorter tops was replaced by full circle skirts, off the shoulder tops and long wraps. The role of women within society had changed too with the ending of the war. Women were no longer required to work in munitions factories; and many sought employment in office work, which was clean and well paid.
Female hairstyles in the 1950s became shorter; and hairdressing and haircuts came back into fashion, as women and girls benefited from increased wages. The same technology which developed textile dyes was used to create new exciting hair dyes and synthetic hair streaks, which could add glamour to hair; and the poodle cut, gamine, and a shorter curled wet set became popular, along with the ponytail and pompadour look. Hats and headscarves, which had been a staple of female fashion from the 1930s onwards, became less popular, as more time and effort was spent on creating voluminous hairdos.
Knitting and sewing were still popular, and home dressmaking remained fashionable, due in part to easily accessed home sewing machines and dress fabrics. In fact, the range of fabrics and yarn available to the populus increased, with a wide range of patterns in dressmaking fabrics, increased colour options in yarns and the introduction of thicker yarn (double double knit or ‘quick knit’) providing greater options for knitters.
My latest knit is the Hedy Tyrolean-Pattern Cardigan from the Knit Vintage pattern collection by Madeline Weston and Rita Taylor. This cardi has shorter sleeves and a fair isle motif panel on the front. I’ve decided to knit this in Shetland wool as the 2-ply wool from Jamiesons & Smiths lends itself perfectly to fair isle design and they hold a wide range of colours. I’ve chosen a heathered background yarn in a purple shade, with four contrasting colours of pink, aqua, yellow and green. These colours just pop right out of the cardigan and remind me of the the stripe colours found in sticks of seaside rock. It’s a fab design and I’m considering using different coloured buttons for the front to repeat the colours in the flower motifs. This vintage pattern is a real nod to the 1950s style, and I’m looking forward to teaming it with a full circle dress!