After enjoying a golden period from the 1920s to the 1930s, the fashion industry in France crumbled in the 1940s with the dawn of the Second World War. Thankfully, the aftermath of the global conflict saw France being reborn as the world’s fashion capital. Designers became more circumspect during 1950s fashion scene, featuring a myriad of ideas all exuding creativity, luxury, and elegance. In this article, let’s look at the major fashion trends in France in the 1950s, which contributed to the lasting legacy of French fashion.
The “New Look”
Though it was a conclusive era for the Haute couture, major trends chiefly submitted to the high-end fashion style. Household names in fashion, such as Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Balmain, Chanel all became prominent during the decade.
Christian Dior’s “New Look,” which was launched in 1947, remained in the 1950s and became the most popular and predominant trend in the early half of the decade. It was a flamboyant and opulent style that featured rounded shoulders, full hips, tiny waist, and plentiful bust, designed to appreciate a woman’s hourglass figure.
From the harsh utility clothing and sartorial restrictions from the wartime years, it provided the radical shift back to decorative and voluptuous femininity, which then helped revive the country’s internationally acclaimed fashion industry. The “New Look” trend transcended into many of the styles in the 1950s, from daily wardrobes to sundresses, skirts, coatdresses, and evening wear. Yet, of course, there were designers who challenged the norm and served as a breath of fresh air.
Redefining the Silhouette
Balenciaga, who debuted in the 1930s, showed his maximum range of creativity during the 1950s. He reformed the redefined the silhouette in 1951, stripping off the waist but providing more width in the shoulders. Four years later, he created the tunic dress, which then transformed into the iconic sack or chemise dress in 1957.
His other notable contributions in the 50s include the spherical balloon jacket in 1953, cocoon coat, and baby doll dress in 1957, before culminating his work with the Empire line, which featured high-waisted coats and dresses with kimono-like cuts.
On the other hand, Hubert de Givenchy’s clothing was less structured and padded, introducing separates wearers’ can mix and match at their pleasure. His most iconic creation was the “Bettina Blouse” named after its model, Bettina Graziani. It was a white blouse that featured tiers and black flamenco eyelet ruffles, which became an instant sensation.
Pierre Balmain opened his salon in 1945 but experienced paramount success in 1952. He applied a more restrained approach in fashion, characterized by full skirts, narrow waist, sufficient bust. Using artistic assemblies and cuts of subtle-colored fabrics, his trendy creations aimed to accentuate the wearers rather than overwhelm them, giving them a natural look but still with luxurious elegance.
Other trends from the era came from the returning Coco Chanel. After the closure of her salons during World War II, she made a comeback in 1954 with a stunning collection that became an inspiration all over the globe. One of which was the revolutionary “Chanel” jacket, a piece that drew inspiration from the man’s suit. It aimed to liberate women from the restricting cinched waistlines that dominated the fifties, which was perhaps a glimpse of the massive change that occurred in the next few years.
The second half of the decade leaned towards less formal clothing that was more practical and comfortable. By the end of the fifties, fashion had seen the rise of mass-manufactured off-the-rack clothes, which allowed the public groundbreaking access to more fashion styles.
Nonetheless, many fashion houses were quick to adapt to the prêt-à-porter trend, which became more prevalent in the succeeding decade. They released ready-to-wear lines, satisfying the needs of pop culture and the growing mass media, proving how fashion can be excitingly adaptive and continually evolving.