History of Fashion: The 1950s Silhouette

by Jessica Barr

An olive-toned leather yearbook engraved in white, reading “1957 Red Hawks” was handed to me during dinner at Huckleberry. My mom brought it to me in hopes that I would find photos of the fashion silhouette I was looking for, with partial acknowledgment of the connection such an artifact would give me to my roots.

The book belonged to my grandmother, Elaine, and was from her freshman year of high school. We knew that 1957 was the perfect year to investigate in search of the silhouette. Flipping through it, I found nostalgia, shared interests and the proof that the hourglass silhouette I had been looking for, dominated the landscape in the 1950s. 

Brought to life by designer Christian Dior in 1947, the “New Look” gave women a silhouette that brought figurative comfort to their bodies. While achieving the cinched waist, full A-line skirt look was anything but comfortable in practice, the newfound trend gave women a chance to feel comfortable in their curves no matter their size. 

Through the combination of pantie girdles, corsets and corselettes women squeezed themselves in Edwardian style garments. The goal being to look as streamlined and effortless as possible in one of the most layered outfits of all time. In modern day fashion it’s hard to imagine wearing a bra everyday, let alone restrictive corsets with bust enlargement and waist reduction qualities.

What came of the 1947 “New Look” is an evolution of the hourglass figure and women’s comfort within their own bodies. The progression of such a staple silhouette has allowed women to experiment with their own figures for nearly 73 years. From shoulder-banding cinched waist dresses to second-skin body-con sets to one-piece jumpsuits, their options have become endless in finding the garment that’s right for them.

We often don’t realize the impact one designer has had on our everyday wear. It’s safe to say Christian Dior was a key player in allowing the housewife to move out into the workforce with a sense of physical pride in the ’50s, while giving an adaptable blueprint for the high-waisted suit trousers that early 21st century women wear.

A version of this originally appeared in
The Teller November 2019 Issue #8

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