“What clothes did they wear in 1955? The year 1955 was a year of what might be termed “siren simplicity” in women’s fashions. Clothes combined willowy sex appeal with fresh youthfulness and ease. Both the 1920s and the French empire had their reflections in the mode, but the blend was thoroughly contemporary. The year’s favorite silhouette was a semifitted sheath which revealed the lines of the body without seeming to do so. The waistline was seldom marked by a belt, but its curve was apparent under a long, gently molded bodice. The bosom line was high and round and the hipline was often accented. Many dresses, suits and coats had half-belts or sashes loosely placed low at the hipline or high, just under the bosom, but they were decorative touches, not meant to distort the normal proportions of the figure. Parisian designers Christian Dior and Balenciaga set the pace with their narrow tunics and semifitted coats and suits.
The influence of the orient, particularly of Japan, India and Turkey, was noted in all branches of fashion, affecting silhouettes, fabrics and colour combinations, and contributing a general mood of splendor. High-bosomed tunic coats derived from the men’s coats of India, Persia or China were worn over straight tube dresses or a narrow skirt with a semifitted over-blouse. These Asiatic coats were first noted in the American collections of Ben Zuckerman, Norman Norell and Charles James, and later in such Paris collections as Christian Dior and Givenchy. By fall the “oriental look” was the accepted silhouette. Sari silks, Indian and Persian brocades woven with gold and rich colors, and heavy, loosely woven Indian wild silk were widely used, and the strange unexpected colour combinations of oriental costumes—pink and orange, green and peacock blue, lacquer red with black—were typical of the year’s fashion. Dress styles emphasized harem touches. Ceil Chapman launched the Fatima silhouette with an elongated bodice, draped hipline and full “dancing girl” skirt, sometimes with a tucked-under harem hemline. Jeweled harem jackets and rich dolman evening wraps of satin were shown.
The ensemble costume, consisting of a matching coat and dress or two-piece suit with its own overblouse of satin or wool, was emphasized by most designers. The two or three parts of the costume were linked by interesting color blends or an affinity of fabrics, woven in the same pattern or color but of different weights.
Most designers found ways to widen the shoulder line without reviving padding. There were large spread collars, full puffed sleeves and elaborately bloused backs. Mainbocher in the United States and Dior in Paris introduced a rising shoulder line by giving tailored sleeves a small rounded hump at the top. This gave a pretty “lift” to the silhouette, like the effect created by harlequin eyeglasses.
Clothes for country living and easy-but-elegant at-home clothes occupied an important place in fashion, reflecting the trends toward suburban living and home entertaining. Both types of clothes combined elegance with ease—tweed suits had jeweled buttons or satin touches, and the favorite at-home costume consisted of sleek tapered trousers of satin, velvet or brocade with a sweater top or satin blouse.
The long evening dress came back into popular fashion. The stately ball dress cut straight or draped in narrow lines, the clinging femme fatale dress, and the elaborately bouffant ball dress supplanted the short evening dress among chic women. A new evening length which Chapman called “shorter than long, longer than short” and Pauline Trigere called “intermission length” also had great success. The Castle Walk dress, inspired by the pegtop, calf-length, wraparound dance dress of World War I, was the most popular short evening style. The long dinner dress, usually dark, narrow and often with long tight sleeves, high front and very low-cut back returned to high fashion, but was not an immediate popular success.
Fabrics in the grand manner were used for every purpose, bringing a luxurious, lady-of-quality air to all types of clothes. Daytime woolens, tweeds, worsteds and coatings stressed thistle-down weight and soft finish, and were woven in distinct patterns rather than the random textures of former years. Some deluxe woolens were woven with a mixture of the hair of precious furs, mink or sable, vicuna, angora or cashmere. Cocktail and evening dresses were made in sheer wool chiffon or wool jersey as thin as silk, sometimes mingled with gold.
Wide and boldly contrasting blazer stripes were seen in sports clothes, from cotton knit bathing suits to heavy winter coats. Clan plaid cottons and woolens were favored in young fashions.
Fur returned as a favorite trimming. Mink and even sable edged evening coats and evening hemlines. Broadtail dyed red, blue or yellow was used to line tweed coats and jackets.
The evening coat and the evening wrap were very important in fashion through the year, bringing vivid colors in velvet, velveteen, corduroy and satin strongly into the coat sphere.
Brilliant color was a pronounced keynote of the year’s fashions, particularly in the unusual, off-beat blends combining the oriental with the modernistic. Red in all shades from Indian pink to dark carnation, emerald green, sapphire blue and strong yellows were the favored evening colors.
Brown in all tones from mushroom to dark walnut and green from moss to dark bottle green were heavily endorsed as basic colors, sharing the attention normally paid to gray and beige.
For the first time in several years, the hat became an essential of the smart costume, becoming larger, and being worn over the forehead to balance the thin delicate line of the body silhouette. Hair began to sweep up and backward, to complete the composition of the small elegant head. Fur hats and hats of fuzzy materials such as brushed velours and melusine were popular, and were frequently white above dark town suits or coats.
Shoes in vivid colors with picturesquely high, ultra thin heels, elaborate trimming and jeweled touches brought the focus of fashion to the feet. Fastidiously narrow and aristocratic, the daytime pump was often in colored kid or calf with pipings of fabric. Evening slippers were fantasies of colored satin and jeweled strips. Most shoes covered the toe only, leaving the instep and ankle bare without straps.”
Compiled from period encyclopedias, yearbooks and catalogs subject to fair use or public domain. My own edited versions of public domain material including edited images are protected by copyright.