“What clothes did they wear in 1956?
The year 1956 was characterized by what might be termed a “romantic revival” in women’s fashions in the United States. Both in dress and in home decoration there was a shift away from stark simplicity to a more elaborate, intricate and individualized mood.
Although there were important changes in the silhouette, the most significant differences lay in greater formality; sweet feminine colorings. mingled with candy-box abandon; the stress on softly clinging or floating fabrics such as thin silk. satin and chiffon; and a strong return of delicate feminine froufrou: ribbons, roses, feathers, jabot frills and fur trimming.
Of major influence on U.S. designers was the Broadway play My Fair Lady, amusical version of GeorgeBernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with decor and costumes of the late Edwardian era 1906-12 designed by Cecil Beaton. Beaton’s visualization of the opulent, perfumed period just preceding World War I influenced women’s fashions, men’s wear, children’s clothes, millinery, shoes, coiffures and cosmetics. The peaches-and-cream complexion and the upswept hairdo with a pompadour or chignon became the beauty ideal, balancing the stately effect of large hats, longer and narrower skirts and wrapped coats.
Counterpointing soft. patrician prettiness. was the chic of the alluring “lady spy” costume of slinky dead black, long-sleeved and low-necked dress with an alluring big plumed hat or jeweled turban. In the realm of style “catchwords,” designers retired two venerable and worn-out terms: “look” and “sheath.” As Adele Simpson explained it, “the fashion-minded woman replaced a `look’ with a presentation of her own good looks, counting her personality, her posture, grace and loveliness as vital means of self-expression in dress.”
In the construction of clothes, there was a change from “cut” to “drape” as a basis of the silhouette. The taut Empire sheath and the boned bodice were banished in favour of softness of line achieved through long shallow drapery. The long-legged figure line was emphasized by a retention of the high waistline, kept “small” by wide sashes, under-bosom belts or drapery caught by bows or bouquets of roses. Full skirts remained in fashion, but lost their solid underpinnings of interfacing and petticoats in favour of deep pleats, side folds or multiple airy layers of sheer fabric.
The bloused back and low-hacked bodice gavea new graceful “slouch” to the profile. Wrapped-and-tied effects were important in both construction and in trimming. Most coats stressed the luxurious effect of large collar, deep armholes and a deeply wrapped front.
The oriental splendor which pervaded 1955 fashion was heightened in 1956. Harem hemlines on satin and chiffon evening dresses, colored jewel embroidery on opulent metal brocades, evening turbans of tulle, brocade and satin, exotic color combinations such as emerald green and sapphire blue, flame with orange, and red and yellow were part of this oriental renaissance.
A trend toward capes, first noted in the U.S. collections of such designers as Norman Norell and Ben Zuckerman and later strongly sponsored by Parisian couturiers Balenciaga and Christian Dior, brought quick acceptance. Short capes, barrel capes and full length capes were shown in place of jackets for daytime and cocktails, and evening capes came into prominence. While the coat silhouette was amplified, the suit silhouette contracted with a much shorter; more fitted jacket coming into vogue.
The softening influence throughout fashion had its effect on daytime and sports clothes. Slender suit skirts had double tunic hemlines, wrap-around drapery or “Dutch boy” pegtop hiplines (the latter introduced by Christian Dior) for ease and grace. The ultra-feminine overblouse of silk crepe, thin satin or silk chiffon was seen with daytime suits. The delicate blouse appeared in every phase of fashion from sport clothes to ball gowns. The “little boy” aspect in sports clothes changed to a girlishly decorative effect, which combined freedom and ease with great prettiness.
The year 1956 was a vintage year in fabrics. There were velvety-surfaced woollens, tweeds reduced to featherweight and woven in elegant small patterns, suitings of pure cashmere or vicuna and supple chiffon broadcloth. Afternoon and evening fabrics saw the return of charmeuse satin, silk georgette, flat crepe, double and triple chiffon, crepe mystere, shadow lace, metal thread lace, French lame, gold tissue, point d’esprit and silk tulle, with oriental brocades, panne and Florentine velvets and Edwardian cut velvets. The return to favor of the silk crepe daytime dress and the revival of chiffon as an evening fabric were milestones of the year.
The “clinging” theme brought a new interest in knits, from ribbed cardigan bands and knit sleeves on wool dresses to fine-textured knit cocktail dresses. The bulky knit coat-sweater and knitted full-length coat became popular daytime and sports fashion.
Fur was a recurring note in fashion’s new luxury mood. Mink collars appeared on tailored suits and street dresses and on evening costumes. Black or white fox and natural lynx made great “glamour girl” collars on tweed day clothes and evening clothes, the latter often with hems of fur. The sable-collared cloth coat or dinner suit struck an important note of elegance. American broadtail was handled like fabric to make daytime jackets, lined with the material of the dress beneath.”
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.