“What clothes did they wear in 1957?
In 1957 women’s fashions reflected sharp contrast, restless experimentation and a search for a change which would be as distinct and as satisfying as the New Look of 1947 and the Empire sheath which succeeded it in 1954. In the French haute couture, 1957 was an intensely dramatic year. In February the fashion world saluted the designer Christian Dior on his tenth anniversary as the dominant spirit of French fashion, and only a few months later (Oct. 25) was shocked at the news of his sudden death from a heart attack. Gabrielle Chanel, at 71 still creating variations on her theme of the 1920s, the casual, open-front suit, was once again a major influence, and the Chanel suit was as much in demand as it had been in her earlier heyday. In autumn 1957 a startlingly diversionist group of Paris designers led by Balenciaga and Givenchy introduced the “sack silhouette,” shaped like a giant almond with sleeves, completely muffling the torso, barely touching the hipline, and tapering to a narrow hem that reached just below the kneecap.
United States designers, who had been gradually relaxing the silhouette since 1955, were less drastic in muffling the figure in their 1957 collections. Claire McCardell’s “string bean” silhouette, Tina Leser’s dress-length cashmere pull-over sweater, Norman Norell’s straight, beltless chemise and tubular tunic and the typical Estevez semifitted sheath with an arrestingly bare, strapped neckline were carried forward in 1957, softened and somewhat shorter (about 17 inches from the floor). Some designers blended the sack and the sheath by veiling a shapely dress under a loose, straight overdress of transparent fabric. Many collections offered chemise dresses to be worn with or without a belt or narrow sash.
“Free form” cut simplified the silhouette, erased many intricacies of dressmaking and gave a skyscraper-like clarity of line. Even full skirts assumed modernistic form, deep folds being arranged into oval or spherical shapes, variously called “almond,” “egg,” “melon” and “balloon” skirts.
Many designers undertook to do a woman’s fashion thinking from head to toe, designing the hats, shoes and jewelry for each costume, and even selecting the correct stocking tone for the season.
In designing the spectacularly revealing necklines, it seemed relevant to design the appropriate foundation garments to go under them, and Estevez, for instance, turned corsetier to build the right underpinnings for his spectacular necklines.
While the completely accessorized costume was naturally limited to high fashion, the combination of dress and jacket, dress with matching cardigan sweater, and three-piece costume had widespread popularity in all price ranges.
While the suit and day dress remained slim, although less fitted, coat shapes visibly expanded in 1957. Large cape collars standing away from the throat, deep armholes and low-set, unpadded shoulders gave bulk to the top of the coat outline. Rounded fullness at the waist extended into a wide sweep at the hem, or tapered in slightly to give an oval silhouette. The knee-length coat, usually in dramatically wrapped effects, was shown by many designers.
The evening wrap and evening coat were definitely established as a fashion revival for the very young as well as for the older and more sophisticated woman. Bright corduroy, velvet and satin “party coats” topped slim satin sheaths or full chiffon dresses as college prom equipment. Floor-length, knee-length and waist-length coats and wraps of gorgeous brocades, vivid satin or velvet accompanied evening gowns.
The uneven hemline, as short in front as the shortest daytime dress and swooping to the floor or into a train at the back, was stressed to highlight pretty legs.
The head was less small and sleek, but given roundness and width by loosely waved coiffures brushed full at the sides. Hats of satin or fur were soft but large, draped or twisted dramatically sideward or back. Large transparent headdresses of lace or tulle were an important accessory with slim siren-like evening dresses of black silk crepe, lace, figured satin or solid paillettes.
In 1957 there was great interest and originality in fabric, with special emphasis on richness and luxurious quality. Featherweight, loosely woven fabrics with bold patterns were favored for both day and evening. Tweeds of dupioni silk or wool stressed porous and nubby textures in variegated high colours or in large herringbone, houndstooth or plaid patterns. Resort and summer clothes made much of silk linen, supersheer printed cotton, Swiss and Madeira eyelet embroidered linen and organdy. The new synthetic fibers were blended with natural silk, wool, linen or cotton to provide crease-resistance and ease of washing.
Orange, yellow, brilliant blues and emerald green were the colors most favored by designers. Brown, from caramel to charcoal-brown, vied with black as the smartest daytime color. The vivid red coat and suit continued in popularity, with the electric blue costume rising in importance.
The “fancy” shoe with a sharply pointed toe became an accepted fashion in 1957. Acceptance came through the ability of shoe designers to make the pointed toe comfortable. Pumps of striped linen, flowered silk crepe and satin, velvet and even of lace were shown to match print dresses or print hats. ‘The ultrahigh spike heel diminished in favor, being replaced by the medium Louis heel.
Fur was more important in 1957 fashion than for nearly two generations. In addition to the prominence of fur trimmings on cloth coats, suits and dresses, the fur coat became an area of original design. Rich furs such as mink and sable were dyed black as a new and very chic effect. Chinchilla, newly revived as the most sought-after evening fur, was bleached pure white and introduced by Leo Ritter with resounding success.”
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.