“What clothes did they wear in 1958?
In 1958 the “revolutionary” silhouette was a long, unbroken oval, obviously inspired by a space rocket’s shape and achieved via shorter skirts and a loosened outline which touched the body only at the hips.
The introduction of the narrow streamlined chemis, the fuller, tapered-hem “sack,” brought out first in New York and later in Paris, and the pyramidal “trapeze” which Christian Dior’s successor, Yves Saint-Laurent, launched in Paris, brought a storm of protest from men and a wave of reluctance from women. Girls and young women rushed to buy, however, and the loose outline became an overnight volume success by the spring of 1958, only to die out as a fashion several months later. However, by summer U.S. designers found a seemingly compatible solution to the fashion problem by crossing the loose, slender outline with a high waistline, suggestive of the Directoire and Empire styles of Empress Josephine and Dolly Madison. The European collections shown in late July and August echoed the trends introduced by New York designers the previous May and June.
The 1958 Empire style avoided the Empire tight, highwaisted sheath of 1954. Only the bosom area was defined; the waistline was shaped in, if at all, at the front only and fullness fell straight from armhole to a short hemline (16 to 18 1/2 in. from the floor).
Determined not to repeat the mistake of offering too few and too trying shapes for the multitude of feminine figure contours, U.S. designers greatly varied the basic silhouette. One expert counted 18 different silhouettes derived from the chemise and there were at least as many variations in the trapeze outline. The “soft focus” shapes were crossed high with wide sashes, narrow strips, drawstrings and slanted high-to-low lines. Many had form-fitting fronts and free swinging backs. Tops were soft, whether rounding wide or molding in folds, and skirts fell smoothly to a tapered hem, swinging wide and soft and rounded under in balloon or harem curves or spread crisply in the side width of a “paper doll” silhouette.
Coats followed the chemise or trapeze outline, with large collars and neatly buttoned fronts. The flowing, wraparound coat and the fitted coat were in the minority. A wide demibelt placed high at front or back, but leaving the back loose, echoed the Empire trend.
Suits were unfitted, with jackets usually just touching the hipbone and cut to touch the body lightly all around without flaring. Suit skirts were slim and straight, tapered and gathered to a high waistband or box pleated. The hipbone length overblouse had total acceptance and was most often in ultrafeminine flowered silk or bright-colored satin.
Hats, furs, shoes and hair all played important roles in the fashion stamp of 1958. With or without a hat, the head was always exaggerated in size and shaped like a prize chrysanthemum with many fluffy “petals” of hair curving inward around the forehead and ears. Hats were tall and set toward the back of the head. Head-concealing, fluffy fur hats and feather wigs were the rage. While the hatless woman with “tossed salad” hair was perhaps in the majority, the frequency of hats or wide headbands of velvet, metal or tortoise shell indicated that the hatless era was waning.
Colorful pointed shoes, often in silk or cotton print to match the dress, made an important fashion point. Both spring and fall collections pointed to a strong revival of fur trimming, particularly in the long-haired furs such as fox, lynx and sable. Black-dyed mink was a chic new fur. Suit and costume jackets were lined with two-toned furs such as civet cat, leopard, ocelot and blue fox. Chinchilla was established as a luxury fur favorite.
The return of the evening coat and the year-round use of flowered evening fabrics were both important. Virtually every evening dress was designed as part of a complete costume, with its own matching or counterpointing coat or wrap. Metallic brocades, lames, metal-woven chiffon and lace compounded the grand air of evening fashions. Vivid satins were also extremely popular,
The long bulky sweater or overblouse above a “skinny” skirt or pants—even over elasticized dancers’ tights—were the standard sports and campus costumes. The knit look in bathing suits, recalling Annette Kellerman and the Mack Sennett bathing beauty, outranked the ruffly romper suit of the previous year.
Lush, luxurious fabrics with patterns, high colours or downy long-haired surfaces were as typical of the year as the silhouettes themselves. Looped mohair was the number one coat and suit material with vivid tweed a close second. Silks, boldly figured with oversized and often highly stylized flowers or splashy abstractions, appeared in tailored suits, in daytime chemises as well as evening clothes. Cottons mimicked and often mixed with silks, and were used for high-fashion, expensive clothes. Both silk and cotton also achieved new finishes which rendered them more washable and nonmussing. The synthetic fabrics, Orlon, Dacron and Acrilan, achieved a richer appearance also and a consequent wider acceptance by fashion houses.
The era of intense color continued with no sign of waning. Vibrant yellow, orange, vivid blue, the violet range from mauve to royal purple, emerald and ivy green, firecracker red, magenta, fuchsia and peppermint pink made black and navy the exception instead of the “basic.” The single neutral in favor was beige from sand to a dark camel’s-hair tone. There was strong emphasis on the bright-colored costumes, from hat to shoes, and on the all-print costume, with hat and shoes to match.”
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.