For by him were all things created,
that are in heaven, and that are in earth,
visible and invisible, whether they be thrones,
or principalities or powers:
all things were created by him, and for him:
and he is before all things
and by him all things consist.
Last week we talked about the 1940s and classic styles to watch for when buying clothes or looking through your closet to find costumes. This week we'll talk about finding 1950s costumes in your own closet.
Now, the early 1950s and the late 1940s were similar and both were different from what we would think of as “classic '40s” or “classic '50s” styles. Once the war was over, skirts lengthened and began to get wider, although in the early '50s they were still flared rather than circle skirts. This is a style which can be easily replicated if you watch for modern flared or gored skirts. This one from Karin Stevens, for instance...
...has the exact drape of this early '50s pattern:
However, this is not what most people think of when they think of 1950s fashion.
The classic 1950s silhouette was actually 2 different silhouettes – a slender skirt and a circle skirt. (A good example is to watch Rear Window starring Jimmy Stewart and observe what Grace Kelly wears of both styles.)
Many sewing patterns from the era have both options, since some women preferred one skirt style over the other. (Oh, and by the way, girdles were a standard piece of women's dress requirements throughout both these decades.) While a circle skirt could be worn for more casual wear, it was almost exclusively the style of skirt worn for dress-up or formal wear. Fitted bodices were almost universal, yet often a loose, straight jacket or bolero was worn over top. Matching suits were still popular for business wear, but the shoulders were less square and the skirts a little longer and narrower, often with a kick-pleat in the back. V necks, in the front or back or both, and boat necks, were very common, rather than the small shirt-style collar from the 1940s. Sleeveless was also more common. Blouses began to be worn untucked more, but were always straight at the hem and usually either jacket style, often worn with a belt, or smocks – blouses that hung straight from the shoulder (a popular maternity style into the 1960s). Waists were almost always defined and belts were almost universally worn. Shoulders, instead of being padded square like in the 1940s, were generally sloping. Vests were popular – usually with pointed waists, just coming down past the waist, and often matching the skirt.
However, like in most eras, there was a common look but many women could differ in implementing it. And because the fabric rationing ended with WWII, designers could be a lot more creative and thus there is generally a wider range of styles, all Period correct. Once I told my sister that the difference between 1940s sleeves and 1950s were that the 1940s had gathers at the top and 1950s sleeves were never gathered. Then the very next day I saw a sewing pattern, unmistakably from the '50s, which featured gathered puff sleeves! So you have a lot of leeway when you are assembling a 1950s costume, and preference can account for much.
For this outfit, I started with a modern slender skirt in a vibrant color. Slits in skirts were not common until the 1960s. Usually for the slender style of skirts, there were kick-pleats in the back or front to allow for movement without showing skin. This skirt didn't have a kick-pleat, but I stitched the slit in the back shut, since there was enough walking room without it.
There were always tucks or pleats at the hips in the slender skirts.
For the blouse, this one from Worthington in my closet fit a 1950s look absolutely perfectly. The sleeves, fabric print, and the tucks drawing attention to the round yoke are all classic. It has small cuffs and small puffed sleeves, and the way the sleeves are set are also Period. It has a shirt tail hem, but that's ok since it's tucked in. Again, while there were more untucked looks in the 1950s for casual wear at home the hems were always straight, whether intended to be worn tucked or untucked. Even tucked-in blouses always had darts at the waist, but that is something easily added to a modern button-down blouse if you want a perfect costume.
To make this one more Period, the buttons should be replaced with fancier or smooth buttons – these look like modern shirt buttons.
The red beads add a perfect finishing touch. Chunky jewelry was very popular in the 1950s, as well as rhinestones. Large earrings and bracelets were in style, but the look was classy (for instance with just one piece of large jewelry) rather than over-loaded.
Yes, they did dress well to do their housework and rake leaves in their yard. It's possible. :-)
As I mentioned, sleeveless became more standard. If you are styling a summer costume, for a casual outfit a sleeveless knit shirt works well. Make sure it has tight arm holes and is not a turtleneck.
Here's one slightly more dressy. This one wouldn't have been worn to clean house, but might have been donned for a visit or even to go shopping.
I started building it with this paisley sleeveless shirt from Apt. 9. Again, this modern shirt has all the classic elements of 1950s style. The print and color is good, and even more correct, the way all the gathers go into the neck is extremely fashion correct.
It has a side zipper and a back neck opening – all perfectly Period. It has darts on the side for a more fitted fit – avoid straight front tops unless they are knit and thus stretchy – and never, never any obviously T-shirt fabric. It has a straight hem but must be tucked in, since it doesn't look at all like a jacket style.
(If you do wear sleeveless shirts for your 1950s costumes, remember that fashion was conservative and generally modest and required snug arm holes.)
Added to the shirt, this slender light blue linen skirt is a good match. It has belt loops so it must have a belt.
And a narrow belt adds the finishing touch. Notice the fabric weave with the leather closure – a good Period choice for a costume. Avoid belts with D rings, although belts that used slides to close – especially for homemade belts sewn to match a dress – were around then. Narrow belts were more common. Remember waists were always defined in the 1950s. Sometimes belts were even worn at the natural waist with a high or low-waisted dress.
For a bit of warmth, add a ¾ sleeve coordinating cardigan that comes just past the hips.
Time for some white gloves and heels, close fitting hat, pearls, and ladylike chatter over a cup of coffee!
The Business Woman or Daytime in Town
One more outfit with a slender skirt.
Notice the cardigan over a tucked in sleeveless shirt. For a 1950s style cardigan, you want one that is short and just comes past the hips. This one of mine, from Faded Glory , works perfectly, and with the textured detail, pockets, and buttoned cuffs, could almost have stepped out of a 1950s fashion plate. It's one of those garments you buy because it is cute, but don't realize until later it actually works for a costume.
Paired with the coral cardigan, I added another slender skirt. This one is slightly less Period because of the crinkly fabric and the shell buttons, but the fabric prints (polka dots in the center, solid the rest of the way around) is authentic.
The vintage rhinestone brooch adds the perfect touch of glamour. Brooches were extremely popular in the 1950s, worn on purses, gloves, hats, scarves, as well as on lapels and shoulders and at a bodice neck.
For business or about-town wear you're looking for a sophisticated, conservative style. 2 piece skirt suits are the best, if they are the right style.
This is a real 1950s formal dress over my vintage crinoline. (You will need a short crinoline for the wide skirt costumes, but if you can't find a vintage one or sew your own, try cutting a longer formal crinoline off and hemming it.) Notice the ombre gauze and the gorgeous beading on the lace top.
It has a boat neck and the short sleeves, as well as a wide skirt at formal length. (Although in the 1950s formal dresses were still usually mid-calf, formal length is also Period.) You can't do better than this for a formal dress, but of course they are expensive and hard to find.
So with that for inspiration, let's try to create a viable option with modern formal clothing.
I started with a long tiered black satin skirt (a thrift store find). Tiered skirts became an option in the 1950s, but were not terribly common. Still, it's a good option, and that's one modern formal style of skirt that is apt to be wide enough.
I paired it with a sheer blouse with a round neck and gathered sleeves. Of course this would have been worn over appropriate undergarments.
To be completely Period, it should have tucks at the waist.
The finishing touch is a sequined cummerbund belt. Cummerbund waists were frequent, if not common, and it adds the glitz most evening dresses in the 1950s sported.
This would have been a type of dress worn to a banquet rather than to a dance, but it gives you an idea of what to look for in a formal costume.
As a finishing touch, remember your wrap! Velvet, fur, or lace are all great choices.
The Church Dress
Here's another modern blouse that works well for a costume. It is linen, a great Period fabric, and has tucks and narrow lace, a V neck, and ¾ sleeves. All very common. Look for the small details when collecting clothes for costume possibilities.
To be completely Period it should have tucks in the back of the sleeves, and in the back of the blouse, though. Although this is a jacket style blouse, it isn't fitted at the waist, and you wouldn't have worn a belt over top of it. If you are a seamstress, adding a few tucks in the back would be a good option to waist-shape it. Without tucks, it should be tucked in.
A novelty, slightly splashy print is perfect in this tiered skirt (like I said, a good, easy to find modern style that will work perfectly over a crinoline) is a good choice for a dressier 1950s costume, like a church outfit. (Often tiered skirts are styled long in a boho fashion, but you want your skirt length to be approx. mid-calf so cutting it off and hemming it might be necessary.) 2 piece suits with a narrow skirt were also worn to church, usually with a corsage or brooch on the shoulder, but a circle skirt is my choice.
For this one I went with a wider belt because it was the right color to match the necklace (vintage 1950s double-stranded beads), but an elastic belt like this would not be quite Period. Ah, well!
Here it is with my Mark Eisen jacket over top. The detailed paneling in this one and the rolled cuffs, as well as the fabric, are great Period details. It could be worn loose or buttoned.
Remember, as with the 1940s, accessories are essential. These costumes will just look like a nice modern outfit if you wear them with messy bangs and flip-flops. Repro heels and the right jewelry, gloves, hats, and makeup are all very important if you are really going to look Period.
Enjoy exploring your own closet!
Till next week,
~Kristen - Verity Vintage Studio
If you are on a budget and love vintage costumes, here's the good news - you may already have a costume in your own closet! Find how to put together a vintage 1940s WWII era costume from modern clothing. Watch next week for a similar post on the 1950s!
The 1940s is quite an era for fashion buffs, although hard to describe and pinpoint since fashion shifted so much during the decade. Late '30s styles and early '40s styles look similar. After WWII restrictions were lifted, fashions changed, and late '40s and early '50s are hard to tell apart.
We have a wealth of movies and photos to study, and lots of vintage patterns to make, but I am struck by how often modern clothing fits this time period unintentionally. Ideal for a retro-inspired dresser or someone interested in 1940s costumes on a low budget, I want to show you it's possible to find truly Period costumes (with perhaps a few alterations) will walk you through some of the components of putting together Swing Era costumes from your own closet with modern clothes. Watch for another one for 1950s costumes next week.
Remember that for these 2 decades (the '40s and '50s), accessories are essential. These costumes will just look like a nice modern outfit if you wear them with messy bangs and flip-flops. Repro heels and the right jewelry, gloves, hats, and makeup are all very important if you are really going to look Period.
There was a fairly strict etiquette for different types of dress, and I am not completely versed in it. A house dress was a house dress, and only the family or a woman friend dropping in to borrow yeast might see you in it. Shopping or running out to the post office would have required a change of dress, unless it was winter and the woman cheated by wearing a long coat!
However, I've given some general categories to assist you in putting together the type of costume required for different events, but the best way to learn what was worn when is to look at old photos of real people doing real things, and notice how they were dressed. Movies too can be helpful, but remember that Hollywood is Hollywood. I mean, they really truly didn't go to sleep each night with makeup still on and their hair magically staying curled overnight. So take movies with a grain of salt.
Building this outfit, I started with a skirt I had made from a 1946 pattern.
This modern cardigan is perfect for the 1940s costume. Short sleeves, V neck, simple lines, not coming down too far or too cropped. I did alter it slightly by putting in shoulder pads. Square shoulders are a must for almost every 1940s costume, and thankfully, shoulder pads are easy to make and only take a minute to fasten into shoulder seams. You can also cut them out of discarded blouses and jackets for re-use.
But the neck came too low. Instead of a dicky, I chose to pair it with a knit undershirt of the right shade to match the skirt. Simple, but classic 1940s. If you wear an undershirt, under no condition should the under layer show at your hem beneath the top layer!
A bright scarf adds a splash of color. Vintage scarves are usually cheap, easy to find, and ideal for costumes.
In case you don't have a real 1940s skirt on hand, here's the same cardigan with a modern A-line skirt. A few gathers or pleats are fine. '40s skirts could be a straight, short A-line with an inverted pleat at the bottom, or straight in the front or the back, with gathers or pleats on the other side, and came down below the knees. During the War, skirts were worn short – just below the knees – but both in the early '40s and in the late '40s everyday skirts were commonly mid-calf.
This type of outfit a woman would have worn at home, to do physical work, or perhaps a teenager would have worn to school or to play tennis and go hiking.
The Business Woman or Daytime in Town
When I looked at 1940s patterns, what most struck me was how common suits were: two piece suits, with a jacket over a simple blouse and a matching shortish A line or pleated skirt. Usually worn with a flamboyant hat, a touch of white (collar or ruffle or bow) at the throat, and of course gloves and heels. For street wear, the look was classy but tailored. Matching suit jackets and skirts were most common, but it's also quite Period correct to coordinate them and this makes it much easier to find something suitable in your own closet.
So first, find a simple suit jacket in a tweed or other Period fabric (not faux suede, for instance). Most modern jackets have shoulder pads, which add the perfect silhouette.
Check the buttons, too. The ones on this Casual Corner jacket I got for $1 are old-fashioned, which is perfect.
Notice the back pleat – a great military touch. Women's fashions during the War, when not actually military, often had military influence to show patriotism and their support.
I put it over a blouse with some neck detail. This blouse is vintage, but there are many similar modern blouses. And it doesn't matter if the hem or sleeves aren't right since all you'll be seeing is the neck. However, make sure the neck doesn't have sergeing to it, edging ruffles or anything, or is T-shirt fabric.
Since I didn't have a matching skirt, I paired it with something completely different but coordinating - a Sag Harbor A-line skirt in a retro print. To be completely Period correct, it should be hemmed up a little. (Keep in mind the mannequin is not scaled to height.)
This would have been worn while shopping, going into town, doing secretarial work, etc.
This type of costume is harder, especially if you want a one piece dress. But if you opt for 2-piece, it can be easier. There is a great variety for you to choose from for formal wear. Formal dresses (different from cocktail dresses which were shorter and more suit-like) were commonly very long, sleeveless, and with some sort of adornment on the front of the (usually plunging) bodice, but quite often the necklines were high and it had sleeves. Look for pieces with lots of embroidery, gauze, matching jacket, but not with a regency waistline or princess seams. Steer away from cotton fabric.
For this one, I found a modern formal flared, floor-length taffeta skirt to work well. I've owned and seen several of this style and cut, so they seem to be fairly easy to find.
I paired it with a modern evening wear jacket style top, this being the easiest modern cut of formal wear to adapt for a costume. This one is Period because of the fabric – tons of beading on gauze – and the cut: square shoulders, short sleeves, and a round neckline.
Look at the beading detail and that fabulous waist-defining beading!
This would have been most likely a fancy-dinner-and-then-the-opera outfit, not a UFO dance dress.
The Church Dress
Pleated skirts, as I already said, were common, either pleated just in front or accordian-pleated all the way around, and sewn-down pleats were also common. Here's a modern skirt that is on the narrow side and has sewn down pleats all the way around.
Paired with a double-breasted (another great 1940s fashion element to watch for in your costume-able pieces) military influenced jacket with contrasting trim, it makes a classy outfit to go to church in.
Notice the sleeves – shoulder pads, slightly gathered at the top, and peasant style at the cuffs. Each of these elements is Period.
Dressier than street wear, yet decorous, this outfit would have been paired with white gloves and a fancy hat.
Speaking of peasant blouses, there is something very popular in the 1940s that can easily be found today in modern brands. Here's one of mine worn over a white dicky, with a slightly crazily printed A-line skirt.
Notice the way it's gathered into the neck band, and the small tucks on the sleeve, which would come to below the elbow. Detail like this is wonderfully Period correct, even to the setting of the sleeves, yet it's a Kmart brand. It's a solid bright color, too, and a smooth cotton fabric.
Wear the peasant blouses tucked in, and with a belt wide enough to cover the elastic if your skirt has elastic at the waist.
This particular skirt came with a matching strand of beads, which adds the perfect coordinating touch.
This outfit might have been worn at a neighbor's barbeque or for afternoon visiting. Depending on the fabric and accessories, it may be a good style to wear to the neighborhood dance.
Of course, I understand that what I find in my closet won't be the same in yours. Some of these clothes, while not from the 1940s, were still vintage-ish. Incidentally, the 1980s is a good era to look for '40s style clothes since they did a lot of throw-backs then. However, there were some important differences (a post on telling the difference is in the works.)
But I hope that this post can spark your imagination to look at your wardrobe in a new way, whether it'll save you a lot of pain trying to find a real dress from the era or if you want to make costumes your normal way of dressing, which, by the way, is completely doable. And I hope it will help give some helpful guidelines of what to look for when buying new clothes, whether from a thrift store or out of a catalog.
See you next week!
~Kristen - Verity Vintage Studio
If you're a Downton Abbey fan, click here to see a great similar tutorial on making 1920s costumes out of modern clothing.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.
Since Easter is this month, which means it's spring hat time, I thought I'd show you how to make a cute 1950s style hat that anyone can make and customize and it fits any head size, using just 3 things.
I'm always on the lookout for smaller hats or head adornments to wear at restaurants or other formal occasions. I saw one on Ebay that was made of velvet covered wire twisted with 2 loops on either side and had just one strand like a headband to go over the head, and it looked so classy and easy, so I decided to make something similar for myself. I couldn't find a heavy gauge covered wire, so I decided to make my own.
You can see the classic 1950s silhouette.
You will need:
wired 5/8 in. ribbon
1. Wrap the ribbon around one end of the grapevine several times to hide the end.
Keep wrapping, overlapping the edge so it starts to cover the grapevine. Since you are working with 2 wired substances, the best way is to keep the ribbon stationary and turn the grapevine as you cover it.
Keep on wrapping! It's amazing how much it takes to bend in a few loops.
When you get a lot wrapped, go ahead and start shaping it. I did mine in 2 loops of slightly different sizes. The smaller loops will go in the front. (Of course you can try bending it in all sorts of other shapes.)
Here it is a little farther along. By this time I held it on my head to determine how long the across piece should be, and started the loop for the other side. You want to make the loops like a figure 8, always crossing on alternate sides.
If you like it with a slightly rustic look, wind the ribbon loosely so the grapevine shows through occasionally.
Now it's wound far enough that I am ready to join the 2 ends.
With the wire cutters, clip the grapevine off and cut the ribbon with 4-5 in. extra.
Now hold the grapevine ends together and wind them securely with the ribbon to close over the join. Then you're all done!
2. There are lots of different ways to decorate. For this one I chose a vintage flower with a short wire stem, and wired it to one side of the hat.
It's light, cool to wear for summer, and can be bent to fit your head over your hairstyle, even if it's a new way each time you wear it!
Of course you can trim it in so many ways. Here's one with the top covered with a floral branch.
It makes a great base for a veil.
And I want to try it as a hat frame, too, to be covered with lace or fabric and decorated.
But for now, it's a fun spring accessory (Period correct for 1950s costumes, too) and only takes about a half hour to make!
Till next time,
~Kristen - Verity Vintage Studio
Look for my new tutorials posted sometime during the first full week of every month. Hairstyles, crafts, repurposing, etc.
This lovely circle shrug is half price in my Etsy shop until 4/14. Crocheted with buttery soft wool in a lovely Prussian blue shade, it is feminine and flattering, with a gathered ruffle and bow in the back, cap sleeves, a striking medallion center back, and a shawl collar. Women's size S/M - slashed from $30.