What’s going on? War. Another World War, in fact, because evidently, the First World War – you’ll recall, the war to end all wars – didn’t quite cut the mustard. Once again, Europe was ticked off at Germany, whose economy had depleted so rapidly after World War I that the people were looking to cling to any shred of hope, any leader who was eloquent and motivating. Enter: Adolf Hitler. America didn’t officially enter into the war until 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, though America had been supplying weaponry to the British. When Hitler declared war on America a few days after Pearl Harbor, America, content to have their war with Japan and be done with it, was placed in an interesting predicament. Solution? Join the allies. And ultimately drop the first atom bomb. Suddenly, just like during World War I, everyone was doing their all for the war effort. Women found themselves back in manufacturing plants, making weapons for the war; men lied about the age to enlist. What persisted throughout this era, though, was the cinematographic dreamland that was Hollywood. It had helped America get through the Depression, and it’s glitz, glamor, and big screen depictions of better times continued to remain a small source of optimism.
What were they wearing? Although Parisian fashion fell out with the multitudes the decade prior due to the lack of funds to support fashion, when the Germans occupied Paris, Parisian fashion was not only out, it was entirely unattainable. Additionally, with most manufacturing plants designated to making weapons and things essential for the war – like uniforms and boots for the winter – big wigs put restrictions on how much fabric was permitted for those left at home. Consequently, designers had to cut some corners and voila! Coordinating separates. A-line and pencil skirts matched with feminine blouses or a simple jacket. The lady’s suit – a shorter skirt with a straight jacket – came into fashion at this time, particularly because eveningwear became too callow. I guess nobody really felt like dressing to the nines while reports came in daily about the latest casualties in Europe.
|Dior's "New Look"|
It’s hard not to feel badly for men of this era. Women at least received some sort of new look, despite the shortage of available materials, whereas menswear was simply stripped. Their fall back – the suit – was now manufactured without vests or pockets, and their pants were no longer allowed to have pleats or cuffs. Too much fabric.
By 1947, though World War II and its aftermath dominated the ambiance of the 1940s, designers were ready to get back to the cloth. It was during this year that Christian Dior came out with a look that would influence the fashion for the next decade, appropriately called the “New Look.” Dior returned the “feminine silhouette” to women’s fashion – read: another tiny waistline. Men, on the other hand, got their suits back. And they were better than ever! Men could buy them in an ever-increasing array of colors, and also at their disposal were hand-painted ties featuring anything from foliage to pin-up girls. The war does funny things to people.
What were they wearing on their feet? Because leather was strictly for military use, designers had to get creative. They dug around in their bag of creative ideas and found reptile skins, cork, and mesh were the most durable materials. In a sense, designers of the 1940s were quite ahead of themselves: alligator handbags and snakeskin boots were right around the corner!
For men, Oxfords remained a popular style, but Brogues and Moccasins were also in fashion. Women had some limited choices due to limitations on material, which also meant that heels could only rise to one inch in height and only came in six colors. Come the 1950s, you can bet those women were missing those one-inch cork heels.
What’s going on? Baby boomers and Elvis’ pelvis. Ed Sullivan and the Yankees. Leave it to Beaver and the nuclear family. Housewives and father knows best. Marilyn Monroe and American Bandstand. In many ways, the 1950s was to World War II what the 1920s was to World War I. Suddenly people had money again, and those who had survived the war were back with their families. And, thanks to FDR and his G.I. Bill, had money for a home and for education. This was a very family-centric decade, when televisions first became household items; food more consistently came from a Supermarket than a farm; gender roles were identified and not broken; Americans took to their cars (and to their hula hoops!); and damned if everything wasn’t just-so.
What were they wearing? Rosie the Riveter appeared again in World War II, but it’s the 1950s, so it’s time to shove that women’s liberation stuff back where it belongs: the bottom of the dumpster. Women’s liberation was having children to raise, a house to clean, parties to plan, and a husband to obey. And oh, how liberating it was! No more pesky jobs or working, no, no! A woman’s place was a home. With a broom and some dish gloves, but don’t forget the pearl necklace. In all seriousness, though, if there were one word to describe this decade it would be “prepilicious.” It was considered normal for women to don themselves with Dior’s “New Look” (1947) and other similar designs. From a very young age, mothers taught their daughters to be ladylike, wear their poodle skirts and cardigans, their pearls and their white gloves, their petticoats and their pedal pushers. Adult women accentuated every ladylike curve, and the media encouraged them to constantly play up their femininity. Often, this meant wriggling yourself into the modern version of a corset: the girdle. Once again, the natural form was out, and the illusion of having an hourglass figure and a Scarlet O’Hara waist was a sign of a life well lived. And don't forget the stockings! After living with them for the better part of a decade, they were at long last available again...and to all women to the apparent elation and appreciation of all men! Aren't you just shrieking with joy?
If the women of this decade dressed conservatively, men from this decade were downright boring. Except for their socks. Their Day Glo colored socks were quite exciting. But other than the occasional James Dean or Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli-type “rebel” dressed in a leather jacket and jeans with a Pompadour hairstyle, most men wore – are you ready for this? – grey suits. Flannel was the fabric of the time, and the television assured Americans that every workingman after returning from work placed his hat on the hat stand and said, “Honey, I’m home!”
The 1950s saw the birth of the stiletto heel, which some attribute to designer Roger Vivier and others to designer Charles Jourdan. Regardless of which sadistic man created this shoe, the ideal 1950s woman added to her womanity with a pair of stilettos in which she vacuumed, made dinner, entertained, and sat around the house complaining about how much her feet hurt. Meaning “thin-bladed knife,” the thin, long heel of a stiletto – often only half a centimeter thick and five inches tall or more – is a dangerous and highly impractical shoe. Uneven sidewalks, water grates, tile floors, and dirt all wreak havoc on stiletto wearers, who must teach themselves to walk in such heels to avoid near certain calamity. However, as many advocates will happily point out, their purpose is not practicality, but rather a certain aesthetic. In the 1950s that certain aesthetic was femininity, and stilettos replaced hats, pearls, and even gloves as the must-have accessory. Not owning a pair of stilettos was a sure sign that your had resigned yourself to a life of spinsterdom, where you would live in a house alone with ten cats and lament about never having the joys of children to nurture or the comfort of a strong, loving American man, or all the materialistic goods the nuclear life entailed. Additionally, it was necessary to own as many as possible to pair with any outfit you might so desire to wear. God forbid your shoes didn’t perfectly coordinate with your dress!
Younger girls, school age or younger, thankfully didn’t wear stilettos; although you can be certain that dear old mommy bred her from an early age to want to. Instead, they wore loafers, pedal pushers, or ballet slippers, all with those adorable little bobby socks.
As you might have expected, men’s shoes are still a bit boring. Oxfords were still popular, as were buck shoes, and Converse sneakers.