During the 1940s, fashion largely took a back seat to the war and efforts to be frugal, and women often felt it more appropriate to remain reserved and dress fairly plainly. However, in the exuberance of the post-war years, fashion quickly started becoming bigger, brighter, flashier, and more widely embraced.
This trend really took off in the 1950s, aided by increasing prosperity—and disposable income for pricier clothing and accessories. A handful of designers stood out, shaping the taste of the times and pioneering new paths into fashion’s future.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key women’s fashion designers of the 1950s.
Famous Women’s Fashion Designers of the ’50s
- Christian Dior – Although he didn’t live through the entire decade (he died in 1957), this fashion icon still managed to do more than most to influence the style of the day and other contemporary designers. In particular, he created the famed ’50s look involving an excessive use of fabric to exaggerate women’s hourglass shape.
- Cristóbal Balenciaga – This Spanish designer shared Dior’s enthusiasm for the dramatic, and in fact Dior referred to him as “the master of us all.” However, he went a different way with his designs, favoring sleek silhouettes and widening the shoulders to de-accentuate women’s waists. He was definitely ahead of his time, exerting great influence over some of the most popular fashion that followed in the ’60s.
- Coco Chanel – One of the all-time best-known names in women’s fashion, this French designer first made her mark after WWI, freeing women from the corset look and replacing it with a casual chic. In 1954, she embarked on another key period, encapsulated by her Boxy Suit. As with Balenciaga, she emphasized a sleek appearance that was forward-looking and that became a standard look for women in the following decade.
- Pierre Balmain – The name Balmain was synonymous with sophisticated grace in the 1950s. Embodying this perfectly, the French fashion designer referred to making dresses as “the architecture of movement.” One of his most noteworthy achievements during the decade was popularizing the stole as a quintessential elegant women’s accessory to accompany an evening dress.
- Jaques Fath – Fath, like Dior, was interested in playing up a woman’s hourglass shape. However, he did so more subtly with his designs, while drawing more attention to the chest with plunging necklines. This—and his overall tendency to reveal more skin than his peers—made him most popular with young women who embraced the rebellious side of the ’50s.